Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, September 10, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A New Level of Cultural and Moral Insanity: Children as Drag Performers
What is reality? What is true? As we think of the culture around us, intelligent Christians often have to step back and ask the question, "Is what I'm looking at even real?" The hard answer to that question too often now comes down to, "Yes, what you are seeing is real." Sometimes, it's not just an isolated event. The bigger issue is that we are facing a pattern. The pattern is very visible in a succession of news stories that have run of late.
The first appeared in The Atlantic by Charles Dunst. The headline of the article: “When Kids are Straight Until Proven Otherwise.” This was published on August the 24th. Again, the headline: “When Kids are Straight Until Proven Otherwise.” Just to see the words in the headline of this article should prompt us to ask the question, "Could we really be seeing in reality what we think we're seeing here?" The answer once again is yes.
This article tells us that a 12-year-old drag star named Desmond Napoles is one of a growing number of kids who, “Have embraced an LGBTQ identity at an early age. He, according to the article, has already come out as gay. Recent postings on his Instagram feed, which has 181,000 followers, feature him posing in a purple wig with red lips pursed or in a rainbow dress at Brooklyn Pride. He recently,” we are told, “appeared in an ad for Converse’s 2019 pride collection.” His mother Wendy Napoles said, "He is spreading the message that it is okay for kids to drag." She said further, "To explore their identity and express themselves without shame, without hiding." Again, the child is 12.
This hasn't just begun. The pattern actually began earlier when the child was younger. Here is a young boy, again just 12 years of age who is being celebrated in this article and elsewhere as a very important influencer of American culture precisely because he is a 12-year-old drag performer, and one who has already appeared in advertising. Again, age 12.
The first thing we need to note even before we look at these other articles is the fact that the big story isn't just that this entire question of drag performance has become a part of ordinary American cultural conversation. That's stunning in and of itself. What we need to note in the case of at least two of the articles we will reference is the fact that the drag performers who are identified are children, often very young children.
Dunst writes, "Seeing preteens involved in drag shows, an age-old staple of LGBTQ culture often performed in gay clubs, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Critics," he says, "have accused Desmond's mother of allowing her son's sexualization and exploitation. After another preteen boy performed drag in Ohio," he writes, "state Republicans proposed legislation barring these performances, linking them without evidence to child trafficking."
Well, let's just look at this as honestly as we possibly can. We are talking about drag performances. Like it or not, there's just no way to describe them honestly as anything other than sexualized. We're also talking about very young children. If we're not talking about child sex trafficking here, exactly what are we talking about? There are those evidently who believed that child sex trafficking would involve the sexualization or the sexual risk — and by the way, that would also include emotional risks — to any young person or child, but evidently there's now an entirely new set of rules when the initials LGBTQ are put in front of the question.
But there's yet another dimension of this article that appeared in The Atlantic. It goes back to those words in the headline, “When Kids are Straight Until Proven Otherwise.” The insinuation of the headline and the explicit argument in the article is that it is wrong, it is dangerous, it is damaging to assume that a child is straight until indications would prove otherwise. I say that with those words indicating that behind all of this is the entire question of sexual identity as if we're to understand that that is now a given. When you look at this article, we are told that we should now consider the children are not yet to be understood as either straight or LGBTQ or whatever else may come down the road until they tell us. Then the explicit instruction comes: You must tell them that they are what they tell you, whatever that is.
Dunst gets to the point when he writes, "Over time, American society has been steadily making peace with gay adults, gay marriages, even gay political candidates. Yet it still broadly pretends that people are straight until at some point after 18 they proclaim themselves otherwise." He continues, "Parents and schools have long recognized the need to accommodate nascent heterosexuality in wholesome ways, for instance, by organizing school dances and providing basic education about how the reproductive system works. Queerness," he says, "in contrast, is widely understood to be inherently and only sexual. By this logic, all things LGBTQ should be relegated to adult spaces preventing children's premature sexualization." He then concludes in this paragraph, "This explains why the backlash to preteen drag performers like Desmond has been so fierce and why so many queer kids with their difference manifesting as awkwardness are forced to tread the rough waters of adolescence with no social support."
I come back at this point to the fact that sometimes we have to train ourselves to read an article backwards. How in the world is this argument supposed to make sense? What kind of fundamental assumptions are necessary? What kind of redefinition of terms will be required? What kind of new vocabulary, and furthermore, what kind of newly established moral imperative is driving this argument and even allows us to understand what is being claimed here?
Well, reading it backwards, the worldview that is explicit in this article and in the argument is that sexual orientation is something that is basically just innate. It is something that is good regardless of what it is. It is for that matter entirely a matter of personal autonomy. An individual comes to terms with that sexual identity and the rest of society simply has to take it as it is proposed.
But, of course, there are a lot of complications here even if you try to buy into that theory. For one thing you have the reality that sexual orientation, even gender orientation for many people isn't what they claim it is at one point. That's to say there is the phenomenon even of “hasbiens,” that is women who have at some point identified as being lesbian or having same sex sexual attraction but then it is no longer the case. Furthermore, when it comes to the gender question, there's actually no end whatsoever to what society is supposed to accommodate as persons at any moment in time claim any particular gender identity or no gender identity at all.
This article in the Atlantic introduces a term you might not have heard before that is pre-homosexual or pre-LGB. Dunst strikes quotes, "Numerous studies have shown that children who eventually come out as gay, lesbian or bisexual, scientists call them pre-homosexual or pre-LGB kids demonstrate more childhood gender nonconformity in their speech, body language, and choice of activity than they're pre-straight contemporaries do."
Again, notice what's happening here. Now you have what centuries of human experience have defined as the normative human experience, it's described here as pre-straight. Getting to the issues of the fact we're talking about children, about legal minors here, Dunst writes, "Kids especially pre-LGB kids need room to explore their own identities, yet because society presumes queerness to be inherently sexual, adults think that a preteen who plays up his gender nonconformity could not possibly be doing so voluntarily."
Well again, let's just step back. Looking at this first article, we are not making the claim that no child could possibly come up with this, but we are going to be very clear that children have to see something like this in order to identify in any way along these lines. You are talking about drag performances, which only makes sense if the child has seen a drag performance. You're also talking about the explicit fact that adult enablers, handlers, and managers are necessary in order for a young child to have this kind of platform and even to have a story that appears in the pages of The Atlantic or as we shall see in the New York Times.
Dunst acknowledges at least the controversy even as he dismisses it by writing, "Conservative media have accused Wendy Napoles of endangering her son. After news reports indicated that Desmond's performances had caught a convicted pedophile's eye (as if it's a young boy's fault that pedophiles exist), some people called child protective services on her." Now those words, some of those words were within parentheses. Within the parenthesis were the words “As if it's a young boy's fault that pedophiles exist.” I'll simply say that we have reached a new point of cultural and moral insanity, we've reached a new depth of cultural crisis, when a news outlet like The Atlantic will allow words like that in or outside of parentheses to be printed in an article about a 12-year-old child, period.
But after stating that at least some had called child protective services in this case, Dunst writes "But the people who have deemed to drag too risqué for preteens have yet to support alternative ways in which queer kids like Desmond can publicly express themselves without fear." Again, you have to work backwards. What kind of fundamental assumption is necessary for this article to make sense? It is the assumption that it is the responsibility of society to create "alternative ways in which queer kids like Desmond can publicly express themselves without fear."
What's also explicit in the article by Dunst is that if we do consider drag too risqué for pre-teens, then coming up with the alternative is our responsibility. Again, we are in a new level of cultural and moral insanity.
What Now Counts as the Sexual Exploitation of Children? Children and Adolescents Perform at ‘DragCon’ and Gay Pride Parades
But that article was dated August the 24th. Again it was published at The Atlantic, but now I have to turn attention to not one but two articles that appeared in the New York Times. As we're thinking about the pattern here, consider the fact that the first of these articles ran in last Saturday's edition and the second ran in just this past Sunday's edition, two days in a row, half page articles and more in the print edition of the New York Times about controversy over drag performances, one concerning young children and the other concerning drag performers who are identified with Down syndrome.
The second of the articles appeared in Sunday's edition. The headline: “Sashaying Their Way Through Youth.” Again, a picture of Desmond, a very troubling picture of a 12-year-old boy appears in the article. Alice Hines is the reporter. The subhead in the article: "Among the rising stars of drag are some who are not even old enough to drive." That's a radical understatement. They're not even on the brink of reaching an age in which they can drive.
Alice Hines reports, "'I'm excited,' screamed Desmond Napoles, a 12-year-old drag star who performs as Desmond is Amazing, punctuating his enthusiasm with mild profanity. His eyes darted to his phone. Then he backtracked. ‘Don't put that in. Don't put that in.’ He would soon be grounded from Snapchat by his mother for what she called sass."
Now again, we're just a few words into this article. We're talking about a 12-year-old boy using mild profanity, but that's simply a pretext for telling us that he's otherwise just a normal 12-year-old drag star who performs as Desmond is Amazing.
Now listen to the story as it continues, "Desmond and his mother would still make it to the object of Desmond's excitement, DragCon, the convention hosted by RuPaul in New York City in early September. It would be Desmond's third year in a row." Let's just stop there for a moment. He's 12 now. He's been doing this for three years. We're not even talking about children on the brink of adolescence as this story goes back at least three years in the life of a 12-year-old boy." He isn't a different person in drag so much as he is a more outgoing version of himself. He said, 'I'm always fierce, fabulous and not playing video games.' He said, 'I'm being AH-MA-zing.'" Emphasis spelled out by the New York Times.
Later in the article we are told, "Desmond pegs his start in the world of drag to 2015, when videos of him vogueing at the New York Pride parade went viral; at one point, a high kick sent a flip-flop soaring over the crowd. Next came gigs channeling Gwen Stefani and David Bowie, along with runway shows for Gypsy Sport and the Blonds.”
The 12 year old’s mother said, "Other moms are soccer moms. They take their kids to practice, to games, they cheer for their kids. That's how I see myself with drag." We'll come back to that.
But the story continues telling us about Keegan, also known as Kween Keekee, “a 9-year-old drag queen.” In parenthesis, we're told the New York Times agreed to not use the family's last name to protect their privacy. His mother said, "Our goal has never been to make K famous. We allow Instagram to be a public account as we don't feel we need to be pressured to hide our child and because we think his story could help other kids."
This is just nonsense. It's not even vaguely honest, but the New York Times lets these parents get away with it. That's a part of the story here. We are talking about children who are performing at a convention of drag artists. They didn't drive themselves there. Even the New York Times tells us they're not even close to being old enough to drive. They were taken there. In one case, a nine year old. In another case, a 12 year old who's been doing it for three years. We have a parent saying it was not our intention that the child become famous, but then they go on to say that the social media account is public because if they were to make it private, it would insinuate that they are somehow making a negative judgment about the drag performance status of their 9-year-old child.
Here's where the New York Times article becomes truly important: "As recently as the 1970s, when dressing as another gender could lead to arrest on charges of vagrancy or perversion, in many jurisdictions, drag was an adults only affair, relegated to underground spaces and rich in sexual innuendo."
Again, there you have the acknowledgment of the linkage between drag performance and sexual innuendo and even highly sexualized performances, which are again after all the point. But the paper goes on to tell us that even as gay culture has entered the cultural mainstream, "The number and variety of locations where drag is welcome have grown." There's reference of course to what's described as the G-rated story hours at public libraries. We've noted on The Briefing that calling them G-rated is essentially dishonest and again misses the point.
A woman identified as a photographer who has founded what's known as Dragutante, "an 18 and under runway show in Denver," she said, "This is the first generation that was truly raised on drag race." She, by the way, is the mother of a son identified in the article as "a 14-year-old who in drag is known as Ophelia Peaches."
I'll have to mention just a few additional points. In the New York Times article, we are told that Desmond has 180,000 followers on Instagram, the largest online presence of any minor who is performing as a drag artist, but there are other children whose accounts are also growing along with their public profile.
Then the New York Times states, "Mothers run most of these accounts." In parenthesis, the Times tells us, "Despite the binary shattering implications of this scene, drag moms far outnumber drag dads." Now let's just insert a little bit of reality. The binary isn't shattered. That is simply one of the outrageous matters of cultural and moral illogic that's being foisted upon our society. The binary isn't shattered. The article continues to talk about moms and dads and to no one surprise, drag moms far outnumber drag dads. There's that binary. It's not going away — the words “moms” and “dads,” not to mention all the rest.
When you talk adults facilitating, enabling, and even orchestrating and managing these children and their performances, the reality is that we are really looking at that question, “What now counts as the sexual exploitation of children?” For that matter, just even the commercial exploitation of children. This has been a cultural concern for decades now. That's why there's so many rules about what children can and can't do under which and what circumstances, even in a major Hollywood production that has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. Now we're talking about something that unquestionably deals with gender and sexuality, which is why the New York Times finds it interesting. But we're being told now all those old rules are off because this is an LGBTQ issue and so you can't even talk about the exploitation of children because after all, if you make that accusation, as the story in the Atlantic said, it's now up to us to come up with the safe non-eroticized, non-sexualized alternative. Again, cultural insanity.
Then you see how childhood is itself being redefined when in the New York Times article I read, "Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist in Oregon who works with queer and trans kids said that experimenting with gender expression isn't necessarily linked to being queer or trans." Well, wait just a minute. I thought we were just told that it was. Now we're being told that it's not, but then she goes on to say "It's normal at basically any age for boys to dress up as princesses and girls in male superhero outfits."
She continued, "What's changed is parenting. When there's no judgment, kids are more likely to feel free to explore." Again, I feel absolutely responsible to look at words and to take words with full meaning. She tells us here that it's normal at basically any age, again, these are her words, “For boys to dress up as princesses.” I don't think so. I don't think the listeners to The Briefing think so. I actually don't think that the readers of the New York Times think so. They just want their neighbors to think that they think so. I don't think they want their sons at any age to think so.
The LGBTQ Revolution as Cultural Catastrophe: Our Society Now Values the Sexual Revolution More Than Protecting Children
Next, what's so important in this particular pattern we are observing is the fact that the pattern continues to morph and to grow right before our eyes in real time. We're talking about two articles in the New York Times, both massive articles. We're talking about two articles in two days.
The other one, if anything, is even more troubling. The headline "Despite Opposition, A Drag Show Goes On." The subhead is this: "A Republican candidate in Michigan impedes performers with Down syndrome." Julia Jacobs is the reporter of this article.
Here's how it begins: "Over the past year, a small troop of drag performers with Down syndrome has taken the stage in London, Stockholm, Oslo, and Montreal adopting flashy alter egos and basking in the crowd’s applause. They call themselves Drag Syndrome."
The article continues, "The London-based troop’s next stop was their United States debut: an art exhibition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But after the event was publicized this summer, there was a backlash from community members who were worried that the performers were being exploited."
Again, work backwards. How would they not be concerned that these performers are being exploited? If you were to insert virtually any other kind of cultural performance in this case in which attention was being drawn to the fact that the actors or performers had Down syndrome and then you add the fact that it has become something of a spectacle, to use the word that fits Western civilization, then I think just about anyone would ask under any circumstances if these performers were being exploited. In this article, there's pushback saying that those with Down syndrome have, well there you face it again, autonomy and agency, and it's wrong to question if they, unlike someone else who does not have Down syndrome, are victims of manipulation.
Amongst those concerned about whether or not these performers were being exploited was Peter Meijer. He is the son of a famous supermarket family there in Michigan. He's now a Republican congressional candidate. He also happens to own the venue where this group was scheduled to appear. The New York Times then tells us, "Last month, Mr. Meyer declined to host the performers questioning whether they could give their full and informed consent." But then the Times tells us that last week the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against Mr. Meijer, "claiming that he was discriminating against the performers because of their disability. The complaint also claimed discrimination on the basis of sex considering that they would be performing in drag."
Here you see the cultural contradictions coming into a very interesting collision. We were just told in the other article that we shouldn't think that it's about sex. Now we're being told that it is about sex. We were told that we aren't to be concerned about exploitation, but it becomes very clear that that should be front and center in our concerns whether we're talking about children, the focus of two of these articles in recent days, or about the troop identified with Down syndrome.
Just to state the obvious, again, let's think about who we think we are as a culture. If you listen to the mainstream cultural conversation, you're looking at a culture that would claim we really want to protect children. We're absolutely determined to protect children. We want to protect children from sexual abuse, from any kind of sexual predation, from any kind of early sexualization. Except, we're all for children as drag performers.
We're a society that says we feel a responsibility to treat all human beings with respect and that means that no one should be sexualized or treated in any way as the object of a performance when you are looking at, especially some kind of content that would generally be assumed to be sexualized or even controversial and especially when you think about Down syndrome, and you're thinking about all the questions that would arise about consent and sexual abuse.
But then we're told we're so committed to the LGBTQ revolution that there's going to be exception in this category, whether we're talking about children or individuals identified with Down syndrome. It really is incredibly small minded, we're told in these articles, to think that the issue of sexual exploitation or any other kind of exploitation could even enter into the cultural conclusion.
As Christians trying to think biblically about these categories, we do understand and lament the fact that as a society we have often witnessed the hyper-sexualization and the early sexualization of children and of young people. Just think about some of the beauty contest patterns that have been found in which you have rather glamorous and even sexualized visions of young girls really trying to dress up like adult women in so many ways. There has been cultural conversation about this. There has been an increased awareness of the sexual exploitation that is involved here.
Furthermore, you have many on the cultural left who have been raising quite interesting concerns about the commodification of childhood and the fact that children are being treated as merchandising icons manipulated by a consumer society. Well, where did that concern go when all of a sudden the industry changes to drag performance?
While we're talking about the entire issue of sexualization, let's recall the fact that The Atlantic article featured Desmond is Amazing performing in a gay pride parade. We also have these articles claiming that it's incredibly small minded to think that there could be any sexualization going on here while in the same articles and with the photographs that are published in the New York Times, for example. The point is made abundantly clear.
I recently sought to make a point about a recent and ongoing ideological conflict between Sohrab Ahmari and David French over the nature and the future of conservativism in America. The specific point in which I entered the debate was over whether or not Drag Queen Story Hour represents a true cultural crisis. I asked the question, "If it's not a cultural crisis, what is?"
As I conclude The Briefing today, I want you to recognize that it is with a heavy heart and with very deep concern that I even raise these articles to our attention. I wanted to make the point clear. It is because this crisis actually goes far beyond Drag Queen Story Hour in the public library. Now, we're not talking about children watching drag performances. We're talking about a society that wants to celebrate children as the drag performers. The only response I know to give in response to these articles and to what they represent are the words, God help us.