Earlier this month, the Ohio legislature announced a bill that prohibits child performances that simulate sexual activity. The legislation came under fire because the bill prohibits children from drag shows. Although both sides of the argument claimed to have children’s safety at heart, the legislation was clearly motivated by more.
It all started with a video from a nightclub in Ohio. The beat dropped and Toddrick Hall’s Dem Beats featuring the mother of all queens RuPaul Charles blared. The curtain in the small club with no stage opened to reveal nine-year-old drag queen Miss Mae Hem. She opened with a cartwheel and a split. She vogued, death dropped, cartwheeled and collected tips from the supportive crowd.
Outrage sparked shortly after the video circulated the internet. Ohio Representative Tim Schaffer released a statement. “Given our heightened focus on human trafficking and the role money plays in trafficking children, I knew I had to take action to make sure this activity does not occur again,” Schaffer said. “We can do better to protect innocent children and we must do better.”
Squabbling and righteousness on both sides was just like any argument on the internet; neither side listened to the other. The concerns of commenters on the video of Miss Mae Hem included a child’s exposure in a nightclub and a sexualized child. Meanwhile, the defenders of Miss Mae Hem are concerned with the potential for early censorship and discrimination.
While Miss Mae Hem performed, adults in the audience held cocktails and beers. Although the grabby version of the story focused on banning children from performing in drag there was a very important issue not mentioned. The legislation was very specific the performances of children simulating sexual activity is prohibited “in an establishment that is a D liquor permit holder. If the offending establishment is a D liquor permit holder the court will order the revocation of the permit,” stated Rep. Shaffer’s press release.
In 2013, a study from the Behavioral Science Institute of the Radboud University in The Netherlands stated a clear correlation between early exposure to alcohol and negative effects. The study concluded “children appear to form memory associations related to alcohol before they ever drink alcohol themselves, and these associations appear to mediate the link between their perceptions of their parents’ drinking and their own initial alcohol use.” With that in mind, the potential concern is if Miss Mae Hem spent a lot of time in those nightclubs at an early age she becomes comfortable enough with the sight of alcohol, adolescent drinking may occur.
However, the bill appeared to hide behind the alcohol to ban the real target; alternative lifestyles.
These are some of the comments on Cleveland.com’s story. But none of the comments explained drag. Drag is not dressing up as an opposite gender. It transcends gender. The performers use fashion, makeup and performance to entertain, make political statements and push the boundaries of gender roles.
Drag is not the same as transgender (although there are performers who are trans). When a nine-year-old puts on a cheap looking wig and pink leotard he is expressing himself– this does not necessarily mean he is gay or trans. It means he is comfortable and inspired in that moment.
Drag is not always about sexuality. There are performers who rely heavily on sex appeal (ie. Violet Chachki). But the majority use humor or pageantry to tell stories and perform lip syncs. It is normal to tip a performer. It is not the same as tipping an exotic dancer. Bob the Drag Queen keeps her clothes on her entire show and is not considered a “sexy” queen, however, when she lip syncs to “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley while clips of Tyra Banks’ infamous “We Were Rooting for You” speech spliced into the song, Bob gets tipped heavily. Tips are how most queens make their money to support their costume and makeup expenses.
The real threat
Human trafficking and child abuse is a concern. However, when we confuse the issues, we detract from the problems at hand. According to a report from the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, “Toledo is the fourth largest recruitment site for human trafficking in the country.” Stop wasting time and resources with children expressing their creative side and find the over one thousand Ohioan children the Ohio Attorney General’s Office reports are victims of trafficking every year.