Drag queens are the latest (and most fabulous) targets in the culture wars. Bigots have made a huge mistake

I learned a lot from my drag queen housemate. Living with a drag queen was kind of like cohabitating with a fabulous tornado, which also knows all the lyrics to every Cher song. I also learned how much glitter the human eyeball can withstand (a surprising amount).

In the morning after my housemate had performed a gig, I’d wake up to sweat-stained panty hose hanging off the front door, a broken stiletto in the kitchen next to the remnants of a cheese toastie, a handprint of glitter and blood stamped onto the hallway, like the helmet of a particularly gay Uruk Hai. But it was the bathroom that taught me the essence of being a drag performer – the horror that I saw in that tiny room would drive most straight men mad and screaming out of a foam-flecked mouth, an experience best described as a sinister Cthulian makeover. The exfoliants and pluckers, the DIY padding cut directly from a vermin-infested street mattress, the nest of wigs squatting in the bath like an entangled rat king – all of it a signpost of the pain and discomfort that these performers voluntarily underwent for their craft.

I can’t stress this enough: drag takes endurance and strength and tolerance for pain beyond comprehension. I remember watching my housemate at the end of a five night performance run, in a nightclub bathroom dry shaving their already bleeding skin, balls already retracted into their own body, penis tape back between their buttcheeks, swollen feet stuffed into six-inch heels… only to go out onto that stage and sing and dance and yell witty insults to a bridal party with verve and panache. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I believe that is braver and tougher than fighting in one of those trench wars from the past.

So, knowing all this, I can only watch in bafflement, in pitying bemusement, as a loose coalition of bed wetters, mouth breathers, and people who cry after masturbation have decided to attack drag queens all around the world. You poor fools, you tiny gormless dickheads, you do not know the storm of razor-sharp glitter and deadly death-drops you have called down upon yourselves.

In the US, the attacks on drag queens have been led by the religious right, conservative politicians, and the usual homophobe based organisations. Since the beginning of this year, at least 32 bills have been filed in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia targeting drag performances, with more on the way. Drag has become a rallying cry for homophobia. 

In Australia, New Zealand and the UK,  it’s so-called TERFs (transphobes who hide behind feminism), right-wing Christians (transphobes and homophobes who hide behind religion) and Nazis (they’re pretty much just being Nazis, the bad guys from Indiana Jones) who are attacking drag queens, focusing on things like “drag queen story hours”, where drag performers shift gears from raunchier, adult-focused performances to the dire crime of wearing sparkly outfits to read children’s books to children. Drag Queen Story Hour events in Launceston and Sydney have met with protests and even bomb threats, with self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis and groups like the Proud Boys harassing the parents and children who voluntarily attend these events. Over in Aotearoa New Zealand, anti-drag protesters successfully forced a public library hosting a storytime event to close. Right now, “gender critical” groups (transphobes, the 10-15 people who attended Posie Parker’s nazi-filled rallies last month) are petitioning to have a drag story hour event in Melbourne shut down.

The motivations and excuses for these attacks vary – there’s a lot of classic regurgitations over homosexual men interacting with children, which has been a scare tactic used by bigots since the invention of gay people (when Liza Minelli was born). It has been slightly updated to encompass the newer fad of vicious transphobia, too, which is less about understanding the deep historic link between trans and gender diverse people and drag in the queer community, and the large amount of trans and gender diverse drag performers, and more about inherent distrust of anyone not adhering to strictly enforced gender roles. It’s the same shit, the same classic homophobia and transphobia that we’ve all seen, lazily rebooted and rebranded in a desperate effort to appeal to modern audiences – so essentially bigots have attempted to adopt the streaming television model of business.

These attacks are vicious and cruel and strategic and echoed by the powerful, and you have to understand that while it’s being passed off as a single issue concern by the boring slacks brigade, it’s very clearly an assault on the entire LGBTIQ community. They’ve just gone after the loudest, most visibly different members in an attempt to demonise queers as paedophiles and monsters. At one protested event in the UK, signs read “Welcome groomers” and “Nonce upon a time”. Recently, Liberal Senator Alex Antic has accused the ABC of “grooming” children by allowing iconic queen Courtney Act to read a children’s book on Play School about a girl who likes to wear trousers. “Why is the ABC grooming children with this sort of adult content?” asked the senator, who ironically has a pretty good drag name already.

If concern for children was truly at the root of this hysteria, then they’d move that protest right out the front of a Catholic Church.

While the motive is easy to understand – creating an acceptable facade for homophobia and transphobia inspired by confected panic around children – it’s SO funny to me that they think drag queens are an easy target, and a way of gathering popular support for anti-trans and homophobic rhetoric. These people can do flips in the cuntiest high heels you’ve ever seen, they are basically ninjas.

Not only is drag a beloved institution in Australia – we’re the home of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Dame Edna and drag bingo – but drag as an artform is at its cultural peak around the world. While much of it is still subversive and raunchy and niche, it’s also firmly moved into the mainstream. The TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race is at the forefront of this popularity, with a record-breaking 1.3 million people in the US alone tuned in to watch the season premiere in 2021. Since its low-fi beginnings in 2009, there has been 15 seasons of the show, and the franchise has added four spin-off series, 12 international editions including RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, fan conventions and a Las Vegas revue. The show has also won 27 Emmys, and been nominated for 70. 

What was once considered the LGBTIQ Olympics, a niche obsession for the gays, has now expanded firmly and enthusiastically into the straight demographic, with straight women being among its largest and most enthusiastic fanbase. There’s a good chance that a lot of the attacks on the LGBTIQ community goes unnoticed by the broader population – but by attacking drag, and by extension Drag Race, it’s motivating a huge amount of people to sit up and care, which will have repercussions for these bigots, especially the ones in power when it comes to voting. 

It’s even motivated RuPaul herself, the grandmother of drag and a fierce activist throughout the AIDs crisis, to move away from relatively toothless political messages like “go vote” to raising money for a drag defence fund to help combat the US drag bans. RuPaul once famously told a journalist that they watched a person drown in the Hudson River, and that instead of helping them or calling the police, they “sent them loving energy”. That is NOT a person you want as your enemy. But by attacking drag, these spiritually balding fuckwits have poked Mama Ru awake. Category is: queer wrath. She’s going to watch them all sink beneath the waves and drown, right-wing senators, rebranded Nazis, and rabid transphobes  alike.

In fact, drag queens have historically been the loudest, most tireless, most immaculately contoured faces of LGBTIQ activism. They’ve had to be – when just being gay or queer or trans is seen as a political act by wet-nappied conservatives, then the ones who are working and performing and living in outrageous and flamboyant drag are on the vanguard. In many ways, drag queens are the shock troops of queer rights – using their loudness, their platform, their humour and talent as a way to grab attention. Drag queens have been fighting on the front line since the dawn of the modern LGBT rights movement.

It was queens who were chased and arrested during London’s first official Pride march in 1971. It was queens who fought against cops in LA after their friends were arrested at Coopers donuts in 1959, who rioted against police harassments in San Francisco in 1966, who hurled bricks at Stonewall in 1969. It was queens who raised money and awareness during the AIDs crisis, who were the faces of the marches and die-ins and protests. Now it’s rare to find a single pride march or rally or protest that doesn’t have drag performers involved in some way, sashaying their way to equal rights. I adore drag performers.

Targeting drag queens isn’t targeting the most vulnerable, or weakest, or easily accessed portions of the LGBTIQ community, like I’m sure these creepy church bigots think. It’s more like pointing out the shock troopers, the standing queer agenda army, and hoping they don’t kick back. Drag queens are the ones who make things happen. They threw bricks at Stonewall, and they’re gonna throw more at the tiny misshapen skulls of the homophobic.

And while I know there’s this urge to sanitise and de-claw LGBTIQ people to try and make them less threatening and more palatable, it’s worth noting that these people coming for drag queens could find themselves in a world of hurt. There are countless stories of drag queens interrupting homophobic violence and defending the queer community. US Drag Race contestant Morgan McMichaels once performed on stage with a bedazzled cast, after breaking her hand punching a homophobe who attacked her. “I was approached by a man at the store who informed me that he was a Nazi and he wanted to cut my fucking throat – after he took a swing I obliged him and finished the fight….” she said on an instagram post of her glamorous injury.

Sydney drag queen Coco Jumbo and two other queens once stepped in and beat up a bunch of homophobes, while wearing full drag, after they saw a gay man have his jaw broken during a gay bashing on the street across from the venue they were performing in. At the time, Coco had one very simple message for homophobes following the incident.  “Don’t mess with gay people,” she said. “Let alone two men dressed as women. Silly boys.”

If you’re homophobic, drag queens will fuck you up. The effects of these new attacks on drag queens are already being felt – it’s not just the legislations restricting queer freedoms and expression, it’s things like the attack on the queer venue Club Q in Colorado last year, or the Orlando shooting before that. It’s important to remember exactly what the end game is here – the emboldening of people who want to murder gay and trans people, or at least let them die. The same Nazis who felt comfortable showing up on the Victorian parliament steps the other day are the ones who have been getting away with intimidating performers and parents and children outside of libraries, with no censure from the government, with no protection offered to the queer community. It’s so important to recognise this homophobia, and stop it on all levels. We have politicians in Australia, like Katherine Deves and Claire Chandler who are disguising their bigotry towards members of the queer community behind “reasonable” concerns about the safety of children. We can’t fall for it.

Drag queens represent the best of what the queer community can be – they are manifestations of queer joy and talent, foul-mouthed, fabulous, fierce community linchpins. Attacking drag performers, trying to turn people against them, is the worst decision these stupid, mothball smelling, idiot bigots have ever made. Let’s make them regret it.

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