Content warning: This article contains discussions of child sexual abuse.
Hatemongers are deploying a dangerous narrative that pretends to defend children while, in fact, doing the opposite. Last month, neo-Nazi organization NSC-131 threatened a drag queen story hour in Boston with a banner reading “Pedo Scum Off Our Streets” (LGBTQ Nation). These Nazis are just one example of far-right moral panic over LGBTQ grooming: the fiction that queer people are abusers manipulating children for sex. Homophobes and transphobes are using this narrative to attack any LGBTQ visibility as inherently pedophilic. One activist now reports receiving “hundreds” of daily online accusations of being a groomer—despite being a high school student (NBC). The bigots pushing this harmful rhetoric must be confronted and defeated wherever they appear. We also need to dismantle their arguments and investigate why the idea of LGBTQ grooming has become so powerful.
Hopefully, we can agree that the idea that all non-straight, non-cisgender people are child abusers is a bigoted lie. But the LGBTQ grooming narrative exists because it plays on the reasonable stance that children shouldn’t be sexualized. A drag queen—someone, often a gay man, “embodying a ‘larger-than-life’ female persona” in a “deliberate and temporary performance of gender” (The Conversation)—is attacked under the guise of protecting children. The grooming attack line initially purports to be a defense of children, not an attack on LGBTQ adults. It is then expanded so that every adult identified as LGBTQ is seen as a potential danger to children.
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Drag queens have been doxxed, threatened, and harassed at home for participating in book readings for kids, based on the idea that performing drag is inherently sexual (Decider). But is that actually true? A drag queen wearing a conservative dress might be seen as sexual in a way that a cisgender woman wearing the same dress wouldn’t, but that doesn’t have anything to do with sexual behavior or intent. Similarly, teachers in Florida are now counseled not to disclose their same-sex marriages to avoid running afoul of “Don’t Say Gay” legislation prohibiting classroom content that isn’t “age appropriate” (Queerty). A teacher revealing that they’re in a gay marriage is said to introduce inappropriate sexual content into the learning environment. While learning that a teacher in a heterosexual relationship has biological children actually implies that they’ve had procreative sex at least once, disclosing this fact is not seen as sexualized.
Heterosexual attraction and sex between cisgender people are everywhere in our society, including cultural norms for young children, but it’s rarely seen as objectionable. Most of the time, it goes completely unnoticed. A Scholastic book offers six-year-old boys instructions on how to get a girlfriend (The Mary Sue). Infants are said to be future “lady-killers” or “heartbreakers” (People). Each year, dozens of purity balls feature girls saying vows, exchanging rings, and pledging their virginities to their fathers (Glamour). Beachgoers and joggers across the country this summer are dressed far more provocatively than any drag queen reading at a public library. And we all create gendered “personas” based on how we see other people expressing gender around us. That means we’re all performing gender, whether we’re consciously performing drag or not (Counterpulse).
Using the supposed defense of children to attack LGBTQ people has a long history. In the 1970s, Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign vilified gay people for alleged attempts to “recruit” kids (NBC). In actuality, these attempts harm children by stigmatizing LGBTQ people, gender variance, and same-sex attraction while trivializing actual cases of child abuse and grooming. 91% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known or trusted by the child or the child’s family (CDC).
The backlash against drag queen story hours pretends to be a defense of children while actually policing and oppressing young people. As Jackie Cox puts it, “If you see someone who was not assigned female at birth wearing a dress, what actual horrible things will happen to a child? The answer is nothing if you really think it through. If they’re inspired to themselves wear a dress, is that such a horrible thing? If they’re inspired to maybe realize their own gender identity might be different than what they were assigned at birth, is that a horrible thing? What are you so afraid of?” (Decider).
• False concerns about “grooming” have been used to attack LGBTQ+ people for generations.
• Today, far-right organizations are attacking children’s events.
• In fact, heterosexuality is normalized for children from a young age.