I remember the first person I met who became a drag queen.
He was a well-liked guy from my high school in Northeast Ohio. He dated one of the most popular girls in his class. He dressed like any guy in the 2000s did.
When he went off to college and social media emerged, his classmates started seeing pictures of him walking the runway at his university’s drag shows come across their news feeds.
I never heard their comments, but I assume they weren’t positive because behavior like that was shamed and shunned in our hometown.
In my hometown, you had to keep to the strict norms of the people in the area. You didn’t dress to stand out. You didn’t do anything someone could deem as “gay.” And you didn’t dare challenge these notions, lest you be shamed and alienated.
Rose-colored nostalgia for my time in high school often washes over the darkness of those antiquated mindsets. I return to that less enlightened time when I see those attitudes resurface. That feeling came creeping back as I saw people were angered that the St. Joseph Public Library was holding storytimes for kids read by drag queens.
Those same worries we had as naive, sheltered teenagers were coming out of full-grown adults — awful, misguided opinions that drag queens are pedophiles going after children or trying to guide their sexual preferences. In their eyes, these people couldn’t possibly just enjoy dressing up in brassy, over-the-top fashion to tell kids some fun stories. There has to be a darker motive.
These are the thoughts of those afraid of change or anything that bends or breaks the norms of what’s deemed as a proper Midwest life. We can take someone dressing up as a clown (well, some of us can), a mute wolf who cheers on the Chiefs, a lion with a crown fused to its skull because it roots for the Royals or any old-timey Western cowboy or prospector, but we draw the line when it’s someone dressing up as the opposite gender, offering to read to kids because that might make that seem acceptable.
The thing is that St. Joseph has celebrated drag queens in the past. The old Shaft Nightclub’s drag queen competitions were wildly popular. On the rare occasion they return, they’re a weekend-long blast.
The response to the backlash the library is receiving is encouraging. The outpouring of support, of people saying, “These people don’t represent St. Joseph. We welcome all types,” is what the city needs if it wants to move into the future.
Through these programs, children can learn acceptance, form a new set of norms where self expression isn’t determined by antiquated, fear-based “values.” They take the shame and fear out of being viewed as “different” and just might save a life.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live