Drag Kids: Playing with Gender and Queering Time

A drag performer is someone who dresses in an exaggerated gender expression, often using dramatic makeup and clothing, for performance purposes. The drag movement was started by queer people of color about 30 years ago and has recently brought into the public eye as a result of the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race*. Even more recently, drag kids, children who dress and perform in drag, have gained visibility as a movement.

Last week, I had the chance to tune in to Professor Jessica Vooris’ Faculty Research Lunch via Zoom, titled Drag Kids: Playing with Gender and Queering Time. Professor Vooris’ research focuses on gender creative children, children who are pushing cultural boundaries surrounding gender expression and experimenting with the ways that they present and identify themselves in relation to gender. During the presentation, she spoke about drag kids in general, but focused on one in particular, named Desmond, who uses the stage name Desmond is Amazing (@desmondisamazing on social media). Desmond is now 12 years old and has been performing in drag since the age of 7. Not only does Desmond unapologetically perform in a way that challenges conventionally acceptable gender presentation, they have become an outspoken advocate for giving others the space to be themselves.

Conservative media has given a lot of pushback towards gender creative children, falsely claiming that parents are forcing their children to dress and perform in drag, which is absolutely not the case. In many situations, drag kids are convincing their parents to allow them to perform. I was disturbed to learn that many people who disapprove of drag kids’ performances have falsely reported Desmond’s parents for child abuse.

According to Professor Vooris, one reason that many opponents of performers like Desmond are skeptical because such performers may receive dollar bills while on stage, as do adult drag performers. Professor Vooris went on to explain that it is fascinating that people are shocked by this; children receive money in other contexts and it is not seen as problematic. What is wrong with a drag kid earning money for their work and using it to buy themselves new toys? Drag kids, like Desmond, are giving us a reason to question our attitudes about different forms of work and why we view some forms of earning money as more appropriate for certain people than others.

Professor Vooris notes that while it felt a bit strange to present her research virtually, she really enjoyed the opportunity to share remotely and engage with the audience through the Q&A session. Professor Vooris commented that she especially appreciated “how many of my students attended and how many folks had questions!”

Personally, I really miss being on campus and being able to attend events hosted by the WGRC in person, but attending this virtual research presentation was very worthwhile. It’s not the same as being able to attend an in-person event, but definitely helps to be able to tune into an event like this when I am missing the community aspect of Dickinson a little more.

*RuPaul and RuPaul’s drag race have been critiqued for being exclusionary towards different types of drag performers, including those who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) performers. I only mention the show in order to cite a way that drag has been able to reach a more mainstream audience.

Written by Julia Kagan ’21, WGRC student worker

April 24, 2020

Image attribution: “Clockface” by cheltenhamborough is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0