Who gets to be a drag queen? Gay men, trans women, cis women, all of them? When drag queens are portrayed as hyper sexual those pointing the finger assume that drag, hyper femininity, is by its very nature a sexual thing. To be a drag queen is to be performative, to pastiche what society views as high femme, all the while sending up all the tropes associated with femininity. Whether you like drag shows or not, the fact that governments are seeking to ban children and young adults from being around drag queens sends the message that simply to be hyper feminine is inherently a provocative sexualisation of womanhood.
While legislators and radical feminists deconstruct drag as sexual, they miss the inherent social critique that comes with drag shows and the drag aesthetic. Those seeking to ban the show rarely mention drag kings, and vanishingly rarely mention the power dynamics involved within the LGBTQI+ community over who gets to be a drag queen or king. Cis women have fought to be drag queens, trans women fought to be drag queens, and gay men have been violently attacked and killed for their drag acts. Drag is both an act of rebellion against societal performative norms and an act of emancipating oneself from those norms. The fact that straight men have been dragging up when the mood suits for millennia highlights that the issue is not the cross dressing, but lies in who is transgressing which boundaries.
If a man manifests as a drag king is he really wearing drag? Is the inherent power dynamic behind a man dragging up in male attire such that all he does is become a pastiche of himself? Conversely, if a woman becomes a drag queen is she making a political point in her satire? A male drag queen, be it a cis or trans man, inherently inhabits a male work and male power dynamics, and essentially amplifies rather than critiques male culture. Men aping men becomes satire in a traditional sense, though when a woman drags up as a drag king her aping of male norms becomes political and pointed. The power lies in the subversion, the comedy and humour flow from the warping of gender norms. This is why drag queens become subversive and inherently powerful, because even in their pastiche they make us question our assumptions of womanhood. The power flows from below.
However, if you are around the drag scene for long enough, even watching Drag Race, there is often an underlying sexuality to drag performances and drag performativity. In an adult environment it becomes difficult to separate the drag persona from the comedy, and the bawdy nature of such shows reflect on drag as a genre. Yet, when you take the queen out of the club and bar, can you inherently separate the sexual nature of the bar show from the queen? This is the conundrum that anyone engaging with drag on a substantive level must address.
Objectively, any person dragging up can simply be doing so as a performative element to a mundane act. You can wear drag to go shopping, to do housework, to read stories to children. There is no need to be inherently sexual when dragged up. It is the club and bar bawdiness that clouds the perception of drag queens, not the clothing themselves, though drag clothing can be inherently sexual if designed for adult audiences in mind. If you perceive drag queens as inherently sexual and sexualised you are saying much about your own mores as much as you are critiquing drag culture.
Drag bans and gender proscribed clothing need policing, and essentially who gets arrested and punished for violating those laws becomes a matter of perspective. Will cis women be arrested for drag performances? Will trans women be arrested for walking while trans? These laws further marginalise minority identities who fall outside white cisgender binary grooming standards, and even an arrest without prosecution is enough to frighten those who simply want to live as their authentic selves.
To ban drag just because you do not like it or project a certain image onto it is a dangerous step. What do you proscribe next? Are women assigned at birth only to wear skirts, and men assigned at birth shirt and ties? Are enforced heels and aprons next? It seems obvious that such things would be retrograde to modern society, but banning a particular type of person from wearing hyper feminine clothing and performing certain routines is one step further along the road to rigid gender enforcement. If you decry compulsory hijabs then think carefully before banning certain people from wearing certain clothes.
Drag shows, and drag story times, have intended audiences and the performative aspects cater for those audiences. In the demonising of all drag you simply state that high femme, pastiche femme, worn by certain people is wrong. Yet, Toddles and Tiaras features much the same high femme without provoking such comment. High femme is acceptable if it sexualises teenage cis girls, but morally outrageous if it critiques patriarchal culture. The crux becomes that those who ban drag shows will always find a new target, a new group to demonise and persecute. Women are policed heavily within most societies for the clothing, hair and make-up, and even if you choose to reject those norms you will face a degree of normalising from those around you. Drag bans become identity policing become rigid gender enforcement. This is the historical precedent, so even if you do not enjoy drag or drag shows we need to stand against drag bans because harder gender restrictions will follow next.