I am writing today as an open-minded gay man who thinks all human beings on the planet should have equal rights. That’s about it, not special rights, just equal ones. I started my quest in the mid-1980’s and what a journey it has been.
During my college years in the mid to late 80’s, I saw some of the most hysterical drag shows in my life at the long defunct Renaissance Bar in Wilmington, Delaware (you know Joe Biden’s home state, kind of). Of course, from 1980 to about 2010 President Biden in no way supported my equal rights as a gay man. But that’s another story, but it is related.
There’s so much controversy around drag queens and drag shows, reported on in Broad + Liberty and elsewhere, that I thought perhaps it might be beneficial to hear from someone who knows this world well, and has also known what it’s like to be outside the American mainstream as far as sexual mores goes.
I think the star of the show was Miss Mabel Redtop, and the highlight was when she paraded around and shot a penis-shaped squirt gun into the audience. The show was certainly an R-rated extravaganza — in most cities and towns, anything beyond R-rated wasn’t even allowed — not even for a bunch of adult gay men! From Wilmington to Minneapolis and all the way to the West Coast, gay clubs were the place to go if you wanted to see men dressed in some amazing outfits performing for adults. Sometimes styled like Barbra Streisand and other times scantily clad, in many clubs, drag shows were a staple. They became so popular that in the early 2000, many of these staples of gay nightlife started opening their doors to a straight clientele, often imposing cover charges to get through the door and get a front row seat to the action – often offering a glimpse beyond the dress.
As the 2000’s advanced into the 2010’s, gay clubs started to decline. The rise of social media and most importantly smartphone apps meant men (or women) no longer needed a gay club to socialize for the purposes of something beyond conversation. As the majority of society began to accept same-sex relationships and apps took the place of in-person social interaction, these gay clubs once home to drag queens found fewer opportunities for work in their chosen profession. For drag queens who did the work full-time, replacing that work with a job at Starbucks or Kohl’s wasn’t going to be the same.
At the same time, more states passed marriage proclamations and same sex marriage was now common across the country. Social influencers like RuPaul, who started his gender bending music career in the 1990’s, became TV stars in the 2000’s. From “Supermodel (You Better Work B*tch)” to hosting a drag show on VH1, drag was becoming mainstream — but trust me, what you saw on TV was tame by comparison to those drag shows in clubs decades earlier. In the mid-1990’s I began my part-time career as a club DJ and playing for drag shows was part of the job. The adult entertainment drag business was alive and well when I started out. Many of the top drag performers were over the top performers who worked diligently at their work.
For years, a shadow loomed over the gay community — especially in the 1970’s and 80’s. The community, (especially gay men) were commonly referred to as perverts, cross-dressers, and pedophiles. It took decades to shed that hatred and showcase to our family, friends, and neighbors that we were just like them. We succeeded on so many levels, but the battles were tough, and in the worst-case scenarios resulted in murder (i.e. Harvey Milk). However, the community marched forward. And with each passing year, we gained more acceptance and more equal rights.
Unfortunately, something changed in the past few years — something big. The effort to become one with society would become overshadowed by new movements that have divided the gay community. The very community united for decades against oppression was now a divided group. For many, like myself, finding Log Cabin Republicans was necessary to confirm I somehow hadn’t lost sight of why we had Pride parades each year. There are many issues plaguing the gay community now – from multiple genders to those that claim no gender, to a trans movement unlike anything I have ever seen in my lifetime.
I have seen so many drag queens have gotten caught up in the changes. Somehow, we have gone from adult entertainment in gay clubs to normalizing pre-teen boys dressing in drag and performing in gay clubs. Instead of the dark-of-night gay club, drag queens are performing in front of children — often in gay clubs, which raises the question of the age requirement to enter. There has and always will be a reason most clubs have a minimum age requirement of 21 — the environment is for adults, often sexual in nature, and yes certainly for many, just a social hangout.
I think drag queens are a fabulous form of entertainment — but like all entertainment, there is an appropriate place: for adults and with adults. In days of yore, clubs that featured drag queens often featured male dancers, wearing nothing more than some tight fitting shorts. If we move the pendulum so far that drag queens are reading books to children, why not exotic dancers too? What’s the difference? If the argument is to enlighten children to drag (at an age when they are very impressionable), then why not enlighten them to exotic dancing? Where does it stop?
As a firm believer in personal freedom, I think parents should have the freedom to decide what adult materials they wish to expose their children to. As such, any form of this in a public classroom takes away from the freedom of parents. Any organization funded by taxpayers must yield to parental/guardian consent when children are involved. If the local coffee shop wants to host a drag show and allow children, and parents want to take their children, that’s freedom. Anything else is a form of fascism, where a school tells parents they have no choice and their child must be subject to this experience.
Christopher Clay is a graduate of Widener University and has worked in the hospitality industry his entire career from hotels to nightclubs. He has been a member of the Log Cabin Republicans since 2019.