Drag Queens and the Queering of the Church

Drag Queens and the Queering of the Church

Written by M.D. Perkins |
Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Whether it be drag performances in a church, bookstore, public school, or civic event—the normalization of drag is grievous and the Lord will not be mocked, even as femininity is mocked by these performers. The wrath of God is coming. And woe to those churches who call what is evil, good.

It’s Sunday morning at a progressive church. The pastor introduces himself, states his preferred pronouns, welcomes the congregants, and then announces the arrival of the guest preacher—the drag queen performing under the name of “Ms. Penny Cost.” It is explained that Isaac Simmons (the man in drag) is a first-year seminary student and candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. Simmons will explain why he “gets dolled up” during the children’s sermon, before delivering a message to the whole congregation denouncing capitalism.

This is not the beginning of some pretentious short story from freshman English class. It is, in fact, a real event with real people taking place in a real United Methodist church. And things like this will continue to happen in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

Drag Queens in Public Life

Once an obscure part of the gay subculture, men dressing up as drag queens have now become a common feature of pop culture. They are, of course, featured prominently in Pride parades and other LGBTQ+ celebrations. There are a number of current TV shows focused on drag, like RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1), We’re Here (HBO), Call Me Mother (OutTV in Canada), Queen of the Universe (Paramount+), and Legendary (HBO Max). Drag queens have also found their way into elementary education, with book readings and other “family-friendly” drag events offering ways that children can interact with these performers. With this comes the inevitable controversy and backlash, fueling news stories across the media landscape.

Since drag queens have been mainstreamed, is it any surprise that there would be churches wanting to feature them in worship services? Is it any surprise that a seminary student would want to dress up in drag to present his screeds against capitalism and “queerphobia” to the church? Certainly not. “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 1:18).

What may be surprising for Christians, is that this is not accidental. The normalization of homosexuality leads to greater degrees of decadence and debauchery—not simply by laws of entropy but by concerted efforts on the part of activists to attack the image of God in man. The rise of drag queens in public life is a defiant attempt to queer our children and the church of Jesus Christ.

What is Queering?

Some readers may remember a time when the word queer simply meant odd or strange. Most may still remember when queer was considered a pejorative slur for a homosexual. However, nowadays, queer has become an identity label as well as a point of pride and celebration. Hence the Q in the LGBTQ+ acronym. Queer can be a collective label for anything within the LGBTQ+ spectrum—that is, any person or thing that falls outside heterosexual or stereotypical gender norms.

As academic scholars began using the word queer to define their radical social theories, the word gained additional power. These theories were aimed at elevating non-traditional sexuality and fighting ways that heterosexuality is normalized or considered good in society. One way of combating what these scholars labeled heteronormativity was by a specific disruptive process of queering. Through this use, queer had become a verb, an action.

Queering is intended to complicate and disrupt what is perceived to be normal. As an action, it is the use of words, actions, or representatives to directly challenge heterosexuality, traditional gender roles, or the male/female binary. What is normal is sometimes described as binary—such as identifying as a man or a woman or even presenting yourself as a man or woman.

Here is how queering is defined in the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015):

Queering is one strategy for queer activists who want to unsettle or complicate normative practices, spaces, or discourses. Introducing queer bodies into normative spaces, for instance, changes the dynamics of that space by unsettling the taken-for-granted characteristics of that space. Drag queens might “take over” a “straight bar” in order to queer the space, or complicate what that space means to the people inhabiting it.

The purpose is to disrupt foundational assumptions about sex and gender and, thereby, transform social norms by offering new possibilities. These possibilities do not have to be the new normal in themselves, but they work to move people’s sensibility toward accepting queerness as normal by offering a counterpoint to it. This can even be seen in the rise of the terms nonbinary and genderqueer, used to express a person’s inner feeling of gender identity. Whether discussing gender or sexuality, the binary is rejected in favor of a spectrum. Queering is intended to help people see the various colors of this spectrum.

This may sound very abstract, so an illustration is in order.

Drag Performance as an Act of Queering

Drag performance itself is an act of queering because of its attempt to complicate and unsettle binary depictions of sex and gender. This can be seen even with the complicated use of pronouns which dismantles order and clarity. As in the case of Isaac Simmons/”Ms. Penny Cost,” Isaac has one set of pronouns (they/them) and a different set when dressed in drag (she/her). The drag persona is singular while the real person underneath is plural. The fact that the pronoun protocol is outlined at the beginning of each presentation only adds to the chaos.

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