The last six decades have been marked by victories and advances for trans and Two-Spirit people. However, these “good times” are now being threatened. As attempts to erase trans and queer existence have become increasingly prominent, many of us have been asking ourselves if living in the closet would be a better option. As much as it can be safer, our answer has been a resounding “no!”
One notable way anti-queer and anti-trans proponents have acted these last two years in particular, is by targeting drag artists, and in particular, drag queen story hours—free public events where drag performers read to children and families. These events are an important opportunity for people to learn about inclusion. They celebrate queerness in a family-friendly context, uniting queer and trans adults and children together in a beautiful way. Those who protest these events claim that they are protecting children, appealing to the emotion of conservative-leaning parents. They seek to eliminate public knowledge about transness, creating further prejudice and lack of awareness. Even though protesting is a Charter-protected right, these protests can be more accurately described as ideologically-driven cult rallies, preaching hate. They often actively threaten counter-protestors, attendees, and of course, drag artists themselves. They might claim to be the defenders of morality, but in reality they’re oftentimes the instigators of violence.
The violence against drag artists cannot be understated. They face harassment, threats, and physical attacks in public and online. Many have been losing contracts, getting less paid opportunities to perform their art in public, with some venues like schools and libraries bowing down to avoid anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate and other potential risks such as defunding. Legislation, notably in the U.S. (such as the Tennessee Adult Entertainment Act), has been used to push drag artists further away from view, in a position where they’re unable to foster love and acceptance. Most frighteningly though, this wave of hate against drag performers has been used to justify further violence against trans people.
It is important that trans kids understand who they are and to make sure none of them will be abandoned, whether by civil society, government, or their families.
When drag is categorized as part of a scheme to “groom” children and spread so-called “gender ideology”—a term created by conservative Catholics close to the Vatican and co-opted by the far-right to attack feminism, 2SLGBTQ+ rights, and trans rights in particular—this rhetoric emboldens transphobic people to spread hate and oppress trans people under the guise of protection. The goal of anti-drag protests, which are held in Canada and in several other countries around the world, is to eliminate gender variance and non-conformity, imposing strict gender roles on people and violently censoring those who dare to defy.
Community, on the flip side, has refused to stay silent in the face of hate. Numerous successful counter-protests have been organized against anti-drag protests in every Canadian province. In Ontario, student groups, biker clubs, and numerous parts of civil society co-ordinated demonstrations. In Quebec, where I live, drag defenders have travelled hundreds of kilometers, helping one another to be present at protests. Last May, folks from Montréal and Quebec City all gathered in Jonquière—400 km away from the former—to defend a story hour. While the right-wing groups were preaching their hatred, we sang the 1978 queer anthem “Y.M.C.A.” together! No matter how inconvenient it may be to protest, no matter how much rain there is, or how low the thermometer dips, groups have gathered with tremendous resilience to resist the closet—to refuse to allow themselves or others to be forced in.
It is important that trans kids understand who they are and to make sure none of them will be abandoned, whether by civil society, government, or their families. No one should be afraid of coming out, transitioning, or affirming themselves. That’s why advocates and organizers do this often thankless work, putting ourselves at personal risk: we want people to grow and blossom out in the sun. We want them to be safe. We can thank our predecessors for getting us here; we’re taking the torch to ensure their legacy.
Celeste Trianon is an award-winning trans-feminine activist and jurist. She’s committed to creating a better world where trans people can live their best lives—through action and through the law.