Norwich-based author and teacher Molly Potter assesses the hate, abuse and threats are that are targeted towards drag artists reading books to children

The world doesn’t hang about for nuance, does it? It makes up its mind really quickly and then starts shouting from a place of emotion and sometimes, sadly, hate.

Social media and the media seem to encourage this. I feel they bring out the worst aspects of human nature and appear to revel in them as - after all – contention does keep people hooked doesn’t it?

So the latest shouting match appears to be around the protests aimed at drag artists who read stories to children, one of which took place in the library at the Forum in Norwich on Wednesday.

One such act read one of my books recently and made it far more entertaining than I ever could. It was totally child-friendly, really funny and extremely engaging. So what is all the fuss? Well I have been watching closely….

Drag has its history in a gay culture that was mostly pushed underground and ‘outside’ mainstream – thus not in common consciousness, so many people are not used to it (other than a handful of ‘distanced’ TV celebrities).

It also has history in the fact women were not allowed to play parts in theatre. Pantomime shows remnants of this. But to me, a man in an outlandish outfit is just that – a man in an outlandish outfit. It’s funny garish and over-the top and I absolutely love it.

But what I am picking up is that a man in a dress is too unusual for a small, but noisily aggressive, number of people.

Eastern Daily Press: Rival protesters outside The Forum make their message clearRival protesters outside The Forum make their message clear (Image: Archant)

And for those people, what seems to happen is that anything that diverges from ‘what most people are used to’ is lumped together on some sort of unrealistic scale that they assume always slides to an unrelated and harmful extreme.

Through this process, some adults appear to manage to link drag to paedophilia. This is outrageous and highly offensive.

The reality is there will always be dangerous adults who cause harm to children and I will make the fair assumption that most of these are straight males. To claim (consciously or even subconsciously) that a man is more likely to be a paedophile because he is a drag artist is bizarre, hateful and totally illogical.

To claim with such certainty that a drag artist is going to harm a child says more about the ignorant minds of those saying such things than anything else. This is the realm of simplistic prejudice.

There is also an idea that watching a drag act read a story is somehow sexualising children. This is absurd.

Eastern Daily Press: Wednesday's protest outside The ForumWednesday's protest outside The Forum (Image: Archant)

A drag artists would not be re-commissioned if they included inappropriate material when reading to children. I would love to hear a full and logical reasoning that explains this link.

This connection really does need challenging because as I learnt when I worked in the field of relationships and sex education: anything that can be linked to sex – however incorrectly, can whip up strong emotional responses. We often have programming about sex that comes directly from the adults in our childhood.

The significant others of our childhoods might have been prudish, they might never have made reference to sex, they might have giggled about it, they might have exposed us to things that made us uncomfortable, or in the worst cases, abused us. None of those approaches would give us a balanced, logical and non-emotional attitude toward sex.

I think linking a drag act reading a story to children being linked to sex has menacing origins. Women are sexualised, gay people are sexualised, trans women are sexualised and drag artists are sexualised. Sexualising these groups seems to be a method the establishment/right uses to demonise that which does not sit within it.

There’s a lot of that about. It’s really time to broaden horizons for those that sexualise these minority groups. How about a more everyday and relevant focus, like some gay people like gardening, some trans people love to cook and all drag artist are extremely entertaining?

Then there’s the whole, ‘you’re going to make children trans’ thing I keep hearing. To that I would firstly have the knee-jerk reaction of ‘so what?’ I welcome any challenge to gender constructs.

They are so restrictive and often damaging. If a child grows up to question or change their identity in any way – that’s great in my book. Nobody does this lightly even though the media will imply that there are people going around forcing conversion of vulnerable young people.

Seeing a drag artist read a story is extremely unlikely to make a child change genders. It’s clear that understanding trans issues is considerably outside the mainstream awareness, therefore most people are ignorant about them, and yet still happy to judge from that place of ignorance. Same thing happened historically with race. It’s a low-level thinking response, not a high level one.

The children I witnessed watching a story read by a drag act loved it. What’s more, I like to think their minds have been expanded to challenge a narrow idea of what is ‘normal’

Eastern Daily Press: Mollie PotterMollie Potter (Image: Ben Turner)

That idea, the one that leads people to become prejudiced, able to target minority groups, never bother to develop their understanding to tackle their ignorance and to be comfortable to hate.

Surely everyone understands finding excuses to hate is simply wrong and we must all know that kindness is the ultimate aspiration? I for one, enjoy, revel in, am interested by and celebrate difference of any kind. It definitely makes the world so much richer.

Molly Potter has many years experience of working in education as a teacher and trainer and is the author of more than 30 books for parents/carer, teachers and children in emotional literacy, positive mental health and creative thinking.