The National Review, a conservative opinion publication founded by public intellectual William F. Buckley and inherited by public reaction, opted this week to publish a diatribe accusing Wendy Napoles of bad parenting. ‘Drag Kids’ Attract Pedophiles, Which Is No Surprise’ by columnist Daniel Payne suggests that Napoles is responsible for a pedophile’s sexual interest in her son, who goes by the stage name Desmond is Amazing, because she has allowed him to sexualize himself (or sexualized him, it’s a bit unclear) by letting him perform in drag shows. The underlying theory here seems to be that pedophiles are absolutely crazy for eye-liner. Or, alternatively, that Payne is a sexually nervous victim-blamer who should not be allowed to write about parenting. Ever.
Payne’s takes on Desmond, drag, and pedophiles are all deeply misinformed, viciously puritanical, and hilariously stupid. Let’s go through them for fun!
“It turns out that publicly sexualizing a young boy, parading him around in gaudy and flamboyant outfits as part of a deeply and perversely erotic subculture, will catch the attention of perverts. Stop the presses.”
Do you know what will also catch the eye of perverts? Cassocks. Jeans. Anything. A perversion is something that twists, distorts, or warps the original meaning of a thing, idea, or concept. Payne has clearly never heard of Rule 34, an internet meme that says “If it exists, there is porn of it. If there isn’t, there will be.” Which is to say, one should never underestimate the will of perverts to pervert stuff. Does drag attract the attention of perverts? Sure. So do Disney characters and home appliances.
While it’s true that some things are easier to sexualize than others, why place the blame on the innocuous activity. Should high school cheerleaders be blamed that they are a perennial target of pornography? Should they stop cheerleading? Should they simply cheer in burqas? Should they cosplay as National Review editors? Maybe some ill-fitting khakis….
“Drag culture is self-evidently a sexual culture; those who insist otherwise have never seen actual drag shows, most of which resemble burlesque shows or stripteases. Nobody goes to a drag show for the intellectual stimulation.”
Here’s a tip for Mr. Payne: Most aspects of the world are ripe for intellectual stimulation if you’re you’re willing to actually be thoughtful. While I doubt Mr. Payne has ever actually gone to a drag show — and struggle to believe he would ever be invited — it’s possible he was dragged to one against his will and that a crafty queen, sensing an easy mark, exploited his red-faced homophobia to the delight of an audience. That’s a nice thing to imagine. But it probably didn’t happen. Payne alone is responsible for bringing his biases and bigotry to drag.
And, not that it will much matter to Payne, drag has deep roots in folklore, theater, music, and political protest. Can it be sexual? Sure. Is it always? Nope. Can it be fun and entertaining and silly? Yes. It is always? Not at all. Payne’s insistence that drag is disgusting and dangerous reveals just how intellectually lazy he is. I’m curious how he’d describe “dance.”
“His drag performances are patently sexual: What else would one call gyrating one’s hips in a crop-top while grown men throw dollar bills into the stage? In one appearance, he even performed a quasi-striptease, throwing off a dress to reveal a bared midriff underneath — all to raucous cheers from the audience.”
Payne here is talking about Desmond is Amazing performing as Gwen Stefani. The outfit Desmond wears in the video clips used as “evidence” are directly correlated to Stefani’s look and videos. When watching, the videos it’s hard to understand exactly what Payne find so offensive? Is it simply the sight of a boy in a crop top and baggy jeans lip-synching and pacing the stage? There’s no hip thrusting or gyrating or crawling around on all fours. In fact, Desmond is pretty subdued. I’ve seen Olympic gymnastics floor routines with far more sexualized moves.
Maybe Payne is offended by the audience giving Desmond money as he performs? That speaks more to the author’s mind than Desmond’s performance. Payne goes straight to strip clubs as a reference. I do believe he probably has experience there. Clearly, he’s never seen anybody busking or witnessed the tradition of pinning dollar bills on a bride’s dress for the privilege of dance. Both of those are innocent traditions far more aligned with Desmond’s performance than sliding a slimy dollar bill across the rail when a sex worker juggles her breasts in your face. But, you know, I suspect Payne is working from that old adage “write what you know.”
“You can, with minimal effort, protect your child from the sick and twisted gazes of perverts and predators; not letting your eleven-year-old perform cross-dressing cabaret is a start.”
Bullshit. The sick and twisted gaze of perverts is omnipresent. Where was Payne’s fiery take on the mothers whose children were assaulted by Larry Nassar? Clearly, Payne must have a huge problem with mothers who allow their daughters to be dressed up in spangly, revealing leotards and shake their hips during floor routines. Particularly when there are actual, real-life, honest-to-god convicted pedophiles who have haunted the gymnastics community.
Either that, or he’s simply a homophobic hack.
Payne is victim shaming, pure and simple. Instead of placing the responsibility and onus on a despicable pedophile who would be attracted to young boys regardless of what they’re wearing, he blames the parent. The poor man must faint anytime he sees a shirtless boy playing in the park, or a little girl in a two-piece swimsuit at the public pool. I can only assume Payne’s perfect world would be one where children are dressed in formless black sacks at all times.
Instead of tearing down creative kids who are living their best lives and the parents who support them in those efforts, maybe Mr. Payne should focus on the predators. His energies would be far better spent tearing down pedophiles than the kids and parents they prey on. Maybe the President knows some predators he can write about.