Lesson of the Day: ‘Sashaying Their Way Through Youth’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Sashaying Their Way Through Youth’

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Featured Article: “Sashaying Their Way Through Youth

As recently as the 1970s, dressing as another gender could lead to arrest. Today, L.G.B.T.Q. people are losing their rights and face violence in the United States and around the world. In spite of this, young people are pushing back against the gender binary and expressing their identity with freedom through drag.

In this lesson, you will learn about the history of drag and about several preteen and teen drag queens. Then we ask you to consider the ways you express your identity through art and culture.

What do you know about drag? Have you ever been to a drag queen story hour at your local library? Are you a fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”? Or is drag something you do not know a lot about? Is it viewed as different or negative in your home or community? If you or those around you feel uncomfortable with drag, where do those beliefs or discomforts stem from?

In the featured article, Nina West, a queen who appeared on “Drag Race,” described drag as “the larger than life representation of a character.” Drag often manifests as people playing, exploring and redefining gender, sometimes through fashion and performance. To learn more about the history of drag, watch this video (hosted by Trixie Mattel) and then answer the questions:

  • What were some of the early appearances and uses of the word “drag”?

  • How was drag understood in the 1920s and 1930s?

  • What are some cultural moments that have popularized drag?

In the video, Trixie Mattel says: “Today, ‘drag’ can involve dressing up, wearing crazy makeup, gender crossing or having a persona or fictional character. But it’ll always have its roots in queer culture.” As you read the featured article, think about the history of drag as you see the ways in which young queens are finding meaning through drag today.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What were some of the theatrical and creative moments that led Desmond Napoles, who performs as Desmond is Amazing, to drag? How does he differentiate between who he is in and out of drag?

2. Why have the parents of Keegan, a.k.a. Kween Keekee, allowed his Instagram account to be public? What are some of the things his mother did to support his passion for drag?

3. Why did Robin Johnson, mother of the teen queen Ophelia Peaches, start Dragutante?

4. Why did the vlogger Elizabeth Johnston criticize drag and young people watching or participating in drag shows or story hours? How did Nina West, a queen who was on “Drag Race,” respond? What has her experience been leading drag queen story hours?

5. What does Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist, say about the relationship between gender expression and sexuality in children? Dr. Edwards-Leeper also talks about a change in parenting that has given space for more expansive gender expression in young people. What do you think about the role of parenting in gender expression?

6. How have Keegan and Desmond experienced fame and also bullying? How have they reacted and responded to those different experiences?

Option 1: Making Connections

The article posed this question about drag: “How mainstream can the art form become before it loses its subversive power?” What do you think? Respond either in writing or in a class discussion.

“Subversive” is defined by Vocabulary.com as doing something “in opposition to an established system or government.” In the case of drag, the system could be gender. Do you think it is possible for more people to embrace drag and for it still to retain its ability to challenge dominant ideas about gender and identity? Do you think it is important for drag to remain subversive, or is it better for it to become mainstream? Can you think of other art forms that were once subversive and are now part of the mainstream?

Option 2: Identity Chart

The article explores the ways that young people express and embrace different parts of their identity. What are the most important parts of your identity? What is important to how you see yourself? Is that the same as how others see you or how you want them to see you?

To brainstorm, complete this Starburst Identity Chart from Facing History and Ourselves. On the arrows extending out from the circle, write words that are key to how you self-identify. Then write words that reflect how you think others perceive you on the arrows pointing into the circle.

As you look at your identity chart, reflect either in conversation or in writing:

  • Do you feel comfortable sharing the most important parts of your identity to others? How do you express or show pride in your identity to yourself or others?

  • What are ways that you use art, culture or social media to share and express your identity?