NBYPT Drag Show: It was what we thought it would be.

Many of you asked if we would follow up on last week’s email about the drag show for teenagers in Newburyport. After pushback from parents and concerned citizens, the city assured the public that it would not be a drag show, but just a “dance” with a drag queen DJ. Predictably, however, the event was very much a drag show. Drag Queen “Miz Diamond Wigfall” spent most of the evening up on stage, dancing in a leotard with a break away skirt that came off prematurely. This might have been caused by the fan positioned on stage to continuously blow up the skirt. 

Outside, there were odd adults identifying themselves as “security,” including one man who claimed to be a recent convert to Islam and was therefore wearing what appeared to be either a burqa or at least a full niqab, a hooded veil covering all of the head except the eyes. This was explained by another adult man hanging around outside the dance who referred to himself as the hooded man’s ‘partner.’

Inside the Masonic Hall where the event was held, there were signs asking that cell phone use be limited “for the safety and comfort of all attendees to be themselves…” Newburyport Youth Services posted video, however, which you can watch here.

What that video didn’t show was how Wigfall, whose real name is A.J. Parker, took a break from his performance to lead the students in a game. “I need five people who are willing to werk, W-E-R-K, werk…” he announced. “We’re going to play a little game called ‘Sissy that Cupcake,’… I’m going to find five victims – I mean contestants…” Parker then went on to explain that after walking across the hall towards him the teen would be rewarded with a cupcake, but that they had to “eat it cre-a-tive-ly.” This was said in a manner that evoked sexual innuendo which the students, to their credit, ignored.

However, as disturbing as it is that Parker would even suggest this, the terms “sissy” and “werk” often have explicitly sexual connotations in the drag or trans context. For example, “werk” was originally derived from the words “work” and “twerk.” “Sissy” on the other hand, when used as a verb, is to take something and make it effeminate, often in a sexually degrading way. For example, RuPaul’s Drag Race popularized the phrase “sissy that walk” which you can see here.  However, there is a much darker side to this “sissy” or “sissification” concept, which is a “practice in dominance and submission or kink subcultures, involving reversal of gender roles and making a submissive male take on a feminine role, which includes cross-dressing. Subsets of the practice include ‘sissy training’ and variations thereof, where the submissive male is ‘trained’ to become feminine.” I first heard of this almost four years ago when the New York Times ran an article about a man undergoing “bottom surgery” in order to match his identification as a woman. Conservative blogger Rod Dreher discussed it and linked to a paper the man wrote about his journey, admitting that sissy training may have caused him to become trans.

But whatever sexual deviance was on display or being suggested to high schoolers, we are not supposed to question it or raise objections. Parents who complained on social media prior to the event were ruthlessly attacked online and dismissed as “transphobic” by supporters of the city’s decision to host a drag show for local youth. Newburyport Youth Services (“NYS”) continues to claim that the event was “totally age appropriate.” That’s a disturbing perspective coming from adults who are charged with serving children. 

Whether the people at NYS are intentionally lying to parents or just deceiving themselves, some of the kids understand exactly what’s going on. As a teen who attended the event observed, “The entire thing seemed to be an attempt to desensitize these young high schoolers (the overall demographic was young high schoolers, more underclassmen than juniors and seniors it seemed) to drag and adult sexuality in small doses to make it seem condonable. It was ‘just enough,’ without being too vulgar, to take what was inappropriate and make it seem like it was an ‘ok’ and ‘normal’ thing for these kids to watch. It seemed unnecessary to have a drag queen be the DJ and that it was just an excuse to sexualize minors, because any non-drag DJ would have helped with the event.”

Obviously, these are not things we want to talk to our kids about, or even have to think about ourselves. But there is no hiding from the fact that those in power in many, perhaps most, of our local civic institutions embrace this grooming of our children into the world of sexual deviance or, at best, are unwilling or unable to fight it. This is one of the reasons our theme for last fall’s fundraising banquet was “A Time to Build.” If we cannot rely on or restore existing institutions, we will have to build our own. Whether it’s a new elementary school run out of a church or a wholesome event on a Friday night for teens, let’s prioritize building up the good, the true, and the beautiful for our kids.

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