I don’t think it’s just me, but it only seems like we (our collective culture) blinked and then, what was once a part of the gay subculture, men dressing up as drag queens, have now become a common and celebrated feature of pop culture.
They’re featured prominently in Pride parades and other LGBTQ+ celebrations. Events promoted as “family friendly” are easily discovered in places like the public library for story time readings, elementary schools, family time brunches, beauty contests, and talent shows. And of course, there are a number of current TV shows focused on drag, like RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1), We’re Here (HBO), Call Me Mother (OutTV), and Legendary (HBO Max).
As the world of drag becomes more mainstream a question has begun to be asked. Is this type of entertainment ok for the Christian to enjoy? Isn’t it just another form of acting? After all, the ancient Greek actors were only men who’d dress up to act the various roles of women in their plays. We have watched Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire without watching the world blow up – even had good laughs while watching those movies. Totally innocent fun – isn’t it?
Well, I personally think that the ancient Greeks probably shouldn’t be held up as the moral standard, and Hollywood should not be the litmus test for right or wrong about anything. Instead, let’s explore a little about what message is being sent via this current entertainment craze – ‘drag shows’ and what if anything the bible says about it and why or if a Christian should care.
Let’s begin by exploring a term that has been gaining traction lately to describe the actual purpose of drag shows – ‘Queering’.
What is Queering?
The term Queer itself has become an identity label as well as a point of pride and celebration. Hence the Q in the LGBTQ+ acronym. Queer can be a collective label for anything within the LGBTQ+ spectrum – that is, any person or thing that falls outside heterosexual or stereotypical gender norms.
As academic scholars began using the word queer to define their radical social theories, the word gained additional power. These theories were aimed at elevating non-traditional sexuality and devaluing heterosexuality as the normalized good in society. One way of combating what these scholars labeled heteronormativity was by a specific disruptive process of queering. Through this use, queer had become a verb – an action.
Queering is intended to complicate and disrupt what is perceived to be the normative. As an action, it is the use of words, actions, or representatives to directly challenge heterosexuality, traditional gender roles, or the male/female binary. (binary is identifying as a man or a woman or even presenting yourself specifically and exclusively as a man or woman)
The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) defines queering in this way: Queering is one strategy for queer activists who want to unsettle or complicate normative practices, spaces, or discourses. Introducing queer bodies into normative spaces, for instance, changes the dynamics of that space by unsettling the taken-for-granted characteristics of that space. Drag queens might “take over” a “straight bar” in order to queer the space or complicate what that space means to the people inhabiting it.
In other words, disrupt foundational assumptions about sex and gender and, thereby, transform social norms by offering new possibilities. These possibilities do not have to be the new normal in themselves, but they work to move people’s sensibility toward accepting queerness as normal (and fun) by offering a counterpoint to it.
We can clearly see this unfolding during a Drag performance. That’s because the Drag performance itself is an act of queering in its attempt to complicate and unsettle binary depictions of sex and gender.
This is evidenced in the complicated use of pronouns which dismantles order and clarity as in the case of Ru Paul. Ru Paul has one set of pronouns (he/him) and a different set when dressed in drag (she/her). The drag persona is female while the real person underneath is male, as evidenced when RuPaul was signed to a modeling contract for MAC Cosmetics. Various billboards featured him in full drag, often with the text “I am the MAC girl”.
But the queering practice goes deeper. Consider the way Drag Queen Story Hours have become a feature of education in recent years. These are events where a drag performer reads storybooks to young children in a school, library, or bookstore setting. The Drag Queen Story Hour website proudly declares that through these events “kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves!” The purpose is to stretch a child’s imagination to include drag queens as normal. This is precariously close to, if not already, the grooming of our children.
Here’s the thing, queering is intentionally designed to blur the lines of male, and female. Further, It’s meant to make people more accepting of the LGBTQ+ ideology at an emotional level.
And not only are (should) Christians completely be right to oppose it. Even some within the LGBTQ+ community speak out against the practice of queering. One drag queen, who goes by the name “Kitty Demure,” scolded parents for promoting Drag Queen Story Hour events.
“Would you want a stripper or a porn star to influence your child? It makes no sense at all. A drag queen performs in a nightclub for adults. There is a lot of filth that goes on. A lot of sexual stuff that goes on. And backstage there’s a lot of nudity, sex, and drugs. Okay? So I don’t think this is an avenue you would want your child to explore.” – Kitty Demure
Why Should Christians Care?
Many Christians insist that other Christians just need to quiet down, hold their peace, and love their neighbours and let each be who they want to be. In a conversation I recently had with a friend who was promoting that approach said to me, “After all, Jesus didn’t speak against homosexuality, drag, or other LGBTQ+ issues, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn; we shouldn’t condemn.”
On the surface this may sound plausible; however, the problem with this argument is that this is an argument from silence. The fact is that silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Should kidnapping be allowable too? After all Jesus never said that kidnapping was a sin, yet I’m sure that all of us would agree that stealing children is wrong.
It’s true that Jesus didn’t address drag directly, but he did speak clearly about sexuality in general, specifically addressing and defining marriage and gender roles in Matthew 19:4–6 & Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 & Genesis 2:24 to explain it.
“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6
Here Jesus defines and affirms gender roles as a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. If Jesus had believed in a broader definition of gender and a blurring of the lines between the two, then here was his opportunity to present it.
Yet he never spoke of, or presented a spectrum along the gender line, he spoke only of two clearly defined terms and roles – man and woman. Jesus was solidly affirming the male – female relationship as it had been established with the very first couple, Adam & Eve. This is a major reason we Christians should care.
Back to the Drag show situation – we Christians should also care because of an issue that has become more prevalent over the past number of years and of which drag shows most certainly help to normalize. Namely a condition termed ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (or gender identity disorder).
Gender Dysphoria is fast becoming an accepted standard in our world and is quickly being eliminated as a classified disorder at all. An individual may now identify as ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘other’ on many, if not all, government forms today. In this new world order we now see that Transgenderism currently finds protection within the law of the land… at least north of the American/Canadian border.
In Canada, Bill C-16, was recently introduced that updates the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. It also extends hate speech laws to include the two terms, making it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender.
Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, jumped all over it, “I will never use words I hate,” Peterson wrote, “like the trendy and artificially constructed words ‘zhe’ and ‘zher.’ These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.”
Granted, not all drag performances are brazenly sexualized, nor are all those who identify with a gender dysphoria sexual predators, however the truth rains that the very act of drag perverts the picture of God’s clearly defined created order and why again we as Christians should care.
“God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” – Genesis 1:27
How Should Christians Respond?
Certainly, some applaud Jordan Peterson, even while others decry his position. Lines have been drawn, opinions shared, accusations made, and unkind words are being thrown left and right. For myself, no matter my personal opinion about the ‘gender’ issue, I am first and foremost a believer in treating people with a value and respect that I’d hope to receive for myself. We shouldn’t need a law to force us to respect other people.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that this blurring of the gender lines is sin and a problem. I do believe that it is certainly sin and needs to be called out for what it is. It is controlling the hearts and minds of people, damaging society along with the individuals who are caught in the lie that says their self-worth is found in their sexuality or sexual identity. It’s not! Self-worth can only be found in Jesus Christ. And one of the ways we discover our self-worth and true identities through Jesus is in the celebration of the sexes as God created them, male and female.
However, this never gives a Christian license to demean someone who might struggle with sexual identity or identifies other than their birth gender. In fact, as disciples of Jesus Christ, our churches should be the safest place to talk about, and struggle with gender dysphoria. Yet too often, our churches have been anything but safe – and that’s something that Christians, including me, need to repent about. The Bible challenges churches to reflect and represent Jesus by reaching out to transgender and gender dysphoric neighbours with loving grace-filled hope.
I’m not sure that the average church is living out that challenge though. Having said that I believe most churches would like to. So, the question begs to be asked; To live like that, what would we need to be more like? If we lived like that what would we look like?
We Must be a Caring People
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10
If a self-identified transgender individual walked into your church, would this person be greeted? How about invited for lunch? How about invited back next Sunday? Our response to those who identify as transgender must be absolute and sincere, “You are welcome here. You are loved.”
That’s because we believe that all people matter to God. As a result, we must seek to intentionally engage all people with an effort to move them toward God, while relating to them where they are at in every stage of life and spiritual journey. The mission of every Christian is to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ within their circle of influence. This needs to be characterized by genuine friendships; actively doing good deeds; sharing a personal witness; & dependence upon prayer and the Holy Spirit’s convicting /drawing work.
Sadly though, too often our churches give the impression that the Son of Man came to seek and save the squeaky clean, not the lost. To combat this requires us to be transparent about our own struggles and failings. The antidote to this impression is to embrace the compassion that Jesus extends to each of us – and in turn extend it to others. We need to live lives that habitually repent often, forgive freely, extend grace continuously, and love fully.
We Must be a Listening People
As the bringers of light to a dark world and as representatives of Jesus who declared himself as the way, the truth and the life, we must boldly stand for truth and declare the way. That must never change. However, I wonder if, in our fervor we too often believe we can just declare the truth to the world and think that our job is done. “Good job boys… that’ll tell em.”
We work hard to make sure we have our truth or theology and apologetics down pat and then act as though we can simply give the ‘right’ answer, or the so called ‘Sunday school response’ to all the cultural problems being faced, believing then that the ‘issue’ will be cleared up, much like a home remedy for a spiritual head cold. But the problem is that many aren’t looking for head answers because they’re crying out to us from the heart. God made us with both heads and hearts that come with real thoughts, real feelings, and real desires.
I wonder if we sometimes forget that it is real people living in our neighbourhoods, interacting in our work spaces, sitting in our gatherings, and having real struggles. What do they hear in our conversations? Do they hear people trying to understand them or do they hear the dismissiveness of someone who has never really stopped to consider how they feel?
Of anyone on this earth, we should be known for being the ones who seek to understand their heart. This takes work, because sometimes, instead of coming up with the ‘answers’ we should spend more time being silent while honestly listening. In order to sincerely affect someone, we need to first listen to their heart.
We Must be a People of Grace & Truth
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Jesus was full of both grace and truth. He wasn’t 50% grace and 50% truth. He was 100% grace and 100% truth. He always had exactly the right balance in his response to people and situations.
Most of us gravitate to one side or the other. We’re primarily truth people or primarily grace people. But rarely does anyone exhibit a healthy, Christ-like balance of both virtues. I confess to being out of balance on the truth side. I frequently need an extra measure of mercy and grace.
Only Jesus demonstrated a perfect even-handedness in every situation. He was passionate for truth. He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth – your word is truth” – John 17:17. Yet he was compassionate toward hurting people. He encouraged his followers, “Love one another as I have loved you” – John 15:12.
To truly understand grace is to understand that I am an unworthy recipient of God’s mercy, and that but for the grace of God I would be not only a sinner but a condemned sinner. In consequence, I must endeavor to reflect in my dealings with others something of the mercy God has shown me.
Grace is an essential part of God’s character and is closely related to his benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favour toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In his grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously. As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others even while speaking the truth.
If our churches are marked by one thing, let it be both grace and truth – the grace that always welcomes, always goes the extra mile, always forgives, and is extended continuously, even while being anchored in the truth of God’s Word.
We were meant to be a place of grace and truth – a place where everyone, no matter background or struggles, finds homes open and family offered, a place where people are listened to and loved rather than stereotyped and lectured. But also a place where people can find the truth of God’s Word being taught and applied. If you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ, God is calling you to that ministry.