“As recently as the 1970s, dressing as another gender could lead to arrest on charges of vagrancy or perversion … drag was an adults-only affair… But as gay culture has gained mainstream acceptance, the number and variety of locations where drag is welcome have grown. G-rated story hours [for kids] are now offered at public libraries.” A. Hines, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“I’m excited!’ screamed Desmond Napoles, a 12-year-old drag star who performs as Desmond is Amazing, punctuating his enthusiasm with mild profanity. His eyes darted to his phone. Then he backtracked. ‘Don’t put that in. Don’t put that in.’ He would soon be grounded from Snapchat by his mother for what she called ‘sass.’
Desmond and his mother would still make it to the object of Desmond’s excitement: DragCon, the convention hosted by RuPaul in New York City in early September. It would be Desmond’s third year in a row. He isn’t a different person in drag so much as a more outgoing version of himself, he said. ‘I’m always fierce, fabulous and not playing video games,” he said. ‘I’m being AH-MA-zing.’
From an early age Desmond was theatrical, said Wendy Napoles, his mother. There were dresses fashioned out of household items like recycled cardboard, ribbons, towels, Bubble Wrap. Once, she said, at a mall food court, Katy Perry’s “Firework” came on and he broke into an impromptu dance routine…’Other moms are soccer moms,’ Ms. Napoles said. ‘They take their kids to practice, to games, they cheer for their kids. That’s how I see myself with drag.’ Keegan, a.k.a. Kween Keekee, is a 9-year-old drag queen. (The New York Times agreed to not use the family’s last name, to protect their privacy.
‘Our goal has never been to make K famous,’ said his mother, Megan. ‘We allow Instagram to be a public account as we don’t feel we need to be pressured to hide our child, and because we think his story could help other kids.’ Kids — and parents intent on raising them outside of traditional gender norms — are keen to perform…’This is the first generation that was truly raised on ‘Drag Race,’ said Robin Johnson, a photographer, who founded Dragutante, an 18-and-under runway show in Denver. When her son, a 14-year-old who in drag is known as Ophelia Peaches, was in elementary school, they would watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” together, for the gowns, the pageantry, the acting, the drama. It was ‘like Disney princesses,’she said.
Some have public social media platforms and are on their way to careers. Desmond, with 180,000 followers on Instagram, has the largest online presence, followed by Lactatia, a 10-year-old in Montreal.
CJ Duron, 12, whose mother is the author of Raising My Rainbow, recently appeared in a Sephora Pride campaign; although he is not a ‘drag kid,’ he is inspired by the art form, Ms. Duron said.
An active subset of the internet sees kids in drag not as ‘the future of America,’ as RuPaul has said of Desmond, but ‘socially accepted child abuse,’ in the words of Elizabeth Johnston, a vlogger who ‘daily tackles the left on abortion, feminism, & gender insanity,’ according to her social media bios.
Her network also helped call for the cancellation of several drag queen story hours at local libraries…Nina West, a queen who appeared on ‘Drag Race’ and who has often performed for kids, said that while drag is a form of gender protest, it is not inherently sexual. ‘Drag is the larger than life representation of a character,’ she said.
At drag queen story hours at a library, she often reads the book Red: A Crayon’s Story. In it, a red crayon discovers it is wrapped in the wrong label, and was really blue all along.
In her music video ‘Drag Is Magic,’ she performs in front of a group of kids dressed as police officers, pirates and princesses. “Colorful. Bright. Loud. Big! Those are things that kids respond to,” she said. ‘Who’s to say what Barney is?’
Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist in Oregon who works with queer and trans kids, said that experimenting with gender expression isn’t necessarily linked to being queer or trans. ‘It’s normal at basically any age for boys to dress up as princesses and girls in male superhero outfits,’ she said. What’s changed is parenting. ‘When there’s no judgment, kids are more likely to feel free to explore,’ Dr. Edwards-Leeper said.
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about tween drag queens. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Desmond punctuated his enthusiasm with mild profanity.
- He isn’t a different person in drag.
- He broke into an impromptu dance.
- Desmond was vogueing at the New York Pride parade went videos of him went viral.
- His mom also connected with Keegan’s drag mentors adult queens who today help with costumes.
- The gay culture has gained mainstream acceptance.
- They would watch RuPaul’s Drag Race together, for the gowns, and the pageantry.
- Elizabeth Johnston also helped call for the cancellation of several drag queen story hours at local libraries.
- The gay culture is thriving.
- But at least for now, kids are drag’s least commercialized niche.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Desmond and his mother would still made it to DragCon.
- From an early age Desmond was theatrical.
- Desmond pegs his start in the world of drag to 2015.
- Other moms is soccer moms.
- Keegan, a.k.a. Kween Keekee, is a 9-year-old drag queen.
- Our goal has never been to make K famous, said his mother, Megan.
- This are the first generation that was truly raised on Drag Race.
- It’s normal at basically any age for boys to dress up as princesses and girls in male superhero outfits.
- Desmond is Amazing has the most followers out of any drag kid.
Identify The Speakers
Directions: Place students in groups. Hand out the following quotes from speakers in the article. Members are to identify the speakers from the article.
- “I’m always fierce, fabulous and not playing video games…I’m being AH-MA-zing.”
- “Other moms are soccer moms,”…They take their kids to practice, to games, they cheer for their kids. That’s how I see myself with drag.”
- “Our goal has never been to make K famous… We allow Instagram to be a public account as we don’t feel we need to be pressured to hide our child, and because we think his story could help other kids.”
- “This is the first generation that was truly raised on ‘Drag Race.”
- “…sees kids in drag not as ‘the future of America,’ as RuPaul has said of Desmond, but socially accepted child abuse.”
- “Drag is the larger than life representation of a character.”
- “It’s normal at basically any age for boys to dress up as princesses and girls in male superhero outfits.”
III. Post Reading Activities
Graphic Organizers: Finding The Main Idea
Directions: Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with discussing or writing about the main idea and points from the article.
III Post Reading
Questions for Comprehension Discussion and Writing
This article introduces several young people and how they choose to express themselves and explore their identities through drag.
- After reading this article do you think it’s important to express who you are or show only what people expect of you?
- Is it very important to you how people see you? Why or why not?
- How do you think other people view you?
- How did 12-year-old Desmond Napoles start in the world of drag?
- The article states, “Desmond, with 180,000 followers on Instagram, has the largest online presence, followed by Lactatia, a 10-year-old in Montreal.” Do you use social media to express your identity? How?
- The article states that, “Mothers run most of these accounts… drag moms far outnumber drag dads.” Why do you think more moms are in charge of the accounts?
- What is the main task the moms perform as managers of these accounts?
- There are people on the internet who view child drag stars as being inappropriate. According to Elizabeth Johnston, a vlogger, “kids in drag [are] not ‘the future of America,’ as [drag star] RuPaul has said of Desmond, but ‘socially accepted child abuse.’ Do you agree or disagree with her? Provide reasons for your opinion.
- According to Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist who works with queer and trans kids, what has changed over time are the parents views of their children. Dr. Edwards-Leeper states, ‘When there’s no judgment, kids are more likely to feel free to explore.’ Do you agree with this statement or not? Provide reasons for your answers.
- The parents in this article provide strong support to their kids. In your opinion, is this how parents should be? Would you support your child if they wanted to be a drag star? Why or why not?
Facing History has a wonderful feature called Identity Charts: “Identity charts are a graphic tool that can help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. Use identity charts to deepen students’ understanding of themselves, groups, nations, and historical and literary figures. Sharing their own identity charts with peers can help students build relationships and break down stereotypes. In this way, identity charts can be used as an effective classroom community-building tool.”
The New York Times has a free hand-out of the chart here
To learn more about the history of drag, watch the video ‘The History of Drag’ hosted by Trixie Mattel HERE