Sashay Away? Ohio Legislature Moves to Ban Child Drag Shows

A performance by 9-year-old Miss Mae Hem gagged and gooped conservatives in the state.

The drag kids are all right? Not according to a group of Ohio lawmakers reportedly scandalized by 9-year-old Toledo upcoming legend Miss Mae Hem.

Young Miss Hem, née Jacob, performed at the Lancaster bar JD Hendersons back in December, which ignited an “online firestorm” largely perpetrated by the Facebook group “City of Lancaster.” The group is unaffiliated with the city government, but that didn’t stop religious and conservative websites from seizing on the non-story, objecting to their perceived sexualization of a minor.

Enter Rep. Tim Schaffer, a Republican lawmaker representing Lancaster. In response to the backlash, Schaffer brought forth House Bill 180 that, if passed, would, as per The Toledo Blade:

…expand Ohio’s definition of child endangering to include a performance that suggests a minor is participating in, or simulating, sexual activity that “taken as a whole by the average person applying contemporary standards, appeals to the prurient interest.”

Any establishment found in violation of the law would have their liquor license revoked.

Schaffer claims the bill, which has bipartisan support, would close a loophole in the state’s child exploitation law:

This legislation was created after a performance by a child in a local bar concerned numerous citizens throughout Fairfield County. According to reports, it was discovered that a young child was in a bar performing a provocative sexually explicit dance routine while patrons watched and some even handed the child money. According to reports, the parents were not only in attendance but also promote the child’s performances across Ohio. The performance was portrayed as a charity fundraiser.

Though it also seems that Schaffer and “a strong consensus of the community” have deemed the parents of Miss Mae Hem morally, if not necessarily legally, at fault:

While there is a strong consensus in the community that this situation is a very bad example of parenting, there were apparently no direct violations of state law or local ordinances during this event. Therefore, the prosecutors were unable to bring charges on the parents or the bar.

Meanwhile, that “provocative sexually explicit dance routine” was a 9-year-old kid using what he learned in dance and gymnastics class and his favorite show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, to have fun and express himself.

“We started watching [Drag Race] in season four, and a couple of days later I asked my mom if I could do drag, and she said, ’Yeah, sure,'” Miss Hem told The Blade last year. “It feels really fun and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I get to do this!’ Before I walk on stage, I’m really nervous, but when the spotlight hits me, I’m like, ’Here I go!'”

Those familiar with a drag show know that patrons always, if they have any class, tip their queens to show appreciation for a job well-slayed.

It’s tradition and, let’s be real, those lace fronts ain’t buying themselves.

According to Mae’s mom, the performance at JD Hendersons wasn’t for charity, though she says her son has performed for charitable causes. Which is also a long-held tradition among drag queens, as the worlds of activism and drag have often intersected—from Stonewall to Pulse.

For its part, JD Hendersons has tried to distance itself from the performance, and according to Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler, the owners have “quickly condemned the show and banned this troupe of performers from returning to the establishment.”

Critics of the performance shared this video of The Marvelous Miss Mae Hem, and besides the blasphemy-heavy borders, there’s really nothing to object over—all I see is a young queen surrounded by a loving and supportive community in a safe space where he can explore a burgeoning facet of himself while death-dropping at a college level.
 

Drag is not sexual by design—rather, if anything, it is a celebration of freedom. Yes, drag can be sexy, but it can also be funny, or weird, or challenging, or creepy, or silly, or anything the person as a performer wants it to be and by making it seem that Miss Mae Hem of the Toledo Hems should be ashamed for expressing himself or that his parents should be chastised for supporting their son in his attempt at that expression is simply cruel.

Those who want to dismiss drag as sexually perverse clearly don’t know what they’re talking about, or as noted drag kid Desmond Is Amazing once brilliantly observed—they’re just “a sad bunch of adults who have nothing better to do than bully a child, call them names, and make up sexual scenarios about them.”

The real problem the proponents of this bill have is in the so-called “prurient interest,” which, of course, is another way of saying gay. Homophobes and the just plain ignorant have long conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. It’s why Russia was able to pass its much-reviled “homosexual propaganda” law, by framing it as a way to protect kids from corruption by the big bad gay agenda.

“Given our heightened focus on human trafficking and the role money plays in trafficking children, I knew I had to take action to make sure this activity does not occur again,” Schaffer said in a press release about HB 180. “We can do better to protect innocent children and we must do better.”

Schaffer’s rhetoric plays into a dangerous false narrative—that of the homosexual as predator and pedophile—and doesn’t take into account the fact that drag is a positive and edifying experience for a child coming to terms with his otherness.

“He’s in an unusual situation in that he’s surrounded by people who are supportive. Ninety-five percent of our friends are in the LGBTQ community and are drag queens, and are in some type of theater performance. He doesn’t experience [bullying] the way a lot of kids may be who want to do things like this have,” Mother Hem, aka Jerri, told The Blade.

“But it’s still a concern when it comes to being presented to a larger and more diverse audience, because he’s not been exposed to people who would treat him poorly.”

Unfortunately, that experience seems to be coming to an end.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat