In modern-day American culture, queer theory or "gender ideology” is one of the most controversial issues of our time. It has touched American culture from politics and laws, as well as our education system. There have been a variety of opinions on the negatives and positives of teaching queer theory to American youth but very little focus on the actual reality of the impact Queer theory has on them. Unfortunately, queer theory's negative impacts are outweighing the positives. In order to understand the negative impact of queer theory on the youth, we must first unpack what queer theory is.
Queer theory, a term coined by a writer/professor named Teresa Lauretis, originated as an ideology in the 1990s based on a mix of gender and sexuality studies with influence from feminist and other social movements. Queer theory has a variety of definitions, but it can be defined as “the study of gender practices/identities and sexualities that exist outside of cisgender and heterosexual norms.” Queer theorists challenge the idea of traditional identities and gender roles in an attempt to make it a more inclusive and equal society. Although it has existed for more than 20 years, queer theory has resurfaced in our educational system and society overall, especially in American youth.
All over America, from elementary school to universities, queer theory has been introduced to American youth in a variety of ways, from queer-based education in books, comprehensive sex education, and drag queen story hour. Let’s take the use of drag queen story hour as a queer theory “pedagogy.” Keenan describes the intent and hopeful impact of drag queen story hour on the youth as “elements of DQSH that offer early childhood educators a way into a sense of queer imagination: play as praxis, aesthetic transformation, strategic defiance, destigmatization of shame, and embodied kinship.” Central elements of Drag Queen Story Hour are extremely alarming. For example, the idea of strategic defiance is being taught to kids. Keenan states, “Drag is all about bending and breaking the rules … desecrating the sacred.” The normal rules that require children to be polite and pay attention are suspended and made easier to break again. “Drag may be especially well-positioned … to make revolution irresistible.” Teaching children that it is okay to break the rules, in hopes they will continually show defiance to the point of a “revolution” when they are older is both dangerous and destructive to youth and society at large. The importance of teaching kids to break rules is again highlighted later in the article. "While drag has some conventions, it ultimately has no rules – its defining quality is often to break as many rules as possible!” (Keenan, 2021). Teaching impressionable youth to embrace “breaking rules” can be detrimental to their success. Teaching kids that rules are flexible sets a tone for defiant behavior in the future.
Methods of teaching queer theory have been implemented through drag queen story hour. Drag Story Hour states its mission is “Drag Queen Story Hour celebrates reading through the glamorous art of drag. Our chapter network creates diverse, accessible, and culturally inclusive family programming where kids can express their authentic selves and become bright lights of change in their communities.” Although it seems like it would be a positive thing for youth, especially if we try to create a more “accepting” culture, how it is done and the material being read is controversial at best. Drag Queen Story Hour is geared towards 3- to 11-year-olds, using books that center around queer issues, history, as well as gender ideology to teach about queer theory. This is illustrated in a video called Lush Drag Queen Story Time: Banned Books with Salina EsTitties, where a drag queen named Salina EsTitties reads from the “banned book” titled Miss Rita Mystery Reader.
This book is about a child whose father is a drag queen who comes to read to kids in her classroom. It seems innocent, but the message geared towards children has negative implications. This book is geared toward children who are forming their identity and understanding the world around them. Normalizing a very nuanced identity concept like being a drag queen to a child can influence how they see themselves as well as their own career choices. American society, now exposed to kid drag queens and family-friendly drag performances, is also witnessing the inclusion of queer theory-based books in schools. These books, like the controversial Genderqueer, contain explicit images of sex, going as far as giving instructions on oral sex, all under the guise of gender-inclusive education. This is essentially porn that was once accessible to kids of middle school and elementary school age before it was banned.
The idea of glamorizing adult entertainment as a career, being a drag queen as well, and normalizing sex have major negative impacts on children psychologically and emotionally, especially when they aren't mature enough to fully understand those concepts. Clinical psychiatrist Professor Caroline Giroux states that exposure to sexual material at an early age can have traumatic effects leading to significant distress, disruptive behaviors, compulsive sexuality, and even suicidal attempts (Giroux, 2021).” It is common knowledge that school-aged youth are like sponges. Any information given to them is taken as truth and helps shape their identity. Queer theory is centered around extremely nuanced concepts. Although the intention is to help kids feel accepted in society, its actual impact on them may not be as positive as the intent. Reading stories such as Red: A Crayon's Story about “not feeling the right color on the inside” to kids who have never even questioned their gender plants seeds of doubt and creates instability in identity formation. It also can negatively impact young gay or bisexual people who already don’t fit in a “gender-normative” box by teaching them that the characteristics of their personality may mean they are the opposite gender. This can be detrimental to masculine girls and feminine boys who are already having a hard time feeling comfortable in their skin.
If we teach kids that personality characteristics make you the opposite gender, then we are instilling the same “gender norms” that queer theory is trying to fight against: being feminine means you're a girl and being masculine makes you a boy. Although much of the impact associated with introducing queer theory to the youth is very much ongoing, what we are already seeing is alarming to many. One major impact we see is the influx of youth self-identifying as “trans” or “queer.” In America, the number of youth identifying as trans has doubled over the past 5 years. According to a study done in 2017 by UCLA, 0.7% of America’s youth identified as trans. In 2021, it was reported that 1.4% of American youth now identified as trans. The numbers have been skyrocketing ever since. Many people make the claim that it’s a natural occurrence to have a more inclusive and accepting generation due to the positive work of introducing queer and gender ideology into schools. But the influx corresponds with the push and pull of gender and queer theory in school, as well as society as a whole.
The influx of trans-identifying youth isn’t necessarily the core issue. But what trans-identification leads to can be detrimental. Youth aren't just calling themselves “trans,” but also following through with aesthetic measures to fit that identity socially, usually leading to the permanent life-altering decision to medically transition. Unfortunately, this influx has also led to an increase in detransitioning, something that was almost nonexistent. According to Big Think magazine, detransitioning has increased in recent years. Online forums like Reddit have also been created for detransitioners with over 50,000 members. Queer theory is being used as a stepping stone in order to create a more inclusive society, but it has negatively impacted America’s youth overall. As the famous saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We have to be cognizant that our intention of fostering an inclusive and “accepting” classroom environment is actually hurting how “accepting” American youth are of themselves.
“About.” Drag Story Hour, www.dragstoryhour.org/about. Accessed 12 Dec. 2023.
Barbera, Elena. “American Groomer Documentary.” American Groomer Documentary, 25 Nov. 2023, www.americangroomerfilm.com/.
EsTitties, Salina. “Lush’s Drag Queen Storytime: Banned Books with Salina EsTitties.” YouTube, 28 Aug. 2023, youtu.be/_0GUsRiG_eQ?si=cMv4B3YeeZd8x6gL.
Giroux, Caroline. “Early Exposure to Pornography: A Form of Sexual Trauma.” Journal of Psychiatry Reform, 7 Dec. 2021, journalofpsychiatryreform.com/2021/12/07/early-exposure-to-pornography-a-form-of-sexual-trauma/#:~:text=It%20can%20have%20traumatic%20effects,sexuality%20and%20even%20suicidal%20attempts.
Keenan, Harper. Full Article: Drag Pedagogy: The Playful Practice of Queer Imagination ..., 2021, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03626784.2020.1864621.
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Loneragan, Claire. “Drag Pedagogy – Queer Theory in Our Schools and Libraries.” Women Rights Network, Women Rights Network, 12 Oct. 2022, www.womensrights.network/post/drag-pedagogy-queer-theory-in-our-schools-and-libraries.
Pomeroy, Ross. “Transgender Detransition Is a Taboo Topic, but Data Shows It’s on The Rise.” Big Think, 21 June 2023, bigthink.com/health/transgender-detransition/.
“Red a Crayon’s Story - Read Aloud - Francie Dillon.” Translated by Francie Dillon, YouTube, YouTube, 11 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZ2fhuj6kA.
Thisisloyal.com, Loyal |. “New Estimates Show 300,000 Youth Ages 13-17 Identify as Transgender in the US.” Williams Institute, 21 June 2022, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/transgender-estimate-press-release/.
“Transgender Detransition Is a Taboo Topic, but Data Shows It’s on The Rise.” Big Think, 21 June 2023, bigthink.com/health/transgender-detransition/.