When anything sacred must be debauched, there are no limits to the charade of liberating oneself from taboos.
In 2019, a performance by a dance troupe at the Tanglefoot Building in Grand Rapids attracted controversy after the site’s owner canceled the event. The reason was that the troupe was composed of drag queens and kings, and all were adults with Down Syndrome. The event space owner was Peter Meijer, then a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives. After brief outrage, the story was forgotten, but Drag Syndrome has continued to market their “craft” through—what else?—TikTok.
When I learned there were drag performers with Down Syndrome on TikTok, needless to say, I was shocked but not surprised. The app seems to be a bottomless pit crawling with narcissistic attention seekers trying to outdo one another with daring stunts, cute pet videos, salacious rumors, and perversions of the human condition. The issue of what level of sexual expression Down Syndrome patients possess is not a cut-and-dried proposition.
The National Down Syndrome Society has published guidance stating:
In the past, sexuality was not considered an issue for any people with Down syndrome because of the inaccurate belief that intellectual disability produced permanent childhood. In fact, all people with Down syndrome have sexual feelings and intimacy needs. It is important that expression of these feelings in socially acceptable, age-appropriate ways be recognized by families and caregivers.
But given their intellectual disabilities, youth and adults with this condition are easy targets for sexual abuse and exploitation. Indeed, data published in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs show that they suffer the highest rate of sexual assault (2.6 out of 1,000 persons) and violent crime (16.8 out of 1,000 persons).
Would featuring such adults in a drag performance constitute making a sexual abuse crime legal? I wonder if breaking down previous barriers in the sexualization of kids—such as the 11-year-old drag child Desmond is Amazing or his 9-year-old rival “Queen Lactatia”—may have softened the resistance of Americans to the issue of what constitutes the sexual exploitation. …