How to talk to your kids about street dancer taints

Kids and adults react to a provocative dancer on the 1200 block of Royal Street on March 28, 2016.

“I can’t stop thinking about that drag queen–I’m traumatized,” said the nine-year-old we were watching.

Of course, I assumed she was being funny–the child in question had lived in New Orleans  all nine years of her life. But as a parent who seems to frequently end up in these situations, I couldn’t help but wonder: had we done wrong? A person in a crop-top, eyeshadow and very, er, creative underwear spent no fewer than 10 minutes twerking in front of a crowd of our children, as we all waited to watch, of all things, the Gay Easter Parade.

The dancer’s prop was a pink cross, which was, at times, “ridden” in a provocative manner. I never personally took communion, but I found myself wondering: “this crosses SOME kind of line, right?”

For the first minute of the performance, it was, as one parent said, “eyes popping out and hands over mouths–for a short while–and a few questions and some ‘icky.’”
No parent in that group–which included representatives from marketing, theater, music and toxicology–felt outwardly appalled. If one were to make the argument, we–the cis-gendered breeders who had taken up a parade position in front of a famous gay bar to watch, well, the “Gay Easter Parade” with our sticky progeny–were the intruders. If we didn’t like it, we were certainly free to leave.

But after 10 minutes of what would later be categorized as “exhibitionism,” jovial embarrassment turned to awkward aversion. Everyone’s children, it seemed, would later confess to being traumatized.

The conversation found its way to Facebook, as tends to happen.

“Yup, this was our Easter experience. I think it may have traumatized the children,” commented one parent on a picture we had taken of the event.

“Enlightened!” posted another in response.

Sexual and cultural identity is challenging, particularly when dealing with creatures who might not yet be aware that they are a part of a culture, and—apart from giggling at the words “do” and “thing”—have no real concept of “sex.” It’s even more challenging when you’re me, a man perfectly comfortable denying sexuality of ANY type (I wear socks to bed). But the unavoidable reality is that they–our children, your children–will deal with culture, they will deal with sexuality, and they will deal with the intersection of the two. And they will deal with it on a curriculum schedule NOT of our choosing.

And so as my wife wisely pointed out, the twerk-tastic gender-unclear dancer allowed for a great conversation. A conversation about LGBT identity. An opportunity to point out that this person—seemingly acting on his or her own—didn’t have a tip bucket, and so was looking for a different kind of compensation for the, eh, “performance.” Attention? Political statement? We discussed the nuance of how someone identifies themselves—there were as many of those identities in that parade as there were people, and not one of them could be called upon to be the spokesperson for what it means to be “gay.”

It’s might be easy to see that view as merely the exaltations of college-educated, urbanite parents in single-child homes. But depression, suicide, homelessness and a whole host of other problems have long plagued members of the LGBT community at rates higher than the general population (the “T” part, especially). And every single person–not just thong-Jesus-cross dancer, but every person marching in the parades–was once a kid. A kid watching how their community treated other cultures. A kid grappling with why what they saw portrayed as “normal” didn’t match what they felt inside.

Among our little cadre of mini-humans, any one of them could be beginning their own challenging journey of self-understanding.

I was glad to hear the conversations about the dancer hadn’t stopped at that curb-side on Royal street. Conversations about what makes art; the relative merits of the dancing skills; what makes someone “gay” or “trans” and what you should call you should call a person depending on their identification and modification (the answer: whatever that individual prefers to be called) all sprung from what could have been ignored as mere trauma.

“[My son] couldn’t stop thinking about it and didn’t like it,” wrote one of our friends. “[He] wound up thinking it was all rather sad.”

“I like to speak to [my daughter] about what she thinks is truly artistic in those types of situations and what is just simply bad performance,” said another. “The old standby example is Robert Maplethorpe vs. porn.”

“Nice butt, though,” said my mother-in-law.

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