The above photograph comes from a North Norfolk News article about a Drag Queen Story Hour event in North Walsham being called off amid protests. What caught my eye was the leaflet held by the protestors:
Even at the low resolution, it’s clear that the drag queen on the leaflet is not Titania Trust (who was due to appear at the British library in question) but American performer Xochi Mochi. The latter appeared at a Californian library in 2017; a photograph from the event subsequently went viral and has been incorporated in many images attacking Drag Queen Story Hour (or targets perceived as being somehow related to Drag Queen Story Hour).
Aside from the above leaflet, here are some examples:
But why, exactly, this image?
For context, Drag Queen Story Hour has received attacks from both the left and the right. One complaint directed at it is the feminist criticism that drag acts are parodies of womanhood and therefore misogynistic; this is obviously a complaint that tends to come from the left. Another allegation is that drag acts are inherently sexual and therefore inappropriate for children’s events; this complaint comes from both the left and the right, although a specific variation — that drag acts are sexual because they have LGBT connotations — is tied more to the right.
But looking at the widely-disseminated Xochi Mochi photo, it is hard to say that the image has any bearing on either complaint. There is nothing particularly sexual about Xochi’s outfit –unless we regard heavy eyeshadow as somehow erotic, in which case all those women dressed as Jasmine and Elsa at Disneyland should probably come under fire too. And if you are looking for a misogynistic parody of womanhood, then there are surely better examples to be found than this fantastical, pink-horned figure.
But if we look at the opposition to Drag Queen Story Hour in relation to the American religious right, then the choice of Xochi Mochi has central hate-icon makes a lot more sense. Xochi’s horned-devil aesthetic is no more outrageous than what you’d expect to see at a Halloween party, but it provides the perfect symbol for the belief that the LGBT movement is the Devil’s work. These images make the connection clear:
Now, seeing this kind of thing from the Christian right in the US is unsurprising. More remarkable is the usage of the Xochi Mochi image — with the implicit fear of demons and devilry — at a protest in England, a country whose vastly different religious make-up to the US has made it generally less susceptible to Satanic Panics.
So I was a little bemused — until I found something that made the pieces fall into place.
When I went looking for the origin of the “THIS ENDS NOW” leaflet held by the protestors in the photograph, I came across the same graphic on the Twitter feed of an obscure group called New British Union East Anglia:
The group in question is overtly fascist, patterning itself upon Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Are the protesters in the photo are affiliated with this far-right organisation? Not necessarily, although I notice that one of them is holding a copy of The Light, an antisemitic newspaper. Regrettably, the North Norfolk News article — which interviews one of the protesters — makes no reference to these far-right connections.
Now, I don’t believe that all of the opposition to Drag Queen Story Hour comes from extremists, although I personally find concerns about such events to be overblown. But extremists have clearly latched onto it as a cause célèbre — which, I think it’s fair to say, is a signal for more middle-of-the-road critics of the events to take a close look at the company they’re keeping.
And in this case, we see two different flavours of extremism from two different countries united by their joint hatred of drag queens. The concerns of America’s demon-fearing religious right have been imported by British ethnonationalists.
The new Satanic Panic has arrived in the UK — and the target is not Dungeons & Dragons or heavy metal, but drag queens.