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Lessons learned from a 12-year-old drag queen

It’s a story about acceptance and love and having your voice heard no matter how old you are

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This week’s Pittsburgh City Paper cover
  • This week’s Pittsburgh City Paper cover

I’ve been working at City Paper in some capacity or another since early 2005. So, that means that this issue of CP is roughly my 616th

There are so many cover stories that I’ve loved over the years, and I definitely have my favorites (some of them even by writers other than myself). But as I sit here, two days before this issue is set to hit the streets, I can’t help but think that this is one of the most important that we’ve ever done.

Given the amount of great work that this paper and its staff past and present have turned out, I don’t make that statement lightly. If you haven’t read it yet, you will soon read the story of E!, a 12-year-old drag queen who will be soon be taking the stage at the Austin International Drag Festival. Yes, that’s a huge deal.

But this just isn’t a story about one performance. It’s bigger than that. It’s a story about acceptance and love and having your voice heard no matter how old you are. That story is a representation of what the future of our country looks like — a nation that is largely accepting and tolerant of an individual’s right to be who they are.

Obviously, that’s not what this country is now and that’s what this piece is about. 

I have no doubt that in the days and weeks following this issue’s release, I will receive phone calls, letters and emails from people who are “appalled,” “shocked” and “saddened” that this child’s parents allow them to engage in drag and that this paper decided to “celebrate” that “behavior.” So, I wanted to address these emails and calls before I actually receive them in the following open letter.


Dear [insert name of offended individual or self-righteous community group here],

Whether you want to admit it or not, the world is changing for the better, and the story of this brave 12-year-old proves that. E! is one of those children in this country who is dealing with issues of gender identity very early in their life. What makes this story so important is that E! is not handling these issues alone. They have a supportive family and the recognition and guidance of a community who have gone through the same struggles, only with a lot less help and understanding.

This is becoming a world where younger folks like E! don’t have to hide who they are. They don’t have to live a solitary life wondering if what they’re going through is normal, or if something is wrong with them. Unfortunately, not all kids have the support that E! has and still find themselves in a situation where they have to live in secret and handle these struggles on their own. That’s because acceptance isn’t completely the norm yet. But it will be.

If you have a problem with this week’s cover story, you need to know that you are the problem. No person should have to live their life differently just because who they are makes close-minded people uncomfortable. And the more stories we tell about people like E!, the more likely it is that change will come faster. The more likely it is that our legislators will finally get off their asses and make laws that make discrimination against LGBTQ folks illegal. 

Millennials already know change is coming. In fact, most of them believe change is already here; the word just hasn’t yet made its way to everyone. Sure, I bust on millennials occasionally for things I find annoying, but they are the most accepting generation. A generation that doesn’t see change as an uphill battle, but rather as a necessary component of survival and progress. 

City Paper chose to profile an exceptional 12-year-old with a great story and an even greater worldview on gender. So maybe read it again, and approach it from that perspective. Try to celebrate E! and the other drag performers you can see featured in the issue for their willingness to live life as who they are, regardless of the criticism they may receive. Who knows? At the very least, maybe you can appreciate them for that, and that’s a start.


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