Farrukh Dhondy | Of drag queens, evangelicals on ‘racist’ protest & ‘counter-demos’

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

This anti-anti-protest, sometimes up to eight hundred strong, labels itself “anti-fascists” and bears placards saying “fascist-free zone”

The Honor Oak hosts a story-telling session by drag queens. (AFP File Photo)

“Hark to the one whose eyes are green

And believes the unseen is the seen

Posing self-inflicted pain

Letting actuality exist in vain

Oh victims of your fantasy

Oh green-eyed one, why can’t you see

Your thoughts are just a bitter dream

And things are not quite as they seem?”

From Dude Park Puree, by Bachchoo

There isn’t an age beyond which one stops demonstrating on the streets. If I thought that even an overnight demonstration in London would get (Ras) Putin (no, he hasn’t got dreadlocks yet!) to stop his bombing of schools, hospitals and restaurants in Ukraine, I would put on my walking shoes and be out there. No such prospect, Raspy couldn’t give a flying fu…rry-creature about what his own people think, leave aside what he characterises as Nazi-supporting Westerners.

So, even if the comrades call a demo for this hopeless cause I shan’t be going. Barracking an embassy whose government is in blatant violation of human rights -- getting their death squads to pick on and even kill women who defy their nasty rules or turning a blind eye to, or encouraging assaults on minority populations within the country -- I might consider showing my face, even though the chances of reversing such violations is remote.

However, a very local cause I have regularly endorsed with my presence has been easy for me -- as it concerns a pub which is fifty yards from the place where I live. No, gentle reader, I wasn’t demonstrating outside The Honor Oak pub to protest against the price of beer or indeed complaining about the quality of it -- which is excellent.

Why did I join a few hundred people on this demonstration -- which takes place on the last Saturday of each month?

Well, it is technically a counter-demonstration. What The Honor Oak has taken to doing over the last six or so months is to host in their tiny, one-room theatre on the first floor above the drinking space and gardens… a show for children. The show is a story-telling session by drag queens. Men dress up as women and tell stories, from tradition and several cultures, to the gathered young, delighted audiences.

This Saturday event came to the attention of what I conclude are hotheads from an American-origin evangelical church. I may be mistaken but I’ll tell you later why I assume this. These evangelists concluded that men in drag -- wearing picturesque and extravagant women’s apparel and wigs, were in some sense “perverting” the children in the audience.

The placards of their demonstration outside the pub even accused the narrative/theatrical performance of “grooming”, the paedophile’s seduction strategy.

These evangelist head-bangers were the initiators of the melee that takes place on the last Saturday of the month outside our local pub. A gang of these anti-drag show-wallas, sometimes not more than 15 of them and at times a couple of hundred, gather on the opposite pavement outside The Honor Oak with placards and slogans such as “this is an anti-grooming zone” and “protect our children from perverts”. They are, kept behind steel-frame barriers by a flood of police who recognise their right to protest but not to resort to any vandalism or violence.

The counter-demonstrators gather on the pavements outside the pub. This anti-anti-protest, sometimes up to eight hundred strong, labels itself “anti-fascists” and bears placards saying “fascist-free zone” and “racists, homophobes OUT!”, or words to that effect.

They carry loudhailers and shout at the opposing protesters. They too are held back by steel barriers and the uniformed police who park their 15 police vans each protest day along the street to see that the traffic is not obstructed.

I join this latter mob -- no, gentle reader, not the police! -- the counter- demonstrators, most of them from a Trotskyist organisation called the Socialist Worker’s Party, others from the Labour Party and local supporters. The pub has a lot of support, and the drag queen story-telling sessions go ahead as planned.

I characterise the anti-drag mob as evangelical headbangers because on several of these demonstrations I have seen young black men and women -- from their dress and demeanour, church-going Christians who belong to organisations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Coincidentally or not, the South London headquarters and meeting place of the JWs is precisely opposite the road from The Honor Oak pub. I can’t with any confidence say that the black members of the objecting demo are Witnesses, but my feeling that they are is strengthened by the fact that I think I recognised one of the demonstrators as a part of the couple of Witnesses who, some weeks ago, knocked at my door.

I answered, and this young man said: “Sir, do you know about Jesus?”

I said: “Of course! Any man who can turn water into wine -- that’s my man!”

They went away.

I think that the anti-fascist rhetoric of our demonstration’s slogans goes nowhere. Obviously, if there are blacks on the other side demonstrating against drag queens, the characterisation of the evangelists as “racist” falls on deaf ears.

Maybe what I should do is chalk up placards which say “GET WITH BRITISH CULTURE: PANTOMIME HAS HAD MEN DRESSED AS WIDOW TWANKY FOR AS LONG AS IT HAS EXISTED”.

Or maybe: “WHEN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS WERE STAGED WOMEN CHARACTERS WERE PLAYED BY ‘DRAG’ MEN”.

A bit too Litt-Crit? Will they get it?

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