D.C.’s Taxpayer-Funded Kennedy Center Hosts Drag Queen Christmas Show

MONTCLAIR, NJ - MAY 04: Taylor Mac's "24 Decade History Of Popular Music" plays at the Wellmont Theatre on May 4, 2018 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival )
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival

The storied J.F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is celebrating the Christmas season by staging a drag queen show starring “genre-defying drag artist and MacArthur ‘genius’ Taylor Mac.”

The center’s website describes it as “a show that’ll ‘cure your Christmas blues’ (San Francisco Chronicle). Exploring Christmas as calamity, Holiday Sauce is ‘a madcap brew of Christmas spirit, extra spicy’ (Los Angeles Times), upending yuletide traditions as you celebrate the season in all of its dysfunction with your chosen family.”

The show also comes with a caveat: “Please be advised: This production uses theatrical haze and includes mature content and nudity.”

Although the center gets the majority of its funding from selling tickets to its shows and collecting donations from supporters, it has also appropriated millions of taxpayer dollars through Congress.

According to the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Justification to Congress online document, those millions are used for specific purposes:

Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriation: On February 15, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 (PL 116-6). Within that legislation, the Kennedy Center was appropriated $41.29 million. Operations and Maintenance is funded at $24.49 million, and Capital Repair and Restoration is funded at $16.80 million, the latter to remain available until expended.

Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request: The Kennedy Center’s funding request for fiscal year 2020 is $39.69 million. Within this level, Operations and Maintenance is funded at $25.69 million, and Capital Repair and Restoration is funded at $14 million, the latter to remain available until expended.

In today’s culture, drag queens are celebrated in venues ranging from Broadway to public libraries. 

Mac is famous for his 24-hour show that “queered” American history and debuted in Brooklyn in 2016 and has since been recreated in pieces around the world. 

The New York Times praised it at the time:

Imagine that you’re sitting in a theater, that you’ve been sitting there for 19 hours, with five more to go. Well, not only sitting. At times, you’ve been asked by the show’s maestro and star, the drag queen and performance artist Taylor Mac, to dash across the room to re-enact the Oklahoma Land Rush, or in a ritualized recompense for white flight, to “move to the suburbs” by surrendering your coveted orchestra seat to someone who was stuck in the back. You’ve grown used to the surprises of this piece, a 24-hour-long concert in which Mac works his way through 246 songs that were popular in America from 1776 to the present, interspersed with a radical narrative of American history. You came expecting that you would be challenged, provoked, entertained — why else sign up for a full-day, participatory history lesson administered by a queen who is currently wearing a macramé owl with a yellow-brick tail (a homage to Judy Garland and the Stonewall riots), a sequined miniskirt, a camouflage cape with cutout psychedelic peace signs and an iridescent Afro/space helmet? — but you aren’t prepared for what comes next.

The band strikes up a tender ballad. The lights are lowered, and a disco ball drops: You’re back at your middle school prom. The song Mac is about to sing, the 1975 “Snakeskin Cowboys,” by the hard rocker and N.R.A. board member Ted Nugent, is sinisterly homophobic, warning guys with too-fancy shoes to get off the dance floor. But Mac’s version — he and his music director, Matt Ray, preserved the lyrics and transformed the music — is romantic and wistful. Mac tells everyone to find a partner of the same sex for a slow dance.

All over the room, people arrange themselves into pairs, holding one another at a respectful distance, giggling so much that it creates a din. The laughter is cut by Mac’s voice, commanding everyone to pull their partner into a real embrace. You feel strange about it, but you do as he asks, because you’ve spent a whole day and night in his presence and you trust he’s taking you somewhere. You’ve even come to trust the people around you, who have undergone this wondrous ordeal of a show with you. The feeling in the room changes again — it’s hushed, heating up. Mac’s voice, strong and assured, sings: “Oh, snakeskin cowboys/Who the hell you think you are/You’re dancing around with your high-heeled boots/Don’t think that should get you far.” Same-sex couples are locked in hundreds of embraces. People are crying.

And while Mac, like many other drag performers, is a homosexual, the genre has not embraced transgender men who want to become like a heterosexual woman.

The radical gay activist RuPaul, host of the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, explained why that is the case, as Breitbart News reported:

The show’s purpose is politics by cultural warfare — to ridicule heterosexuality, to mock Americans’ ideals of equal, different and complementary masculine men and feminine women.

“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture … for [non-transgender] men to do [the drag show], it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity,” Paul said in the Breitbart report.

Tickets for the two-hour show at the Kennedy Center range from $39 to $129.

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