Every time I look too long at the rabid hysteria surrounding trans people, the extreme escalation of threats, eliminationist legislation, I can’t help but think back to 2021. Most of the focus in the U.S. was on the far right flooding antivax spaces, developing a new and much larger cohort of conspiracy theorists. Across the pond, the U.K. was being consumed by anti-trans propaganda. Rabid swarms of self-proclaimed TERFs flooded U.K. social media spaces. U.K. media breathlessly and relentlessly banged a transphobic drum.
It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, that hysteria would consume the U.S. And sure enough, as vaccine mandates eased, the far right lost an energizing boogeyman and began looking for the next thing to make people go totally insane. They very quickly found it in a hate campaign that had already been churning away in the U.K. and by a select few transphobes, like Matt Walsh, in the U.S.
By May of 2022, Proud Boys began mobilizing to target Drag Story Hour venues. I waited, nauseated, for that campaign to reach New York. In June 2022, I visited a library out by Coney Island that in 2019 had been targeted by a protest organized by one man, using much of the same rhetoric we see today: Drag queens are “grooming kids into the transgender lifestyle.” The children’s reading event is a “taxpayer-funded attack on our babies.” Supporters outnumbered the protestors by a ratio of 3:1. When I visited in June 2022, it was on the belief that, because the venue had previously been protested and Proud Boys were making protests against Drag Story Hour into a “thing” again, that the venue would again be targeted. Only a handful of people showed up to defend the library. Zero protestors materialized save for one man wearing a tshirt with a Christian nationalist group name on it who arrived after the event ended, stomped through the library, and left without incident.
It wasn’t until August 2022 that the campaign against Drag Story Hour reached NYC and, as the worst kind of luck would have it, the effort materialized in the antivax conspiracist group whose movements I had been documenting and reporting on for over a year — before they even formalized as their own group. Their first Drag Story Hour protest was “spontaneous,”…