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Transphobe Claims Shakespeare Wasn’t Lewd, Gets Owned

A painting of Shakespeare sitting at a desk, holding a quill, thinking.

In the annals of things transphobes and right-wingers don’t understand, we can now add Shakespeare to the list.

In discussions around drag bans, Shakespeare’s name often gets bandied around as a historical defense of the art. As women weren’t allowed to perform on stage in Elizabethan England, all the parts were played by men, with younger men traditionally playing the female roles. Though different from contemporary drag in many ways, it was still a practice of men dressing up as women to entertain the public, and, as with modern drag now, some performances were comedic and sexual while others weren’t. These are well-known, established facts, but when has the truth ever stopped a transphobe?

The Shakespeare/drag factoid came up recently on a Twitter thread started by Kevin Bacon, in which he shared footage of Kyra Sedgwick and himself dancing in t-shirts from their Drag is an Art and Drag is a Right campaign, put together to raise money for the ACLU’s drag defense fund, keep LGBTQ+ books in classrooms, fight anti LGBT+ laws nationwide, and engage in education and outreach.

There’s a lot to be said about the playwright’s relationship with drag, but one blue-check-paying Twitter user decided to share what is possibly the worst take imaginable, writing, “Show me a Shakespeare play that had lewdness or sexual behavior. I’ll wait.”

Shakespeare is the king of lewd shenanigans, and a good numbers of his plays revolve entirely around sexual behavior, whether timed for comedy or tragedy. And half of Twitter turned out to tell this person so.

With a mix of direct quotes from Shakespeare and general commentary, the replies are pretty entertaining.

So not only is this person extremely factually wrong about Shakespeare’s raunchy side, but their comments also exemplify one of the biggest problems with transphobes, which is their refusal to recognize that being trans (like drag and queerness general) is not inherently sexual. Existing as an LGBTQIA person is not “lewd.”

On so many levels, these bigoted culture warriors simply don’t know what they’re talking about. They think they do, they speak confidently and boldly on it, and they’re almost always completely wrong. Its deeply funny that this bigot somehow thought Shakespeare wasn’t lewd or sexual in any way, but it’s a symptom of a real problem that their go-to response to any mention of drag is to immediately associate it with sex—especially as they can’t tell the difference between drag, which is a performance, and trans and gender non-conforming people living their lives.

(featured image: Stock Montage/Getty Images)

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Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.