Most Read

News

Mom Hits Back At Critics Who Accuse Her Of Child Abuse For Letting Her Non-Binary 8-Year-Old Be A Drag Queen

A defiant mum has hit back at critics who have accused her of child abuse for letting her gender-neutral eight-year-old become a drag queen.


First introduced to the gender-bending performance art at just two years old after watching RuPaul's Drag Race—which is currently airing its 12th series and sees fierce queens compete for the title of America's Next Drag Superstar—Mill Blackburn was instantly hooked.

But the youngster, who is non-binary—identifying as neither male nor female—and uses the pronouns 'they' and 'them,' did not debut their own drag persona until August 2019.

Taking to the stage at Denver's Dragutante—a festival celebrating self-expression through drag—to lip sync to a track by singer Lizzo as their sassy alter-ego Salt Qween, Mill brought the house down, with older drag mentors insisting the starlet perform in their fortnightly shows.

With Salt Qween's career taking off, life for Mill has now become a whirlwind of colorful wigs, sparking sequins and grueling weekly rehearsal runs.

Mill's mum Manige Blackburn, 34, is more than supportive, but not everyone has been as kind, with some critics even accusing her of child abuse.

Cameron, Teya, Mill and Manige (PA Real Life/Collect)

The charity outreach worker, of Denver, Colorado said:

“I get a lot of people saying that letting my eight-year-old perform in drag is disgusting—there's a lot of biblical quotes being thrown around too."
“I've been told I am exploiting my child at the expense of letting them have a 'normal childhood'."
“But I don't see how anyone could make an eight-year-old put on a big dress, a wig and have them lap up all that attention against their own will."

She continued:

“To me, drag is like protective armour. It protects children as they explore their gender."
“I honestly classify it as mental health care for Mill. The big purple wigs, the make-up and the new name—it's all so cathartic."

Manige, who also has a daughter, Teya, 12, explained how Mill's first foray into drag came at just two years old.

After watching an episode of VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race, the toddler proudly announced “I'm a drag queen" whilst pottering around the living room in a pink fluffy dress.

Explaining how, growing up, Mill would occasionally play dress up in Teya's clothing, Manige, who has been in a relationship with stay-at-home dad Cameron, 37, for four years, said:

“Growing up. Mill could be uber-effeminate, wanting to dress up in Teya's clothes and make-up, but it was very rare, and I never expected them to take such a shine to drag."
“Other times, they could also be uber-masculine, dressed in their favorite Hulk outfit or a bow-tie."

Mill mid transformation (PA Real Life/Collect)

Then, last summer, Mill experimented with drag once again during a family day out watching Denver Pride.

“We walked past a booth which offered kids the chance to drag up and perform on stage with a local drag house, and Mill was determined to get involved."
“When Mill has their mind set on something, there's no changing it, so we let them get paired up with a drag artist who spent the next hour or so transforming them."

But before Mill could take to the Dragutante stage, there was the all-important task of coming up with a name for their feminine alter-ego.

Explaining how she helped think up the pseudonym, Manige said:

“Mill's always had quite a salty attitude—salty meaning sassy, and maybe even a bit grumpy.
“Even as an infant, when people would coo over them, they'd roll their eyes, as if to say 'Urgh' to the world."

She continued:

“They'll come out with the funniest phrases and say things like, 'Manige, you are out of control' to me.
“So that's where the name Salt Qween came from."

With Mill's stage name chosen, Manige waited with bated breath as Salt Qween made her stage debut to Lizzo's "Like a Girl," clad in a fuchsia pink dress—with a wig to match.

“I was so nervous waiting for them to step out onto the stage, but as soon as they did their whole face lit up. The audience was lapping it up."
“I thought, 'Oh my goodness, you're good at this.' In the past, I tried getting them into dance, karate, running—but it was clear in that moment this is what they were meant to do."

It was not just the audience that went wild for Salt Qween—the drag community holding the event insisted Mill join them for regular performances.

Mill as their alter-ego, Salt Qween (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It pretty much started from there. Mill became part of Denver's drag community instantly."

Describing the fortnightly performances, which usually sell-out to a crowd of around 45 people, Manige explained that the shows consist of 12 individual performances by six to seven queens.

Taking place at lunchtime at a local bar, every other Sunday, Manige is up religiously at 6.30am to ensure things go smoothly.

“Mill chooses the song they want to perform a week in advance and then they'll come up with their own choreography and lip-sync—hustling the crowd for tips."

Though they currently fit perfecting their act around school, Mill is determined to one day become a full-time performer.

Although Manige is hugely supportive, she also wants to ensure her children have “realistic" job aspirations.

“Mill's number one dream is to become a full-time drag queen, but I'm not sure if that is realistic and I've made that clear to them."
“I've asked them what else they would like to pursue and they said they'd like to be an astronaut doula—someone who delivers baby's in space—as they're convinced we'll all be in space having babies by the time they're an adult."

On the whole, audience members and fellow performers alike all rave about Salt Qween—but Manige has faced flak for letting her child dabble in drag.

Salt Qween and Father Christmas (PA Real Life/Collect)

She explained:

“Most little kids know who RuPaul is now—it's part of pop culture. He's no longer the evil man in a dress on TV, but you still get the odd comment."
“At the end of the day, it can make some people uncomfortable, children that age playing with gender."
“But everybody who knows us knows that I'm not the driving force behind this. I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on wigs and make-up. I'm the least feminine female I know. I don't even own a skirt!"

She continued:

“I just let my children pursue what interests them and if it fizzles out, it fizzles out—in this case it hasn't yet."

Determined not to let other people's “medieval opinions" spoil Mill's fun, Manige is adamant that drag can only be beneficial for youngsters.

“I think their confidence has increased ten-fold. It's hard to find a place to experiment with gender role play and drag has enabled them to do that."

Mill as their alter-ego, Salt Qween (PA Real Life/Collect)

She continued:

“It's been invaluable—I can't quantify how much. Mill is only eight and there's still so much to flesh out about who they are.
“We can't know what Mill would be like without drag, they're only eight, but I imagine that they would have struggled with some gender identity issues a lot more without it."

And Manige could not be more grateful to have the drag community's love and support—describing it as “one big family."

She concluded:

“People like to sexualize drag, but if someone is gay, they are going to be gay regardless of whether they dabbled in drag as a kid."
“Mill turned to me the other month and said, 'I don't know if I'm a he, a she or a they.' That never would have happened so organically without being part of Denver's drag scene."
“I just told them that's fine and to let me know once they've figured it out and I know they will—because of their drag family."

Mill as their alter-ego, Salt Qween (PA Real Life/Collect)

She concluded:

“My kid is loving every second of life and is now part of a huge, loving community that they can look up to and talk to—how could that be a bad thing?"