Debunking the “Drags” On Middleton High School Teacher’s Fine Arts Performance

Abby Gessler

A Middleton High School teacher faces harsh criticism this week after a controversial Fine Arts Week performance. French teacher Matthew Kashdan put on a “drag” performance for students and staff during the Staff Variety show on Friday, April 8.

Drag shows have grown in popularity in recent years and typically involve dancing, singing, and/or lip syncing while wearing outfits that amplify the appearance of a “specific gender identity, usually of the opposite sex.” The events are commonly used as an expression of LGBTQ+ identity and pride. For Kashdan’s performance, he lip-synced to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me” while wearing a wig, blue-sequined dress, and red high-heeled boots. 

Kashdan’s performance provoked outrage on social media, with one MCPASD Twitter post about job openings garnering 141 comments unrelated to the tweet’s original content and mainly criticizing Kashdan. 

“My kids would immediately be pulled out if they went here,” reads one tweet, while another states, “groomers will be judged.” Other Twitter users go even further, attacking the quality of MCPASD’s education system and questioning staff decision making. 

This tweet by @libsoftiktok is accompanied by a clip of the performance and has 2,925 retweets since it was posted on April 12. The tweet is just one example of the backlash towards MCPASD and the district’s educational practices. (Abby Gessler)

Much of the information circulating on social media, however, is misinformed. For example, multiple Twitter accounts and news outlets (CBN and  Empower Wisconsin, among others) are attacking Kashdan for being a “groomer” (someone who builds a relationship with a young person in order to exploit or manipulate them). Kashdan’s intent, though, was exactly the opposite. When asked, he explained that drag has helped him embrace his identity, and he wants to “show students at MHS that you can be exactly who you want to be, no matter what other people think.” 

Many students received exactly that message. As Hannah Nygard, a member of the MHS SAGE (Sexuality and Gender Equality) Club put it, “Drag performance is an integral part of Queer culture, and Mr. Kashdan’s performance was one of the first times that our school’s LGBTQ+ students had the opportunity to see a positive representation from a staff member on such a large scale.” 

Furthermore, drag is not an inherently sexual art form, but a form of entertainment that simply seeks to undo gender norms. Kashdan’s performance was not intended to be sexual but rather a show of LGBTQ+ strength, pride, and identity, and thus undeserving of the words “sickening,” “grooming,” and “pedophilia” that have been tossed at it from various news outlets and social media accounts.

MHS French teacher Matthew Kashdan is facing backlash after a controversial drag show performance for Middleton’s Fine Arts Week. Posters like the one above adorn the hallways of MHS, a show of support from students positively impacted by the performance. (Mia Burkholder)

The second mistruth circulating the media is that the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District has begun to lack in educational merit, in part because class time is taken for events like the drag performance. 

One Twitter post from @DanLennington cited by CBN News discusses the performance sarcastically before adding in parentheses, “Middleton students are 47% proficient in math and 49% proficient in language arts.” This statistic is incorrect: overall math proficiency in the district is actually 55.8% (versus statewide average of 33.9%) and reading proficiency is 62% (versus statewide average of 39.2%). Furthermore, studies show that taking time for the fine arts in schools actually improves academic performance, debunking concerns that time away from class for Fine Arts Week performances negatively impacts student performance.

In the end, Kashdan’s performance was a fitting finale to a week of wonderful performances: an expression of identity, inclusion, and belonging through the medium of song and dance. Positive expression, after all, is what the fine arts are all about, making his performance not a detriment but a benefit to the students present to see it.