A 34-year-old Colorado mother has received criticism, including accusations of child abuse, for allowing her 8-year-old son to regularly perform as a drag queen named "Salt Qween" — the child dancing around dressed as a female as adults pass him money.
Mill Blackburn reportedly was exposed to drag queen performances as a 2-year-old, when he began watching the series "RuPaul's Drag Race." His mother, Manige Blackburn, says her child is non-binary, meaning he does not identify as either a boy or girl. He also goes by the pronouns "they" and "them" instead of "he" and "him," according to his parents.
After the boy's first on-stage performance, at a Denver drag queen festival, he received raucous applause and older drag queens were insistent that he should perform with them regularly.
The boy now does so every two weeks. He wears wigs, profuse amounts of sparkly makeup and feminine costumes, and goes by the name Salt Qween. On show days, he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to begin getting ready for the show, which starts around midday.
Adults at the shows drop money in a large bucket at the front of the stage, and also flash money to beckon the child over to them to take it from them.
The boy also practices every week with drag queens.
Manige Blackburn pushes back against those who criticize her decision to allow Mill to dress and perform as a drag queen.
"I've been told I am exploiting my child at the expense of letting them have a ‘normal childhood,' " she said. " ... To me, drag is like protective armor. 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."
She calls the other performers "a wonderful, supportive community for our kid," and said she and her family "are just so grateful that we have this outlet to deal with everything that comes with growing up."