I’ve been to two drag shows in my life, both of which took place at wedding receptions. Those were two of the most fun receptions I’ve ever attended.
At one of them, I watched a drag queen with the brilliant name of Melanin Monroe do a flying leap off a stage while wearing spiked heels and land in a full split, then pop right up like it was nothing. It was a spectacular feat; if I tried to do that, I would either die immediately or desperately wish I had.
Drag shows are fun. At no point have I seen anything remotely obscene at a drag show. I have never seen anyone suddenly decide to devote themselves to a life of deviancy following a drag show. All I’ve seen are skilled performers having a good time.
Those may be the last two drag shows I ever attend, however; drag is fast becoming a criminal activity.
Consider Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who signed a bill that would criminalize drag performances that take place in public and in front of children. A first-time violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a $2,500 fine and/or up to a year in jail; a subsequent violation is a felony punishable by up to six years in jail.
Or consider Republican Texas Rep. Nate Schatzline, who recently authored a bill that would label any venue that both serves alcohol and hosts drag shows as “a sexually oriented business” that cannot admit anyone under the age of 18. Eight other state legislatures are pushing similar anti-drag bills.
Interestingly, Gov. Lee and Rep. Schatzline have something in common:
They’ve both dressed in drag in the past.
Lee was spotted in a 1977 yearbook photo dressed in a cheerleader’s uniform and a wig (he does not pull it off). Schatzline, meanwhile, dressed in drag for a video recorded while he was a student, dancing in a park to a song called “Sexy Lady” while wearing a black sequined dress.
How did these two politicians react when presented with their extraordinary hypocrisy? About like you’d expect. Schatzline said that it was “a joke” and “not a sexually explicit drag show,” while Lee dismissed the situation as “ridiculous” and said that his drag performance was not “sexualized entertainment in front of children.”
The obvious response to these two would be that a drag story hour at a library isn’t “sexualized” or “sexually explicit” either, and they have no idea what a drag performance actually entails because it’s not like they would ever watch one before passing a law against it. But there’s no point in responding to these two, anyway; they don’t care if they contradict themselves or look like huge hypocrites. As long as they send the message their voters want to hear and the checks keep rolling in, they’re perfectly happy.
The better question is, why drag? Why is this suddenly an issue?
Any middle schooler who’s been forced to take a class on Shakespeare knows that in Shakespeare’s day, the female roles in plays were played by men dressed as women. Men dressing as women as part of a performance or a lifestyle has been a part of culture for centuries. I doubt the same folks complaining about drag shows had any issue with Milton Berle or Klinger on M*A*S*H. I doubt they’re upset about Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies. I doubt they cared too much about glam rock or hair metal; just look up the cover of Poison’s album “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” in which the four members of the band are so dolled up with big hair and makeup that they make Rip Taylor look like Robert Mitchum.
The idea that these anti-drag bills are designed to protect children from “sexualized entertainment” is absurd. If we, as a nation, actually cared about protecting children from sexualized entertainment, no one under 18 would be allowed in Hooters and child beauty pageants would be criminalized.
In fact, these anti-drag bills aren’t even specifically about drag.
This is about criminalizing anyone who doesn’t conform to their birth gender.
The new anti-drag bills are all incredibly vague, which is assuredly by design. For example, the Tennessee law bars people from doing drag performance in public in front of children. Let’s say someone dresses in drag and simply goes out in public and a child happens to be nearby. Is that a violation of the law? What exactly is a drag performance? Is merely dressing in drag considered a performance? I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m guessing the average law enforcement officer on the street isn’t going to know either.
It’s no coincidence that the Tennessee anti-drag bill was passed alongside legislation that prevents trans minors from receiving puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery. Meanwhile, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this past Sunday, right-wing commentator Michael Knowles said that “for the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”
These people are all on the same page and they know exactly what they’re doing. The new laws aren’t about protecting children, they’re about criminalizing the very existence of gender-nonconforming and transgender people. They want to make it a crime for a specific group of people to be themselves.
The concept of a “moral” or “acceptable” portion of society opposing the existence of a “dangerous” out-group is literally one of the core elements of fascism. I would argue that the war currently being waged against transgender and gender-nonconforming people is the first step to a genocide.
Michael Knowles, who believes “transgenderism must be eradicated,” would disagree with me. He recently said that it’s impossible to commit a genocide of trans people because “it’s not a legitimate category of being. … They’re laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.”
This is a man who spoke at CPAC, a conference attended by conservative politicians and activists from across this nation and beyond, arguing that eradicating trans people from society wouldn’t really be a genocide because they’re not a legitimate group of people.
That shouldn’t just be terrifying for transgender people; it should be terrifying for everybody in this country. There’s a thing about fascists: once they’ve eradicated one group of people who are destroying society’s moral fabric, they always seem to find another.
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