I recently heard someone say, “Tennessee is currently the most anti-gay state in America, as judged y legislative activity.” I’m not sure if that is true, but, if not, we have to be up there at the very top. Most of the legislation, and public outrage, has not been directed at gay people in general so much as at the trans community and drag queens. I can’t help but wonder if this is not, in part, because there has been such a swell of public support (even among conservatives) in the last 10 or 15 years for gay people, making it harder to score political points or stir up the base by attacking them, making it necessary to find more specific targets to serve that purpose.
Because, make no mistake, that’s what is happening. In the last year or two, a large segment of the public seems to have concluded that public drag appearances are an imminent threat to their children. People bombarded the TTU website in protest a few months ago when they learned there were public drag performances at the Backdoor Playhouse (which, in reality, had been happening for more than two decades - people “learned” about it through social media posts of an aspiring conservative politician). People feel so strongly that, a few weeks ago, some Cookeville church leaders were willing to stand side-by-side with Nazis to protest it. Now a law has been passed that essentially bans any cross-dressing public event -equating “drag queen story hour” at the library with strip clubs and “cabarets,” as if the same thing happens in both venues.
It does not. Drag performances that are public, especially the ones geared toward kids, are in no way sexualized or “prurient” (a word the law uses, which is essentially defined by the beholder and therefore too broad to be legally meaningful). They are certainly less sexualized than a trip to Hooters or the cheerleaders at any sports event. Are drag shows in private spaces sometimes sexualized? Of course, but that is not the same thing at all nor is it what anyone’s kids are going to be exposed to.
Soon after the law was introduced, a high school photo of Gov. Bill Lee in drag was circulated online. He was furious at the implication because “it was obviously not the same thing.” I’ve seen anti-drag-show people saying similar things about Madea, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Tootsie. “It’s not the same thing!” Why isn’t it? According to the law as written, it sure seems to be. Yet still, people make a distinction… so what is the difference? If public drag appearances are not sexual or pornographic, which they are not, and if it is OK for comedians or high school groups raising money to perform in public in drag… what IS the distinction? The distinction apparently is, it’s perfectly fine for straight people to do it; it is only dangerous, disgusting, and wrong if it is LGBTQ people doing it. So, it really is a (not-so-cleverly-disguised) gay thing.
Many parents fear that drag queens are “grooming” their children, which means preparing them for seduction. I have never even heard of a drag queen sexually abusing a child - I’m sure it happens, but probably no more than with the public in general. What they are really afraid of is that drag queens will somehow make their children gay. Transphobia, homophobia… it’s all about fear. Not fear of a gay person physically harming you but fear that you, yourself, or your child actually is gay and exposure to LGBTQ people might bring it out so it must be suppressed.
It’s also fear of change, I think. Society changes, generation by generation, and it is hard for older people to understand or accept.
In this, as in so many things, there are people keeping themselves in office by stoking your fear. Stop falling for it.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here