For Kennedy Ann Scott, playing in drag, offered a lifeline. She had been bullied by children in primary school and subjected to physical abuse for being a boy who was, in their opinion, too effeminate. Finding out the drag – she quotes To Wong Foo, thank you for everything! Julie Newmar as a touchstone – opened Scott’s eyes to the possibility of turning the very things his tormentors hated into a source of power.
“It taught me to find the confidence that I never thought I would have,” Scott says. “It taught me to be myself. I’m a female gay man and I’ve always struggled to find my place in this world.
Scott, a Tennessee entertainer who performs at an East Nashville bar and hotel near the downtown tourist district, is currently seeing that sense of self-expression and empowerment threatened by a bill. that the state legislature will pass in January. It’s one of the few anti-LGBTQ measures currently on the agenda in Tennessee, as well as one aimed at denying gender-affirming care to trans teens, and the latest wave in the growing war of the right against the LGBTQ community.
Introduced by State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson of Tennessee anti skid bill is similar to other bills in Idaho and Texas and aims to classify drag as “adult cabaret” – that is, to classify it as something sexual rather than the multidisciplinary art form that it is. This would ban it from public performance where there is a chance children could see it, and result in prison terms for violators. The targets are quite clear: drag-queen brunches, drag queen story timeand in particular the annual Pride events, where drag queens often give daytime performances to crowds of all ages.
“Our intention as drag queens or queer people is not to take away from another group of people or families or children,” says HBO co-host Eureka O’Hara. We are here and a Tennessee-born drag performer who sings with Sarah Potenza and Katie Kadan on the new single “Big Mawma.” “It’s only to help us and uplift us. It’s our only program. Our goal is the same as them, which is to exist and thrive in a way that makes us comfortable and happy.
Drag has been a popular target for the right over the past year, spurred by social accounts like libsoftiktok that spread hate and misinformation under the guise of child protection. Hours of drag queen storytelling in California, Oregon and Ohio drew angry protesters, some armed, and physical feuds erupted in venues.
The attacks (and the threat of them) don’t seem to stop. The protests have scaled up nationwide against LGBTQ spaces and even mainstream venues that feature flirting. While the shooter’s motives are still unclear, the Club Q massacre in colorado springs, Colorado, which killed five people last month took place at a birthday party for a drag performer – a trans woman who was in attendance helped subdue the shooter. Over the weekend in Moore County, North Carolina, an unidentified terrorist (or terrorists) cut the power grid for 40,000 people by shooting at electrical substations – one theory speculates it was an attempt to thwart a drag show planned for the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, North Carolina, which had moved to an adults-only door policy after becoming the protest center. Authorities are aware of the theory but have yet to confirm a motive.
Now in Tennessee, Pride and drag events are at risk of being banned. In September, armed demonstrators, some of which included members of the far-right white nationalist group the Proud Boys, showed up to protest a cruising event at the Museum of Science and History in Memphis and successfully broke it down. have it canceled at the 11th hour. for lack of security. A Pride celebration in Jackson, 70 miles east of Memphis, was moved from a public park to an indoor facility in October, with the drag portion of the event at the end of the evening restricted to 18+. Maury County Mayor and U.S. Representative-elect Andy Ogles make an example from a local library after presenting a Pride exhibit, ultimately leading to the resignation of the library director. Most recently, the town of Murfreesboro (which is close enough to Nashville to be considered part of its statistical area) refused a permit to the Pride committee for the use of public space after an activist published video from an earlier Pride that showed drag queens dancing in a way they deemed “provocative”. Elsewhere, the future remains uncertain for companies like Nashville’s Big Drag Bus, a coach that whisks passengers through downtown streets for a moving drag show.
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project advocacy group calls the bill “an attempt to take a strength of the community and turn it into a weakness.” To do that, he says, “They need to present what we do as inherently adult entertainment and therefore a threat to children, which they see as legitimizing hateful rhetoric, bad public policy and violent attacks. .”
“We forget with the rights we have how delicate they are and how quickly they can be stripped from us or our lives because of hate speech and propaganda from discriminatory people,” O’Hara adds.
The idea of treating flirting as sexual is a favorite talking point among conservatives, who spring into action whenever a clip of a child witnessing a drag queen doing the splits does the tricks online. Adult-only drag shows at nightclubs have a reputation for being bawdy, but that’s miles away from a drag queen reading a children’s story. And the videos of these family shows are often taken out of context to spark outrage. This goes against the fact that drag is now a mainstream media presence, thanks to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its related ramifications.
Scott, who works in education when not transvestite, says she asks her fellow drag brunch performers never to do anything while performing at brunch that they wouldn’t do in front their favorite grandmother. It’s a skill that comes from learning to navigate a world designed by and for straight people.
“Wherever we are, we are self-aware 24/7. You have to be,” she says. “Queer people know how to live in a heteronormative world.”
In Memphis, Micah Winter performs regularly in a theatrical drag troupe for mixed audiences. This means liberal and conservative people, as well as children on stage and in the crowd. It’s a version of drag that dates back centuries to Shakespeare and exemplifies how it relates to nerd art.
“I play the mother in hair spraysays Winter. “This December, I will be playing Mother Ginger in the Orpheum’s Nutcracker, which is filled with children. Whether [Tennessee lawmakers] pass this bill, I guess I would no longer be allowed to do so. It looks so innocent on stage at the Orpheum.
Tennessee lawmakers have yet to attempt to ban singles of wearing penis collars, sucking on penis straws and carrying inflatable phalluses in front of children in downtown Nashville, a few blocks from the Capitol. Rather, the concern seems to be reserved for people who want to exist in a way that’s not tied to rigid ideas about gender expression, underscoring the transphobia that’s at the root of anti-drag efforts.
“That’s the real discrimination we’re dealing with,” O’Hara says. “You are targeting trans people. Drag queens are going to do what they’re going to do anyway. They are underground. They’ve always existed, even when it was illegal to drag. What you are doing is creating stipulations against people trying to live their daily lives.
“It rightly worries trans and non-binary people about whether they will be able to be in public without being harassed because of the bill. Even if there hasn’t been a conviction, you’ll give people who hate them the means to report them,” says TEP’s Sanders. “If we admit that the government can tell us what to wear or how to appear in public, we have lost our freedom.”
For Scott, these protests and proposed laws are not so much about protecting children as they are about controlling bodies and behaviors. She knows from first-hand experience that if Tennessee were truly invested in this area, the state could pass more laws that help children in need.
“Why don’t we put more money into public schools? Why don’t we invest more money in foster care and child services? Scott said. “This is protect children.