... "If I hadn't been a girl, I'd have been a drag queen."
Dolly Parton has uttered those words famously and often. But if she really were a drag queen, one of Tennessee's most famous daughters would likely be out of a job under legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday.
Lee signed off on the legislation without issuing a statement or having a public ceremony. The bill goes into effect July 1.
Across the country, conservative activists and politicians complain that drag contributes to the "sexualization" or "grooming" of children. Several states are considering restrictions, but none has acted as fast as Tennessee. The efforts seek to extinguish popular "drag story hours" at which queens read to kids. Organizers of LGBTQ Pride events say they put a chill on their parades. And advocates note that the bills, pushed largely by Republicans, burden businesses in an un-Republican fashion.
The protestations have arisen fairly suddenly around a form of entertainment that has long had a place on the mainstream American stage.
Milton Berle, "Mr. Television" himself, was appearing in drag on the public airwaves as early as the 1950s on "Texaco Star Theater." "RuPaul's Drag Race" is a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Highly popular drag brunches bring revenue to restaurants. That such spectacles are now being portrayed as a danger to children boggles the minds of people who study, perform and appreciate drag.
"Drag is not a threat to anyone. It makes no sense to be criminalizing or vilifying drag in 2023," said Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, a professor of culture and gender studies at the University of Michigan and author of "Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance."
"It is a space where people explore their identities," said La Fountain-Stokes, who has done drag himself. "But it is also a place where people simply make a living. Drag is a job. Drag is a legitimate artistic expression that brings people together, that entertains, that allows certain individuals to explore who they are and allows all of us to have a very nice time. So it makes literally no sense for legislators, for people in government, to try to ban drag." ...