by Cris Candice Tuck
What we have seen in the first 2 months of 2023 has been startling and frightening to so many in our community, both in Loudoun and beyond. But as I look across a sea of social media posts, I'm a little shocked- drag. Support for drag everywhere. This should be a good thing.
But 7 states have banned gender-affirming care while we've all been talking about one state banning drag.
Why not support drag? It's amazing! The comedy, the music, the talent and dedication, it's awe-inspiring! Drag is not just an incredibly enjoyable show or a great way to help get kids enthusiastic about reading. As some know, it's an art form dating back beyond our collective memory - drawing upon the works of Shakespeare, antic theatres in ancient Greece, great performances in the halls of Europe, and even in our recent media. But while movies like Mrs. Doubtfire warmed our hearts, others used gender-swapping characters to harm the queer community. Many trans woman can't help but flinch when recalling Ace Ventura and the "big reveal." The L Word's interpretation of Max was appalling for many trans mascs. The heart-wrenching documentary, Disclosure (2020, Netflix- watch it!), did a wonderful job of showing the harm that gender-swapping media has done to the queer community.
But let's dive deeper. None of that is really drag as we know it now. Modern drag is not Shakespeare or Doubtfire or Max. Modern drag has been cultivated from the ball room culture, started in the 1960's as the fallout of criminalization of queer individuals happening in New York that sent the community underground. This was the era of the Stonewall Riots. Started largely by queer black community members cast out due to bigotry, ball culture became a way to illustrate our societal conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality (1). Over the next few decades, the ball room scene grew and flourished, becoming a relatively safe space. Simply put, drag helped people turn shame into pride. It bent gender norms and turns the cisheteronormative culture to reflect in on itself. And it was a powerful tool to build families and communities for those who had little to none. Kids just looked for a place to belong. The power held in the pride and joy resulting from drag was so great it eventually made the jump to mainstream in the last decade or so. Now we can watch it on our televisions, we can see it in our local bars, and we can even find queer expression in libraries helping inspire a passion for reading.
And now drag is under attack. And the community of allies is responding loudly, as it should be. But yet, something is wrong with this picture...
Let's dive deeper still. The community that founded drag, that inspired these wonderful and inclusive events, the people behind the makeup and outfits- is under attack. And has been for a while now. While we see a well-meaning response on social media trying to educate the misinformed on drag, 385 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed- most not about drag (2). Even here in Virginia- we have had 12 bills, including our own version of the Don't Say Gay bill, a host of anti-trans legislation, and a forced outing bill introduced...
A resounding national objection went up in 2022, but it did little to change the state-by-state efforts at eradicating our community.
The LGBTQ+ community is very much under attack and feeling every inch of it. And it seems to never end. But it certainly feels like it's often forgotten. In Texas, parents are still able to be charged with abuse for affirming their kids. In Florida, teachers are still under threat for even discussing queer individuals. Sports bans. Forced outings. Medical bans. In 2023, so many more harmful bans and restrictions have been added in only 2 months.
Yes, Tennessee effectively banned drag. But missing from many headlines was also the fact that it banned gender-affirming care for minors too, becoming the fifth state to do so. Tennessee also has signed into law in the last seven years 2 bathrooms bans, 3 laws preventing trans kids from playing sports according to their gender identity, a law permitting queer discriminations in child welfare services, curriculum censorship bills, and more (3). And even more nefarious, the drag bill was written in a way that effectively bans transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people from existing in the state in public.
But it's all about protecting the children, right? Wrong. As these measures pass each state, more extreme new bills are being proposed with many targeting queer adults and the queer community. In education, Florida has banned any discussion of gay or trans individuals in younger classrooms and opened up teachers to lawsuits by parents for discussing or including LGBTQ+ individuals in any topic, from the books they read to history lessons. Many teachers, in Florida and beyond, don't feel safe disclosing their partner in the same way a straight teacher can. Many students can't talk about themselves or their queer parents without fear of repercussions. And now residents have taken it upon themselves to start banning queer books en masse (4), with 22 states attempting the same kinds of bills that have enabled this fear and censorship (5).
For trans individuals, 6 states have banned gender-affirming care followed by 21 other states attempting the same (6). Bills are being proposed that raises the age at which a person could receive affirming care from 18 to 21, 26, or even higher and most recently we have seen presidential candidates proposing all-out bans on gender-affirming care for all ages (7). At least 18 states have banned trans youth from participating in sports in some manner, 8 have banned some form of medical care for trans youth, 3 have enacted bathroom bans, and 11 states censor or allow opt out of queer-inclusive curricula or discussions (8).
We are seeing a rise in attempts at forced outing bills, the removal of queer people from anti-discrimination protections, attempts at creating religious exemptions on everything from marriage to adoption, and now efforts to criminalize drag.
The goal? Here are my guesses. Eradicate the growing acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ people. Destroy the fabric of trust in public education to move funding towards private, religious school programs that can discriminate freely. And to perpetuate warped religious ideology in our lawmaking and the collective morals of the America.
So while I completely understand and agree with our united efforts to support drag, we are also failing to call out the larger context on a consistent and thorough basis. We must support drag while also never letting our community forget that extremists are really working to ban every facet of queer existence in the background. It may sound like trans issues are the focus right now, but the recent Equality Act passage actually enables states to start undoing marriage equality state-by-state with just one Supreme Court ruling just like abortion. Everyone is at risk right now.
Because even when public backlash stops queer-phobic bills from becoming law, everyone just seems to move on and it all starts again. Every year, more and more restrictions are put into place. Every year, it gets harder and harder for LGBTQ+ people to just live. In many places, families are fleeing their homes for accepting states or even other countries. This is a real problem. And now drag is the latest tool to vilify queer identities. Many Americans don't know the difference between drag and trans people. The latest estimates show fewer than 1 in 3 adults know someone who is transgender. Yet we see hundreds of laws proposed each year to eradicate them and too few people educated on who trans people really are. Perhaps take a second and ask a simple question- am I just perpetuating a response to the latest issue of the day or am I calling out the real problem?
Because if your answer is the former, we have a lot of work to do. There's an election coming...