Toot-Toot-Tootsie Goodbye to Drag Queen Story Hour

RuPaul. Credit: Albert Sanchez

Mark Twain famously observed that American legislative bodies, in the main, are idiots and dumber than fleas. Never one to disappoint, the Tennessee legislature has proposed a bill, SB0003, to define as “obscenity and pornography” “a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has vowed to sign the bill, notwithstanding a 1977 photo of him wearing women’s clothes that surfaced recently. Oops! A youthful indiscretion. Similar legislation has been proposed in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Kansas.

Leaving aside the obvious First Amendment frailties, not to mention the vagueness of “adult cabaret performance” and the fact that we all have public places in our hands and on our desks 24/7, the bill’s sponsors seem to be targeting Drag Queen Story Hours they see looming at your neighborhood elementary school. Really? Chinese spy balloons are flying overhead, there’s war in Ukraine threatening to spill over into Europe, an earthquake in Syria and Turkey, anarchy in Haiti, runaway spending, inflation, cresting murder rates, and a generation of kids who missed school for two years, and y’all’s big priority is a man in a dress? Puh-leaze!

Talk about getting your knickers in a twist. The woke left has been doing its damnedest to ban humor through mandatory wokeism—where’s Lenny Bruce when we need him?—and now they’re circling in from the righteous right. Both sides seem to be finding common ground banning fun, like the Inquisitors and Calvinists of old, haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time.
Because, face it, a man in a dress is funny. It just is. Look at Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot. Dame Edna! They’re laugh riots, the incongruity tickling our funnybones. A woman in trousers? Not so much, though I remember the 1960s when schools forbade girls from wearing pants (even when it was snowing—I got sent to the office). And coaches declared with divine conviction that boys absolutely could not play team sports if their hair even grazed their ears. Did anyone catch the Super Bowl? Such attempts to regulate coiffure and attire look stupid and ridiculous now because they were. And are. Look at how they’re keeping girls decent in Iran—murdering Masah Amini for not wearing her head scarf in the approved manner. They’re preparing to use facial recognition AI to catch lawbreakers. Do we really want that kind of fashion police force?

Free expression should be embraced, not reviled, because exposure to different looks and ideas teaches tolerance. Don’t just take my word for it. In an interview in Interview last month, RuPaul—the Queen Mother who has done more to drag drag into the light than anyone—says she thinks most of its detractors’ fears are simply misplaced. Drag isn’t sexualized, though it obviously draws on gender stereotype differences. It’s more Disney Princess than seductive siren, and most “groomers” seem to be heterosexual men. RuPaul observes: “People always ask me why I was able to transform something that had been thought of as subversive into something that was mainstream—where grandmothers and grandfathers would accept it with open arms—and I think that had more to do with the fact that it was a calculated effort to take sexuality out of my image.” I first saw RuPaul in a club in Atlanta in the early ‘80s. Seven feet tall in wigs and heels, gorgeous and hilarious, a consummate performer. I was, and remain, in awe.

Tolerance isn’t much tolerated these days. Cancel culture warriors demand that all dissenters must be banned and shunned, becoming “non-persons” as in the early Stalinist period. Statues topple as history is rewritten to reflect the views of modern censors. Social media suppresses wrongthink (even when, later, it turns out to have been right). But isn’t it a virtue to live and let live, to accept the new neighbors who maybe don’t look quite like the old neighbors, to welcome the Muslim co-worker, the Jewish professor, the gay cousin, the trans child? How about your Fox-watching, Trump-voting uncle, or your Green Vegan niece? Whether we align with the right or the left, unless we’re exposed to difference we risk narrowing our minds, succumbing to a cult of conformity.

C’mon, Tennessee. And Arizona and Oklahoma, and all the rest of you. You’ve got better things to do. We have nothing to fear from drag queen story hour but fear, and intolerance, itself.

Betsy Dorminey is an attorney in Georgia, an entrepreneur in Vermont, and a full-time fashionista everywhere. Her columns have appeared in the American Spectator, Western Journal, Townhall, Vermont Digger and The Hill.