It's hard for me to imagine any GOP strategist thinking that "banning drag shows" is a winning issue for a political party -- especially one that tries to be seen as "keeping government out of our lives" -- and in fact may instead be counter-productive and damaging.
Going further, although “banning drag shows” won’t be a significant issue in the national presidential campaign, it will be something that helps color the perception of a party. Especially if one of the candidates is Ron DeSantis who has been outspoken and active in making it a big state issue. It’s the sort of thing that shows “This is what we stand for.”
It seems to me that “banning drag shows” as a political position is the sort of thing that even a great many people who don’t particularly like drag shows would be bothered by. Actually, I suspect most people have never attended a drag show and have absolutely no interest. But even they likely don’t want to see drag shows banned.
“But the children!!” is generally the cry from supporters of “banning drag shows.” Think how troubling it is for little children to see sexually explicit drag shows!! Actually, I suspect that most little children have never, ever seen a drag show. (And by “most,” I mean as close to none as you can imagine. Or just round off and make it “none”.) Even non-sexually explicit ones.
Further, if there ever is a case where a child attends a sexually-explicit drag show – or a sexually-explicit anything -- there are laws on the books that deal with that already.
To repeat, because it’s really important: there are already laws about exposing children to sexually-explicit anything. It doesn’t have to be a drag show, it just has to be an anything.
“But…but what about when a drag queen holds a story hour for children!! What about that?!” Yeah, what about that? Because not only is that not a drag show, nor is that anything that is sexually explicit, all we’re talking about now is making laws about what a person can wear. Or more accurately, laws about what costume a person can wear when putting on a performance!
By the way, I understand why some people don’t like drag shows and don’t want someone in drag reading stories to their children. And even being outraged by it. That’s fair and their personal choice. But what we’re talking about is making it a crime. About what someone wears.
So, then, if that’s the standard Republicans want to go after -- banning a performer in drag where children are watching – where does that leave Barry Humphries playing ‘Dame Edna’? Jonathan Winters when he played ‘Maude Frickert’? Or Flip Wilson’s ‘Geraldine’? Or reruns of Johnny Carson playing ‘Aunt Blabby?”
Or what about performances of the classic stage comedy, Charley’s Aunt. Or the Frank Loesser musical based on it, Where’s Charley? Or the movie Tootsie? Or the renowned Some Like It Hot? Or the TV series Bosom Buddies? My goodness, every community theater putting on the Tony Award-winning musical La Cage aux Folles might risk most of the cast going to jail if there are kiddies in the audience -- which there usually are. For that matter, what to do about the hit movie, The Birdcage, based on it?
Or any play, movie or TV show where a character gets dressed in drag to hide from someone or for a comedy gag, or for any imaginable reason? Should those fall under the GOP “banning drag shows” laws? Because children likely may watch all of those. And if they’re not banned, why not? Why only in-person or during story time?
The long-running TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race airs in the living room of homes across the United States (and 15 more countries around the world). Children can turn on the television and watch that at any time they want. In fact, they don’t even need to be in their living room watching TV, since it streams on tablets and mobile phones.
In Shakespeare’s time, women couldn’t appear on stage, so men had to dress up in drag to play the female roles. If that was done today, would they all fall on GOP illegal dominion. And don’t think it’s just 500 years ago we’re talking about. British “pantomime” shows are based on cross-dressing. Just this past year, Sir Ian McKellen appeared in a British panto as ‘Old Mother Hubbard.’ If they brought the show across the seas to tour the U.S., would that be illegal? Especially since it’s, of course, meant for children?
If not – and we have to assume “not,” even to today’s Republican Party – then why are drag performers reading to children at story time singled out for arrest? Or any time in public a child might be present? Why is that so different from any of these other situations? And “It just is” is no answer – because it isn’t so different. Indeed, it may not be different at all.
In fact, here's a question: are people dressed as clowns okay for reading stories to little schoolchildren at story time? I would think so, I've never heard otherwise of any clowns banned, let alone had laws created to throw clowns in prison for reading stories to school kids. (Or for performing in public when children are present.) The thing is, though, I suspect more little children have been terrified by clowns and had nightmares over them than than from drag queens. And hey, in the end, it's all about protecting children, right? Actually, I'd say that even adults have had more nightmares of clowns than over drag queens -- probably from being traumatized by clowns as little children. Because clowns can seem pretty creepy. "Killer clowns" is a familiar phrase. "Killer drag queens" is not.
Nor are drag shows particularly different than any other production that has an actor wearing a dress. Yes, there are more people in drag during a drag show than a single actor in a stage play or movie, but that’s the only difference. So, then, what is the allowed number of people who can be in drag for a drag show if children oddly are present? (If someone’s answer is “one,” then that means a drag performer reading books to children might be okay, as long as it’s considered a show, not story time.) Are four okay? Is 10 too many?
Further, and here’s a dicey question, what about when women dress up as men? That would wipe out Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night because of the character of ‘Viola.’ And all the movies and plays about women dressing up as men to allow them to get ahead in A Man’s World. Like Glenn Close’s Oscar-nominated performance in Albert Nobbs. Say goodbye to them, because that’s all drag, even if you call it “cross-dressing.” But if it’s okay – why? And could a woman dress up as a man to read story time books to children?
And what is drag? Republicans at least have to define that.
Seriously, what is drag? Is it a man who puts on a dress? Or only if he also wears a wig? Or just a wig? (Does a toupee count?) Or are lipstick and makeup needed, and high heels? Or do you have to wear all of that to qualify as being “in drag”? Or pick any three things from the list? Or what if a man wears all of that except a dress. Does a skirt count? What if you call it a kilt?
And what if a woman wears slacks – or a sport coat and tie but over a dress– or cuts her hair short – or doesn’t wear makeup? Or wears a tie and slacks but no sport coat? When does she qualify for being in drag? And then reads a story to schoolchildren.
Which again, as mentioned, makes the GOP the wardrobe police creating laws about what you can wear before it becomes illegal.
But most important, let’s get back to the original point.
“Banning drag shows” seems a really horrible issue for a political party. And not just because it’s intrusive, empty, near-impossible to identify what’s permissible and what isn’t, hypocritical and more. But it identifies what the party is and stands for. In a party that creates laws to ban men dressing up as women to read stories in school, but fights to protect semi-automatic weapons used to massacre schoolchildren in their classroom, it’s a horrific look. It’s a worse look for a party that tries to pretend it’s against Big Government and keeping government out of people’s live and creates laws on what clothes you can wear. And all the worse, still, when you get stuck at the starting gate simply defining what actually qualifies as drag is and why some “drag” is perfectly okay, but others make your head explode.
“Here is what we stand for!!”
All political parties want to talk about most of the same issues, and it’s how each want to address them that creates differences. But when you’re the only party that wants to talk about “banning drag shows,” that’s how you risk being singled out and identified for who you are.
Because, in the end, when you’re already on record as being against what books schoolkids can read and against teaching about race in America and against abortion, then “banning drag shows” and making that one of your campaign issues is, in fact, what you stand for.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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