If You Can’t Write A Clearer Law Than Tennessee’s Anti-Drag Statute, It Deserves To Be Overturned

A federal judge in Tennessee, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, temporarily blocked the state’s new law supposedly designed to protect children from the evils of drag shows. He entered a restraining order before the law, signed by Republican Governor Bill Lee, was scheduled to go into effect two days ago, because he ruled that it was probably unconstitutional—vague, and overbroad.

Good, because it’s a terribly-written law. Observe:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1401, is amended by adding the following language as a new subdivision:
“Adult cabaret performance” means a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration..”

SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1407, is amended by adding the following language as a new subsection:
(1) It is an offense for a person to engage in an adult cabaret performance:
(A) On public property; or
(B) In a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.

That’s all you need to read. The challenge to the law is quite right: it’s a First Amendment violation. As Rolling Stone’s John Freeman wrote,

Modern drag performances typically do not contain nudity. More often than not, drag performers wear more clothing than one would expect to see at a public beach, and many drag shows are intended to be appropriate for all ages…Under this reading of the law, a drag queen wearing a mini skirt and a cropped top and dancing in front of children violates this statute, but a Tennessee Titans cheerleader wearing precisely the same outfit doing precisely the same routine does not, because she is not a ‘female impersonator….Even if the government could identify a compelling interest, this law is far from narrowly tailored. It is broad enough to encompass even the most innocent drag performances, to reach into the private homes of Tennessee citizens, and to determine on behalf of parents what is and is not appropriate entertainment for their children.”

The law would make performances of “La Cage Aux Faux” crimes, and a more wholesome-at-heart musical it would be hard to find. I don’t think drag events at public libraries for kids are appropriate, but it’s ludicrous to try to make them illegal.

Here’s an Ethics Alarms Challenge: See if you can write a law that will accomplish what this hysterical dreck was supposed to without interfering with freedom of expression and without sounding like crazed, pearl-clutching transphobe.

It’s harder than you might think.



46 thoughts on “If You Can’t Write A Clearer Law Than Tennessee’s Anti-Drag Statute, It Deserves To Be Overturned

  1. Drag queens don’t emulate women, they emulate male fantasies of women. Drag performances are inherently sexualized because a drag queen is a caricature of a male fantasy woman. There are not any “innocent” drag performances. A man pretending to be a virginal fantasy is not non-sexual. People have spent a lot of time conflating transvestism with transgenderism, but they are not the same thing. Autogynephila, defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female, is never going to be an appropriate demonstration for children. A transgender person reading stories to kids is not the same thing as a drag queen reading stories to kids.

    • “ Drag performances are inherently sexualized because a drag queen is a caricature of a male fantasy woman. There are not any “innocent” drag performances.”

      So “La Cage Aux Faux” is sexualized?

      Mrs. Doubtfire is sexualized?

      That Bugs Bunny cartoon is sexualized?

      Tyler Perry as Madea is sexualized?

      South Pacific is sexualized?

      I just don’t see it.

      You can argue that drag is a “fantasy of what a woman is,” but it can be that without being a sexual fantasy. Most drag queens—famously not known for wanting to have sex with women!

      • Missed this:

        “ Autogynephila, defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female, is never going to be an appropriate demonstration for children”

        Not all drag performers are autogynephiliacs. You are generalizing based on your limited understanding of this issue. There are many, many other reasons that people engage in drag.

      • You are conflating disguises with drag queens. There is obviously a difference. Conflating two obviously different things and then pretending there is no way to define the difference is illogical. If you didn’t know the difference you wouldn’t be able to pick out the examples that are different and list them out like they were some sort of gotcha. If humans can sort things into different categories they can, with a little effort, define what the categories are. Alternatively, if humans are actually so lacking in intelligence that they are unable to complete this task, they can run it through an AI model and let the model do it for them.

        Being aroused at the idea of oneself as the opposite sex doesn’t require a particular sexual orientation and I didn’t say that it did.

        • “You are conflating disguises with drag queens. There is obviously a difference.”

          Perry’s Madea isn’t a “disguise.” It’s drag. Same for South Pacific and the musical Jack posted that I keep having to go back to remember how to spell. Good luck coming up with a *legal* difference between that and drag *queens.*

          “Being aroused at the idea of oneself as the opposite sex doesn’t require a particular sexual orientation and I didn’t say that it did.”

          And I already said that not all drag queens do drag out of a sense of “arousal.” You simply do not know enough about the subject if you think they all do.

          • You are probably right, outlawing the drag shows is the wrong approach. Since there is no way to legally stop perverts from sexualizing children then the only alternative is going to be to rewrite school curriculum to focus on teaching the children to identify adults trying to sexualize them, the dangers they pose and what steps to take when they encounter them. Once the children have the proper education to deal with the problem a law won’t be necessary. If all the kids run away screaming bloody murder the instant they see one of these predators the problem will solve itself. I doubt it’s as much fun to gyrate one’s penis in the faces of hysterical children.

            • I already made clear that you’re simply wrong to claim that drag is inherently sexual, and provided examples. Merely repeating it isn’t helping you, and going even further to argue that all drag queens who do any kind of performance for children are “predators” while conflating them all with their worst examples is helping you even less.

              • You provided literally zero evidence that drag is not inherently sexual. Your opinion is not evidence. Whether the drag queens intend to sexualize children or not is irrelevant. Many studies have shown the impact of childhood sexual abuse to be extremely harmful long term to the victims psychological health. Teaching children to protect themselves from sexualization will empower them to protect themselves without impacting the first amendment rights of others. You have a problem with teaching children to protect themselves?

              • And yes, the desire to present sexual content to children does make you a predator. Children lack the capacity to consent, and presenting sexual content to non-consenting people is predatory. Consenting adults can do whatever they want. I’m not implying that all drag queens are predators. Presenting such content to children is no different than the actions of a flasher.

                • You are the one making the affirmative case that drag is inherently sexual, after Jack and I provided several examples that go against this claim. You are the one who needs to present evidence of your accusation, and you’ve provided none. I can’t prove a negative, I can only offer counter-examples. Instead of responding to those counter-examples, you misled about them.

          • Madea was rated PG-13 for drug content, thematic elements, crude sexual references and some violence. So no, it is not appropriate for small children.

            La Cage Aux Faux Was rated R, so also not appropriate for small children.

              • True. Drag queen story hour events are not aimed at teenagers, though. They are aimed at small children. The law could be more specific and set the age requirements to be more specific than all minors. That doesn’t address the underlying issue of defining what a drag queen is, but it would define who was being targeted for protection more clearly.

          • Of all the examples listed only Devine is a true transvestite. We could also say that virtually all original Greek and Shakespearean theatre had males dressed as women for those roles. None of those would be classified as transvestite. You also forgot Dame Edna who dresses as a woman as part of his schtick. He is funny in that role, but it is merely a character he is portraying.

            There is a huge difference between what is a Drag Queen show at an adult cabaret and men dressing in women’s clothes as part of an overall storyline. The former is definitely sexualized and the latter simply for artistic license. I will say that I would expect that Drag Queen Story hour is probably not as sexualized as that found in an adult cabaret and probably simply men dressed rather garishly in women’s attire.

            If a parent wants to take a child to the library for story hour and a transgender person wants to read the story, so be it. If they want to expose their children to transvestites that is their business as well. I would say that public funding used to support these activities unless an equal and proportional amount of money is spent to provide such activities by other orientation. Given that the vast majority of the population is hetero then the vast majority of funding for these activities will be expended on cis-gendered story hour. I do not think that public schools should be the venue for such programs because the parent is forced to opt-out instead of opting in. Opt-out provisions are inherently unethical because it forces one to take action to avoid a perceived injury.

            • The issue is the law as written, which makes no distinctions between “real” transvestites and Dame Edna. I went to my first Hasty Pudding show at 13. It’s a drag show, a funny one that get its humor from men playing women’s roles without making much effort to seem feminine.

              • Which reminds me of “South Pacific” style cross-dressing, which I would not consider anything like a drag show. “South Pacific” style cross-dressing is simply broad (no pun intended) comedy where it’s considered funny for obviously heterosexual guys to dress up and act like women and girls. There’s absolutely no effort to look attractive. As a matter of fact, the more clearly male the actor is, the funnier it is. I’d put Bugs Bunny in this category as well.

                • It’s still a drag show and for entertainment. I’ve been to “serious” drag shows, and they are partially humorous and partially sexual. I personally find them creepy, but if the intended audience has a good time, it’s not my call.

                  • The intended audience is gay and lesbian people, non? That’s why I think drag shows for kids are essentially grooming. Which, if you think kids of six or seven already know they’re gay or lesbian, is a good thing because they are being made comfortable with their orientation and relieved from the pain and confusion they might otherwise suffer. I think that’s the gay and lesbian rationale.

                    • “The intended audience is gay and lesbian people, non?”

                      Not exclusively. Straight women made up a large percentage of the last drag show I went to. It’s a popular bachelorette party activity. (Drag queen story hour, not so much.)

                    • Absolutely correct. DC has several such events, including a drag beauty pageant. The audience is more LGBTQ than not, but a lot of nons- attend, and have a great time, I am told.

              • I agree but if you compare shows where men simply dress as women and what occurs in the gay night life scene is substantially more risqué. What it seems to me is that what people find objectionable is the risqué versions for gay adults while others are defining these shows as those listed above such as the Hasty Pudding shows. Perhaps if those advocating for drag queen story hour better defined that which would be presented it would help. Otherwise, such shows can be defined in a manner that describes the most outrageous adult show which could very well be happening. It was just the other day that we discussed the statue of David and the consensus seemed that it was inappropriate for immature students. I don’t know what the cutoff age should be but I doubt kids under 10 will understand why the men are dressed as they are if they come in costumes that may be simply exaggerated instead of what they see most females wearing.

    • I suppose for the same reason anyone else wants to perform for children. Their costumes are usually bright and colorful, like clowns. They usually impart a message of tolerance and acceptance of people’s differences, which is a plus. There have definitely been examples of inappropriate or sexualized drag shows where children were present, but of what form of child-adult interaction is this not true? We don’t talk about banning kids from going to churches due to all the molestation scandals at those.

      • Seriously: I’m posting this here because it’s your most recent comment—I have no issue with this one.

        1. I am not your answer monkey. I see multiple comments in various threads citing the fact that I have not rebutted or answered some other point in some other post as “proof” of something or other, or that your point is valid or decisive. In many cases, I hadn’t read the post you were referring to. Cut it out. I respond to reader comments more than any blogger I know, but I have other duties, and I frequently miss comments. In these cases silence does not dignify consent or agreement, nor does it constitute evidence that what you have claimed is irrefutable.

        2. You are obviously obsessed with Donald Trump and willfully blind about the extent of the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck. I think that you can be a valuable contributor here on other posts, and I suggest you concentrate your efforts on those. The way you comment on the partisan issues is likely to get you banned, unless you change your style.

        3. You demonstrate why many blogs prohibit back and forth arguing among commenters. I don’t ban it, but the privilege can be abused. I suggest limiting yourself to two retorts in an exchange, including any with me. If I see repeated excesses, I may have to make the limit a rule, and I would rather not.

        4. You’re abusing the comment privilege. As I write this, you’ve posted 77 comments in just a few days. That’s not quite a record, but close. This isn’t your bulletin board. Comments are welcome from all comers and viewpoints, but a single commenter monopolizing discussions is disruptive (and unethical).

        5. As the Comment policies specify, you owe me an email with your real name. It won’t be revealed of published, but I reserve the right to know who I’m talking to. Any other details, demographic, educational, or occupational are appreciated.

        • If anything, back and forth disagreements make blogs MORE interesting and better…not worse.

          Also, I would like to see you explain why Ken White is unreliable.

          • He’s not unreliable in general, he’s unreliable on many political issues because he’s a raging NeverTrumper, and that’s a bias. Bias makes you stupid. It’s pulled him from the rational left to the fanatic Left on several issues.

          • Why do you think that? (Terri is obviously someone else, and I’m too nice to explain why that’s clear.)
            In any event, I’ll soon know, because I have requested Seriously’s name, which is arequirement of posting here, as you know.

            • I see from other conversations they are not the same.

              As for “Seriously?”, I see stylistic similarities and combined with the timing of the departure of an former commenter from twitter (not sure if quit or suspended) and the arrival of “Seriously?”.

              I’m probably wrong.

  2. “There have definitely been examples of inappropriate or sexualized drag shows where children were present, but of what form of child-adult interaction is this not true?”

    And for every single one that is, the perpetrators of whatever transgression occurs are properly admonished by any other sane human being as not appropriate.

    And this red herring, “We don’t talk about banning kids from going to churches due to all the molestation scandals at those.”

    To make the analogy appropriate would be to say one of the drag performers dressed conservatively and taught about modesty and chastity.

    Like the Colorado cake baker and Yeshiva University, the point is for the alphabet mafia to destroy acceptance of the plainly evil moral values of the tolerant religions of Christianity and Judaism.

  3. No. Christopher Rufo says the report says this. Christopher Rufo is a known commodity for the sole reason that he tosses red meat to his acolytes with outrageous claims, often with little if any basis in reality. He’s a mendacious dirtbag, a slightly smarter version of Tucker Carlson.

    The actual report says nothing of the sort, at least that I can find. (A “find” check of the word “priest” leads to a couple of passing references to priests alongside educators as potential abusers, and a few sources in bibliographies. Nothing else.)

    What the report does do is differentiate between sexual misconduct and sexual abuse. The former, especially in more theocratic areas, could be something as innocent as a female teacher mentioning a girlfriend. Yes, really. Sexual abuse cases involving teachers are relatively rare, and tend not to be marked by a board of education whisking the abusers off to another school district to continue their predation.

    There’s also an interesting graph from one of the reports sources suggesting that of all cases involving offenders in an educational environment, only 18% are teachers. The rest are coaches (on a percentage basis, far and away the worst offenders), bus drivers, etc.

    But even assuming that 100 times statistic wasn’t just pulled out of Rufo’s anal cavity, it could mean that somewhere (not in the report he cites) there is a report that there are 100 times as many reported cases involving teachers as involving priests. In this case, it might be worth mentioning that there are about 103 times as many public school teachers in the country as there are Catholic priests. At worst, they’re roughly equivalent,

  4. The impression I’m getting from these excerpts from the bill is “don’t be sexy in public.” That sounds like the ad hoc definition of pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.” The obvious goal here is avoiding decadence, so we just need to get more specific. If we want a functional definition of what people want to prohibit, we need to look at the effects that people are concerned about, and not just the behavior that causes these effects. Are people concerned about public behavior (or behavior outside of adults-only spaces) that is designed to induce sexual thoughts or sexual arousal, or possibly to desensitize someone to references to sexual activity?

  5. Why are we stuck on drag queens when the question should be how does this activity advance the child’s learning?

    Perhaps we should simply require teachers using external personnel or other resource must demonstrate why that particular resource advances a child’s educational experience.

    If the goal is to expose the child to others to foster the value of tolerance then we must ask why the teacher chose an unusual lifestyle instead of another that child may encounter in his or her daily activities such as amputees, people with facial deformities etc. that would make it a worthwhile academic experience.

      • The whole reason for the law was to prevent drag queen story hour in libraries and elementary schools. Every piece of legislation has a rationale for its origin.

        If you are going to create legislation take the hot button issue out of the equation.

        Why would you need legislation to prevent a parent from taking their child to private event. Parents doing private things and inculcating their ideals and values does not need legislation unless another is attempting to inculcate ideals and values on their kids without their permission. At issue is using public dollars to fund such programs.

        The reason that the law was struck down was that it was so broad that it would affect just about any performance including perfectly acceptable adult entertainment such as Drag shows.

        Your comment about OB’s question as to why these shows were aimed at children was what I was addressing. You don’t need to use men in over the top colorful costumes ( read garish not sexual) to entertain children. As for tolerance I see absolutely no tolerance from those pushing this for the values held by many parents so please spare me the lamentations that people are not tolerant of drag queens Tolerance and acceptance are two different things. I can tolerate another’s lifestyle, gender differences or what have you – do what you want – but to force me to accept them in my life or be sanctioned economically is the height of intolerance. Simply rejecting transgenderism or transvestitism or merely heterosexual men dressing as women for a stage show does not make anyone a transphobe or in the words of AOC a super transphobe.

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