One of the most recent moral panics to make it to Tennessee state legislation is the criminalization of drag queens. The now-passed legislation has categorized drag as “male or female impersonators” and bans the art form from places where children may be present. The issue was brought to the public’s attention when a library event brought in a local drag queen weekly to read books to children. Many people and politicians took to social media to support and slam the library’s program. In Tennessee, some policymaker’s perspectives against the program argued that the legislation was about protecting children from drag queens. Additionally, many argued that drag is overtly sexual and exposes children to sex at an early age which grooms them to be exploited. The other side to this would argue that drag is an art form and a form of self-expression. Similarly to strippers and burlesque dancers, which were also included in the legislation, people doing drag often take on alternative personas. With its makeup, prosthetics, and use of wigs, many people who do drag do typically take on gender norms not associated with their gender identity. Much differently than adult entertainers, however, drag does not often involve taking off clothes or sexual innuendos. Instead often highlights the glamour of drag culture and is accompanied by lip-syncing performances to pop songs.
Exposure to drag queens and kings can also allow for the expansion of new ideas and allow kids to see representations of an art form that they appreciate or identify with. The policy not only takes the joy of drag queens out of environments of education and tolerance but could also potentially affect other communities. This bill uses the extremely vague language of “male or female impersonators.” This policy could potentially affect transgender folks or men or non-binary people who enjoy wearing makeup or wigs. This law depends on others’ perspectives on what is and is not an impersonation. Especially in conservative spaces, where trans rights and existence are often refuted, these issues could have potentially have erasing effects on how people are allowed to present in public.