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Tennessee and the Anti-Drag Race

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“The point of the law is to terrorize people.” That’s how Patrick Grzanka, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the chair of the university’s interdisciplinary program in women, gender and sexuality, describes Tennessee’s new, extreme anti-drag law — among the first of its kind in the country.

The law, which Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed Thursday, criminalizes “adult cabaret” performances that are “harmful to minors.” It includes “male or female impersonators” on public property or where they could be seen by children.

It takes effect April 1, with the first offense being a misdemeanor and subsequent ones being felonies. Not long before Lee signed the bill, a 1977 yearbook photo surfaced showing him dressed in drag when he was in high school.

The howls of hypocrisy came quickly. But I don’t think people like Lee see that as hypocrisy. They see hilarity in straight men donning women’s clothes to mock femininity but see obscenity and perversion in (usually) gay men doing the same (only better!) to celebrate femininity and find a sense of affirmation and self-realization.

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