Drag Queens: How They Became Public Enemy Number One in the United States

Drag Queens: How They Became Public Enemy Number One in the United States

Drag Queens

The announcement is fresh: Drag Race Italia, the Italian spin-off of the drag queen talent created by RuPaul, will have a third edition in our country. After two seasons on Discovery+ (which actually attracted quite a few criticisms for some production problems, especially by international standards), the new episodes will be broadcast by Paramount+ in a move that suggests a broader and more coherent strategy global. Paramount is also the main partner of World of Wonder , RuPaul 's production house and it is on its various networks that the innumerable programs that make up this media empire are broadcast in the United States . In fact, RuPaul's Drag Race made its debut in 2009, reaching its fifteenth season this year (increasingly viewed in terms of ratings and awarded at the Emmy) and generating numerous spin-offs and versions all over the world: the next ones will be in Brazil, Germany and Mexico, after editions that aired in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Holland, Spain, France, Thailand, the Philippines, Belgium and Sweden.

We're not just talking about a tried-and-true television format - which among other things has found its success in a very precise, recognizable and replicable formula, which translates into segmentations and pills that are also perfect for web virality - but of a phenomenon that has had its huge social resolutions in the last decade: from outsiders of society and the world of entertainment, drag queens have become the symbol of a colorful and effective picklock to overcome prejudices and discrimination. In Drag Race we talked about abuse, family abandonment, HIV, transsexuality and non-binary, bullying, food problems and much more. The gargoyles of kilos of makeup and false eyelashes guarantee a narrative authenticity that pierces the screen and reaches straight to the heart of the public, even the most skeptical. The transformative power of drag art has become increasingly popular in recent years as LGBTQ+ representation on the screen and across society is making huge strides forward.

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Bills in the United States

Even in countries like ours, where we know how the willingness to treat and accept the LGBTQ+ community fluctuates, in recent years drag shows have multiplied (a make over drag program was even planned, I'm not a lady, intended for Rai 2 and hosted by Alba Parietti, traces of which in the schedules were however lost after the advent of the Meloni government ). But it is perhaps this continuous and transversal exploit that arouses concern in more conservative circles, so much so that in the United States for months now drag queens have been talked about as one of the greatest dangers for the safety and education of minors. For some time now, an obsessive campaign has been launched in some media, especially against the so-called Drag Story Hours, events in which drag queens read fairy tales and stories to an audience of children enthralled by their showy presence. This obviously happens in the so-called Red states, the states that are located in the internal areas of the federation and are almost all with a Republican majority.

Several of these states, including Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah, have passed or are passing bills restricting drag performers' ability to perform freely. The most striking example is that of Tennessee, where on March 2 Governor Bill Lee signed a law that prohibits "topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers and male and female quick changers" from performing in clubs in which there could be the presence of minors. In these very varied but also vague definitions obviously drag performers ended up, put in the heap together with performers whose performances are more sexually connoted. But in most cases the art of drag is not has nothing to do with sex, indeed the extremely sexualized appearance is a way to defuse or make fun of the topic. Republican propaganda, however, treats them as possible sexual predators. 

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The reactions

RuPaul himself took the field in response to these attacks, who in a post on Instagram said or rather harshly that these laws are nothing more than diversions to distract people from the "real problems that they were called upon to solve once elected", such as jobs, health care or the protection of school children from guns fire: “ They look for easy targets so as to give the impression of being efficient ”. At the same time RuPaul launched the Drag Defense Fund with World of Wonder and MTV, a fundraiser to protect the freedom of expression of every drag performer and many stars who have left the program these days are making their voices heard to demonstrate that the Drag art is a far cry from the menace wielded like a bogeyman by conservative politicians.

Drag queens therefore seem to be at the center of another paradoxical aspect of our times so polarized: on the one hand they are part of an entertainment industry which, from Drag Races to world tours via vogueing has never been so flourishing; on the other they are the scapegoat on which the most stubborn and instrumental of political campaigns are unleashed, which have risen to represent everything that is deviant and ambiguous in the LGBTQ+ community. After all, the flamboyance and popularity of anything drag is a perfect diversion: in Tennessee itself, a law has also been passed in recent months that interrupts and prohibits any type of medical therapy for the transition or hormonal blockage of minors. Once again drag queens are used as smoke (or powder) in the eyes. But, as RuPaul says, “ drag queens are the marines of the queer community ”: exactly like half a century ago, when transgender and en travesti people were among the first to throw their heels at the New York police, unleashing the famous riots of Stonewall 1969, they'll keep on fighting. One heel and one fairy tale at a time.

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