What the Devil won't tell you
Wadsack's bill that would imprison Az drag performers is worth fighting out loud
Running out of targets, Arizona Republicans join in 'trans panic' push
Li'l Miss Hot Mess wants to read your kids a story.
She'll be "sparkly" and "larger than life" and will likely tell a tale that makes the folks who don't fit neatly into "ordinary" gender or sexual identities seem — oh, I don't know — human.
It's a performance.
The Tucsonan isn't twerking to five-year-olds.
"It’s very different to how we work with children. We’re keeping in mind what’s age-appropriate," she says. "The reality is LGBTQ people exist. Kids have a right to know about people in their community."
She's not saying every kid needs to go see a drag queen story hour. She's just saying she's available if parents want their kids to go through life with an open mind and experience a well-dramatized tale as part of the growing-up experience.
Yeah, as one child-oriented performer put it back in the 1970's: These are the people in our neighborhood. Drag performers aren't aberrant. They're not scary. They aren't necessarily transgender. They might be gay, or might not. They might even be straight cisgender men.
Whatever, the case, state Sen. Justine Wadsack (R-Tucson) says Li'l Miss Hot Mess belongs in prison.
Yup the drag performer whose day job is teaching public humanities at the University of Arizona (not in drag, mind you) should doing up to a 10-year hitch in the joint for "sexualizing children." Iron bars. Lights out. Orange scrubs. Eating only with her race, while trying not to get stabbed to death.
Senate Bill 1198, which passed the Arizona Senate yesterday on a 16-14 party-line vote, was meant to criminalize drag queen story hours.
See, the Republicans and the Proud Boys have put a bullseye on these story hours because it's not OK to hate gays for getting married anymore. A vast majority of Americans firmly support a right to marriage. The rightwing had gone after gay marriage because it wasn't OK to publicly hate African Americans anymore. The whole chanting about the Jews while carrying torches in the streets only went over well with a small segment of the population.
So the GOP has manufactured a ridiculous "trans panic." Because there aren't enough actual transgender people in the world to even pretend to point to them as the root cause of a potential downfall of all of Western Civilization™ (and many of the trans folks you know are passing so well that you don't even know that they're trans), the rightwingers are working to lump the purposefully flamboyant into their conspiracist fantasies about "grooming" children by pedophiles.
Someone needs to ask on a debate stage: Why is it such a vital part of right-wing politics to identify and criminalize human beings for being different? Don't they have a strategy other than pointing fingers and blaming the "others" for everything?
Maybe Sen. Wadsack isn't up on current events. In the United States of America, circa 2022, we don't imprison people for being different and treating individuality as "child appropriate."
It's why we don't imprison pro-lifers or politicians who believe the rich are overtaxed.
Wadsack says the bill is meant to prevent "the sexualization of children."
For starters it's sick, twisted and wrong to accuse entire groups of people of being guilty of pedophilia. That's just evil. I don't accuse Wadsack of being a Satanist because she wears those Morticia Adams bangs.
What is it about drag queens that in anyway suggests pedophilia? What? Are they going through seminary?
To say it's "grooming" or sexualizing children is to believe that merely witnessing a drag queen read a story will turn kids gay, or make them more likely to be victims of abuse. Then again, the modern Right is freaked out about the frogs turning gay, so take it for what its worth.
Kids aren't quite that impressionable, and sexual identities don't stem from seeing art and culture. I can vouch that my favorite show as a kid was "M*A*S*H." Corporal Max Klinger's cross-dressing joke did not a thing to my sexual identity. My daughters' generation didn't turn LGBTQ because they saw "Mulan." My grandparents weren't suddenly "fabulous" because they saw the Honeybun scene in "South Pacific."
Crime statistics make it pretty clear who's sexually abusing children, and it ain't drag queens, or any LGBTQ folks.
What's disturbing here is the cadre of political people who are eager to use the specter of child sexual abuse to frame people who they've already worked to marginalize. The people actually sexualizing children are those who can't stop thinking and talking about kids and sex.
Gov. Katie Hobbs has said she will veto bills if they aren't bipartisan. So this one could get stopped at that particular drawn line. That's hiding behind the issue. Even if it is bipartisan, it's a horrible idea that violates Freedom 101.
What's in the bill
SB 1698 is written to make performing in drag in front of minors a class 4 felony. Performing to anyone under 15 would subject a drag performer to prosecution of a dangerous crime against children. The sentence runs up to 10 years and forces them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
You won't find the word "drag" in the language of her proposed law, but Wadsack's clear what she intends with it.
Wadsack's bill is championed by her fellow members of the so-called "Freedom Caucus." That a group calling itself the Freedom Caucus is anywhere near this legislation proves they are about as pro-freedom as vegans are pro-steak.
Freedom is the ability to live your life on your terms even if a majority disagrees with your decisions or how you identify. Wadsack clearly defines her freedom as the rest of us living under her thumb and doing what she says.
The bill seeks to modify existing law to define drag shows as adult-oriented businesses. That's basically legalese for sex.
Miss Mess points out that drag and sex are not even synonymous. Drag is about performance. I know the one drag performance I've seen reminded me more of Marilyn Monroe or Carol Channing doing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."
There are others drag performers who are more super-charged.
But this is like... OK, it's like this:
My aunt was a teacher and would play her guitar for kids. Wadsack would, presumably, imprison Aunt Helen to protect kids from Slayer.
I repeat: Seeing a drag queen read a story is not going to turn anyone into anything they aren't already.
Li'l Miss Hot Mess, who didn't want the Sentinel to use her given name for this story (I mean, the Proud Boys might find her), knew she was not identifying like a boy who likes girls when she was four or five. That's about the same age I realized girls were cool. It makes all the sense in the world to me. The only difference is that no one suggested I was somehow deviant.
Our friendly neighborhood drag queen would have helped Li'l Miss, and helped those around her be more accepting, too.
"I think if I had role models as a kid," she said. "It could have helped me find my identity and feel comfortable about that."
She identifies as queer and non-binary, not transgender.
The other monstrous thing about this bill is its clear effort to conflate the people performing at story hours with "transgender" folks, 'cuz I guess that's bad. Drag queens come in all shapes, sizes and personal identities. Cisgender straight (yes, I typed it and still like football) dudes can perform drag. Very few trans people are jumping up on stage and performing as if they're a different gender than the one they present as in their everyday lives.
But who cares if they happen to be transgender? We've got to get over this idea that somehow there are some people who aren't popular enough to have their rights protected.
By the way, those who do identify as transgender are already taking enough grief from society that it threatens their very existence.
Two studies done in the last five years showed 40 percent of transgender teens have attempted suicide. Holy mother of God.
That would seem to be the public health emergency. Let's stop that first and deal with the rest later. And if it helps those kids to see that people who don't identify as "straight" are accepted in the community, then I say Hallelujah, praise the Lord. Let them let their queer flags fly.
This supposed "grooming"? The UA professor and member of our community who has done dozen of drag shows says that's not the case at all.
"To suggest that goes against all evidence," Li'll Miss Hot Mess says (and we at TucsonSentinel.com are in agreement. Best. Drag Name. Ever). "What we’re able to do is show kids that who they are is OK."
Too much freedom
There's something freshman Sen. Wadsack may not have thought through.
I don't see how this bill, even if it were to become a law, would pass a free-speech test.
To survive such a test, drag queen story hour would have to be classified as obscenity or harmful to children. The U.S. Supreme Court defines obscenity thusly:
(1) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’ (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
All three parts of the test must be satisfied, otherwise the senator from Tucson could be prosecuted for having the last name "Wadsack," which might appeal to the prurient interest of some.
In Arizona, the applicable state law includes that language protecting artistic and political value.
So if L'il Miss Hot Mess were actually indoctrinating children with a political agenda, she'd be protected. The more indoctrination the better, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. Sexy Marxism is more legal than just sexy, folks.
It must suck for the Freedom Caucus that the court allows so much... what's the word? I'm trying to remember. It's on the tip of my tongue ... Oh, "freedom."
How to actually protect kids
Republicans in the Legislature (Latin for "Oh God, now what?") can tackle the number one cause of death among kids. That would be guns.
The Legislature is so pro-gun it has barred local governments from destroying or disposing of guns, even at an owner's request. They're not just defending the absolute rights of gun owners. They are defending the rights of guns themselves.
Gun rights are so absolute that society is just expected to endure school shootings. Freedom of expression is so fragile society must bend it to right-wing fever dreams.
Wadsack herself has a bill that also passed the state Senate banning local governments from restricting gun shows.
Is she saying it's better to have a dozen kids killed in a school shooting than have any kid come out as trans, gay, queer or non-binary? What? We're not allowed to ask questions?
They sure are writing our laws like they think a dead kid is better than a queer kid. Talk about way outside of mainstream values...
OK, so Wadsack is extreme and her bill is an abomination. The rest of us are accomplices if we buy into their us-versus-them garbage. Remember, you are very likely "them."
The entirety of the right-wing culture war can be distilled to one sentence: "It's our country, not theirs." They mean it's not yours unless you voted for Kari Lake in both the primary and the general election.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that the politics and diplomacy have their roots on the playground. What Wadsack and the Freedom Caucus is doing is playing a game of "you got cooties."
There's a certain resonating form of popularity born from ripping on people who are different. It works until someone stands up and asks the assailant "why are you such a loser?"
Know what else is an archetypical form of heroism? Standing up for the people meant to feel isolated and alone and telling their tormentor "Ya ain't touching them. They're with us."
Democrats need to get off their asses. Don't just pivot to kitchen table issues. This is serious and dangerous because, again, it's about threatening people with prison.
They should try the "married, straight, Christian, suburban mom" speech Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMurrow gave to help rally normal people to victory after victory in that state during the last election.
In the meantime, Wadsack may want to remember she won her election by just 3,000 votes. She's acting like a safe-district nutbar while representing a 51-49 district in a 16-14 Senate. Wadsack could cost Republicans their control over that chamber.
Couldn't happen to a meaner demagogue.
Sane people aren't going to let strange people imprison drag queens. Period.
That's how you "message" against this bill. Tell it like it is.
Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you what the Devil won’t.