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Tennessee Passes Drag Ban in Terrifying Attempt To Legislate the Gender Binary Into Existence

A wrinkled trans flag

In another attack on trans rights, queer communities, and the freedom of gender expression, the Tennessee general assembly has passed a bill banning drag performances—and its language is broad enough to outlaw trans people simply existing in public.

The bill is aimed at “adult cabaret performances,” which it defines as “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.” The bill bans “adult cabaret performances” in public, or anywhere where a minor might see them.

Now that the bill has passed in the Tennessee House, it will go to the state senate for a procedural vote, and then to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

As activist and writer Erin Reed points out, the language of the bill is so broad that it can be used to target Pride events, or trans people performing in any capacity (since dressing according to their own gender could be interpreted as “drag”).

The most insidious part of the bill, though, is the term “male or female impersonators.” That term could mean virtually anything, from a drag performer to a cis woman wearing pants. It’s a term that only has meaning within a strictly enforced gender binary.

And as drag queen Bella Duball points out, it outlaws any trans person leaving their home while wearing clothes associated with their true gender—since anything they do in public could be classified as a “performance.”

“If this law passes on April 1, public drag will now be criminalized,” Duball said in a public announcement posted to TikTok. “I could go to jail for 15 years for appearing outside in drag …. this bill will further harm trans people who are literally just living their fucking lives. This will make public pride illegal this year.

“We are queer people,” Duball said. “We are very strong. We will rise.”

(featured image: Alxey Pnferov, Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.