Down Route 66: God Save the Queen(s)

Free public domain CC0 photo.

The title is a bit clickbaity, I admit. But I’m also serious. Our drag queens are in danger, and so are the rest of us.

Tom Wray

If you’ve been following national LGBTQ news and our own coverage here on the Eagle, you’ve seen that we’re under attack. We’re being attacked on multiple levels. The anti-LGBTQ laws being submitted in state legislatures, even here in Illinois, are bad enough. People are already fleeing states like Texas where the laws have already been passed and are being enforced.

Even with the threat those laws pose, what has been happening at a local level is almost worse. The fixation the right has on drag is perplexing and, honestly, scary. Just since July, we’ve seen them getting more and more bold and aggressive. Their focus and hysteria about drag being anywhere near kids has lead to violence such as when UpRising Bakery in Lake in the Hills had their windows shatter with graffiti sprayed on the walls. Threats forced the cancellation of a drag bingo night in Downers Grove. Decatur, Plainfield, Joliet, Buffalo Grove. All of those cities have been targeted. As I’m writing this, I’ve heard of letters going out all over Yorkville encouraging people to stop another drag event.

We’re being called “groomers.” We’re being compared to pedophiles, which I haven’t seen since the 1980s. Horror stories told to frighten people have made a comeback. And their easiest target, at least to them, are drag queens.

Nathan J. Anderson, writing for Current Affairs, said that drag is a challenge to gender norms. That’s what the right fears. Drag, queens or kings, whatever the gender of the performer, shows gender for the changeable thing it is. It’s different for every person. It’s not set in stone. That scares the shit out of the right. And in one way, it should.

Drag has always been, partly, about the illusion. Make believe. What can be done with make-up and costume. But it has also been about strength. As Bernadette said in “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” said, “Being a man one day and a woman the next isn’t an easy thing to do.” (Side note: If you’re a baby gay, you absolutely need to see that movie. For nothing else, to see Agent Smith and General Zod go full Donna Summer.)

Doing drag means being strong enough to not hide anything. Being strong enough to be who you are and who you want to be despite what the rest of the world says to you. To push against the world with nothing more than a dress, make up and press-on nails. Drag queens, by necessity, are tougher than any bro or militia wannabe you will ever meet.

They have also long lead the way for the rest of us. It was drag queens and trans women who literally lead the charge for us against the police who wanted to force us back in the closet. It was people like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who threw the bricks. It was drag queens who refused to be quiet at the Compton’s Cafeteria riot even before Stonewall. They are, in many ways, the founding mothers of who we are today.

That is also why drag queens are a target. They are the most visible of us. They are often most people’s first contact with the LGBTQ community. They are a symbol, like they’ve always been.

So we need to defend them. We need to push back on every lie the right says about them and about us. We need to attend every school board, city council, library board and park district meeting they do. We need to be ready to protest them like they protest us. They are fighting to stop change, we’re fighting for our right to be.

It isn’t easy. And it’s scary. I’m 48 years old. I came out at the age of 19 in Indiana in the early 1990s. It wasn’t easy. I encountered hostility. But I wasn’t as scared as I am now. Hate has become more visible now than it ever was in the bad old days. It wasn’t daily news. The right wasn’t coming out in as much force as they are now. They’ve been attempting violence not only here in Illinois but across the country. I worry that people will get injured. I worry that people will be forced to leave their homes for their own safety. I worry that people are in real and immediate danger.

But that means that we must fight back. We must be as organized as they are. Let me know whenever the right sends out a letter, starts a protest, mobs a government meeting or commits violence against us. I will put out the alert so people can organize against it.

We pushed them back before. We can do it again. And don’t forget: they reason they’re pushing so hard now is because they know they’re losing. The angrier they get, the more we know we can win.