How Tennessee’s Drag Ban Law Could Hurt Performers and Businesses

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A new law makes staging “cabaret” shows in Tennessee a criminal offense. Bella DuBalle, a Memphis-based drag queen, said this law will hurt her and small businesses. DuBalle also worries that the law will dehumanize drag performers. Something is loading.

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Bella DuBalle grew up in rural Tennessee and always felt disconnected from the southern masculinity she was taught to project.

When she moved to Memphis in her twenties and a friend asked her to dress in drag for an upcoming fundraiser, little did she know it would change her life.

“The first time I put on drag was the first time in my life where I allowed all those feminine things that I had hidden away and that I had been taught to be very ashamed of to come to the surface. “, DuBalle told Insider. “It was so euphoric.”

DuBalle has been dragging for a decade and working as a full-time drag queen in nightclubs and other venues for three years. However, a new law in Tennessee threatens his business and that of other drag performers in the community.

A new law, passed in early March, makes it a criminal offense to stage adult cabaret shows on public property or that could be seen by a minor. He defines adult cabaret shows as anything “that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a lustful interest “. Although the bill does not explicitly mention “drag,” the vagueness of the language creates uncertainty about how drag performers, transgender people and gender nonconforming people might be affected, critics say. The politicians.

A federal judge in Tennessee temporarily blocked enforcement of the law hours before it takes effect on April 1. companies that present them.

This is a story told based on an interview that has been edited for length and clarity.

“Mom, thank you for always embracing my sweet spirit,” DuBalle wrote on Instagram. @belladuballe, Instagram We have to remember that drag artists are people

For a city in the middle of the Bible Belt, I’ve always felt relatively safe in Memphis – it’s a safe blue pocket in the state. That being said, I have always felt a strong pushback about dating and homosexuality from the more conservative communities in Tennessee. They are not as accepting.

As these laws have come to the fore, more and more people have been encouraged to say how much they hate us and it is very dehumanizing. It’s fundamentally important, especially now in this discussion, to rehumanize drag performers and trans people. Because dehumanizing a group of people is a very slippery slope.

As a drag queen, it’s always been part of my brand to remind people that it’s all an illusion, that there’s someone behind the makeup and the hair. And with these laws in place, there is a real person who is deeply affected.

Building a full-time career took perseverance Bella DuBalle has been a full-time drag queen for three years. courtesy of DuBalle

It took years of hard work to turn that passion into a career. While it’s definitely a fun art form, I’ve always considered it a job even before I got paid. It meant being punctual, respectful and prepared for my performance.

Because I treated every opportunity like a job, venues and show managers referred me to each other knowing that I would be performing a professional, high-quality show.

There are only a handful of jobs, so you have to create your own opportunities. And that’s what I did: I approached the Memphis Riverboats to create the city’s first water drag show and worked with local churches and libraries for events like the drag queen story time.

I’m also the full-time host of the Atomic Rose nightclub, where I host a drag brunch on Sundays and drag shows on Friday and Saturday nights. I launched War of the Roses there, which turned into a six-season drag show.

I don’t know if all these opportunities will still exist after the ban comes into effect from April 1st.

Individuals and businesses will be affected by anti-drag bills

I’m afraid that’s not what the law can actually do, because in a recent meeting with Memphis District Attorney Steven J. Mulroy, he assured me that nothing we do is of an “pruritic” or explicit sexual nature, and therefore not liable to prosecution.

I’m nervous about what people perceive the law can do. It’s already arrived. Business owners see the headlines and automatically assume they can’t continue, leaving many people out of work.

People don’t realize that drag is the number of artists paying their bills and feeding their kids. In some cases, like my drag kid, or my mentee, who is a black trans woman, that’s the only career where they’re accepted.

We may look glamorous here, but we’re hustling. It’s hard work and it’s important work.

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