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Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A little history lesson (and common sense) on drag shows


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A little history lesson (and common sense) on drag shows

Mar 25, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Celia Rivenbark
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Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A little history lesson (and common sense) on drag shows
A drag performer entertains a full house in a Nashville, TN club. (Photo: John Partipilo for the Tennessee Lookout)

A friend recently gave me an illustrated history of the small town I grew up in—Wallace, N.C.— and I still can’t believe what I saw while thumbing through the pages.

Drag queens. Tons of ‘em! And guess what else…They were, in many cases, the dads of the friends I grew up with!

There was the beloved long-time Wallace police chief, enormous flesh-colored fake bosom anchored into place with a Playtex longline; his ruddy cheeks made pale with a dusting of Max Factor, a curly wig transforming him into a… drag queen.

The picture sent my mind reeling. I had no idea he was a pedophile! I just knew he was reliable and pleasant in a Sheriff Andy Taylor kinda way, the sort of fella who left a printed business card tucked into your screen door that said, “Your door was found unlocked!” 

Another prominent perv was, wait for it, the beloved coach of the high school football team, wearing a perky bow in his glossy blonde wig! So many men in high heels…Oh, the depravity!

And here’s the sickest part: These drag shows featuring the town’s most beloved patriarchs went on for YEARS. I know this because, barely out of high school, I was hired to take pictures of that smorgasbord of sin.

I suppose that makes me culpable in the grooming. It was bad enough being a registered Democrat AND a newspaper reporter but this, THIS! I got a ton of repressed memories I need to process now.

Photographs told the whole sad story. Desperate for an influx of cash, the Ruritans and others made some kind of Satanic bargain and used these so-called “Womanless Weddings” to raise money for a new firetruck or perhaps the scarily named “Jaws of Life” that could peel back a wrecked cartop like a tin of sardines to removed trapped passengers.

Sure, we had gospel sings and “normal” pretty girl beauty pageants and barbecue plate dinner fundraisers; we had fish fries and car washes and bake sales but those paled in comparison with the profits those demonic drag queen shows produced.

And the whole town board was IN on it! What’s worse, parents brought their children to these drag shows, happily plunking down the reduced-cost admission for the under 12’s.

May God have mercy on our souls.

I hear you. Womanless weddings, fundraising staples in rural areas across this great land, aren’t drag shows. When these real men glued on fake nails and camouflaged their bits with binding undergarments, it was harmless fun!

Sure, it was. 

And so are drag shows. 

I’ve been to drag brunches where the mimosas flow freely, and it was a good time. There were no children present because no one was an idiot. 

Time and place, friends; time and place.

Which brings me to Drag Queen Story Hour, which I want desperately to support but.. I’m not crazy about it. The intent – using drag queens reading to young children to demonstrate diversity and inclusion sounds noble. But…time and place. I don’t know a single 5-year-old who has questions about the drag-queen life. And I’ll bet you don’t either. 

So, while I understand the goal is to foster acceptance (and just maybe encourage a future free of Proud Boys and similar dirtbaggery), drag queen story hour provides low-hanging fruit photo opps for politicians who prefer to blather about non-issues while real problems fester.

Politicians like Tennessee Governor Bill Lee who last week took time away from addressing his state’s abysmal public-school funding to sign the nation’s most restrictive crack down on drag shows.

You have to hand it to Republican governors. When it comes to grandstanding about non-issues for a gullible electorate, nobody does it better.

To quote RuPaul, who would’ve raised enough money for a FLEET of fire trucks, I wish they’d all just “Sashay away.” 

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A little history lesson (and common sense) on drag shows
Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].


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