Oh God, it’s finally happening. I knew it would. “They” (Tennessee in this case) have found a way to ban almost everything — now it’s the centuries-old practice of “drag.”

I know you’re leaning across the table these mornings and asking your mates, your kids: “What is this “drag thing?”

Well, no one on the block can tell you. You just have to go to your kids’ computers, and there it is.

The term “drag queen” was first used to describe men appearing in women’s clothing.

“Drag,” as almost any drama student can tell you, is a term that goes way back to William Shakespeare’s plays. In them, male actors would wear long costume dresses that used to “drag” on the stage floor. OMG, clutch your pearls.

I made calls and sent texts to discover that a large number of my friends and readers never heard the expression explained, or even cared about it.


Your kids, who’ve studied Shakespeare in high school, know that in the Bard’s time, his women were played by men because women weren’t allowed on stage.

Women then were seen as inferior, “unfit for acting.”

So the actors from the great Bard’s famous theater, The Globe, put on lipstick and rouge, slipped on the ball gowns of the time, and stepped on stage, and with falsetto tones “dragged” the long costumes across the stage. There it is, that’s how “drag” began. Now you know.

Moviegoers know all about “drag.” Almost all of the big stars from the great Jimmy Cagney, Wallace Beery, to Nathan Lane in “Birdcage,” to Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder’s wild and successful “Some Like It Hot” have amassed a fortune by coming out in polka dots, powdered wigs and lipstick.

Comic Eddie Murphy did in “The Nutty Professor”; Johnny Depp donned skirts in “Ed Wood.” Dustin Hoffman scored large with his brilliant portrayal of “Tootsie.” Tell me you didn’t love “Tootsie.” The big, handsome tough guy action star, Jeff Chandler (“Cochise”) had an affair with the perpetually-wet Esther Williams, but she dropped him because he was a secret “crossdresser.”

Jeff even modeled her dresses for her, and she reportedly once told him: “Jeff, you’re too big for polka dots.” Old Hollywood gossip.


I will confess, dear reader, that I, as a comic actor, made my own debut in a comedy sketch as “Eve” in a dress made of fake grape leaves. I have witnesses.

Some years ago, at the Waterville Opera House, the great Maine actor Mike Laney and I played 27 parts, including women in William’s, Sears’ and Howard’s “Greater Tuna.” We have witnesses.

So why am I wasting space on the term “drag?”

It’s about the news that came out Thursday: “Tennessee, the Volunteer State, became the first to restrict drag performances.” Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who once dressed in “drag,” just signed a bill that bans drag shows— specifically “adult cabaret entertainment” — in places where minors might watch them and on public property.

Say what?

You heard it here. By the time Donald Trump takes the stage at the Republican convention, all MAGA hats will be worn without lace veils. And though guns will be allowed, don’t try to hide them under your ball gowns.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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