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When a female impersonator came to town

In Ohio a playacting bully is hired to mock women at a family festival


When a female impersonator came to town

Last year on a hot, humid, sunny morning, I walked a few blocks to a nearby park for my neighborhood’s annual outdoor festival. Think craft fair meets farmer’s market. There’s homemade jewelry, food trucks, golden jars of local honey. We live in a small historic neighborhood on the south side of Columbus, Ohio. We have brick streets and brick houses built by a flood of German immigrants about a century and a half ago as they came to work in nearby factories.

I had my two daughters with me that day, then aged 6 and 3. I pushed them on the playground swings before we walked a lap around the park. I bought a pair of earrings that looked like daisies and a wax candle that smelled like hydrangea. The sidewalks were crowded with children and families. And then a man dressed like a stripper introduced himself as the festival emcee and spoke an obscenity into his microphone.

Somehow, the neighborhood association thought it a good idea to hire a man who uses the stage name “Jennifer Lynn”—who does not identify as transgender, but rather calls himself a “female impersonator”—to emcee the festival. The same festival which, it seems worthwhile to point out one more time, is billed as a family event in a public park.

As soon as the loudspeakers were plugged in, the emcee started his tired shtick: Jennifer Lynn, like every other drag queen you’ve ever heard or seen, is a ditzy party girl. The rest of his act and misbehavior just followed in course.

The festival this year is set for Sunday, Aug. 27. My church, which meets each Sunday in a rented building about two miles from the park, is planning (as we always do) to set up a booth. We’ll hand out the free scones that we’ll spend the days leading up to the festival baking in our respective kitchens all over the neighborhood. And we’ll invite our neighbors to visit our church.

I was looking forward to working the booth with my daughters at this year’s festival until I learned that, defying all reason, the neighborhood association has asked this same “impersonator” to emcee the event again.

This is what small-minded, unimaginative, mentally unwell men think it means to be a woman. 

The issue isn’t just the swearing (although I think most reasonable people would be sympathetic to a mom who’d like to show up to a family festival on a Sunday morning at a public park and not expect to hear profanity over a loudspeaker.) It’s also the “impersonating.”

And so, I found myself, last year after our walk around my neighborhood festival having to sit my six-year-old daughter down and tell her that mommy doesn’t know why some men think that being a woman means being stupid, flighty, ditzy, and obnoxious. Mommy doesn’t understand why men who want to “playact” a woman almost always aggressively exaggerate their prosthetic female body in a sexually explicit way—that this is so central to their idea of what “being a woman” is, in fact, that they’ll do it at a family festival in a public park on a Sunday morning. Mommy doesn’t understand why, but she knows they’re wrong. This is not what it means to be a woman. This is what small-minded, unimaginative, mentally unwell men think it means to be a woman.

My guess is my neighborhood association is facing both positive and negative pressure to hire this man again. I’m sure they were lauded last year for their “inclusivity” or whatever. I’m also sure they’re terrified of the mob that will come for them should they not invite him again.

People who object to things like drag queen story hours and female impersonators emceeing family festivals at public parks on Sunday mornings are often caricatured as prudes, scolds, and haters of the First Amendment. But my guess is that many of us aren’t only objecting to the weird, gross, aggressive sexuality of these “performers” in wildly inappropriate settings. We also object to the idea that indulging a sexual fetish in public is the same thing as “talent.” But mostly, we object to the implicit suggestion that this is what women are like.

I’d like to not have to have that conversation with my daughter again this year. I miss the days when it would be paranoid to expect to run into a man dressed as a stripper yelling profanities because he thinks it’s “cute” into a loudspeaker at a family festival. I’m confident there are plenty of nightclubs around Columbus that would be pleased to hire a middle-aged man in gaudy clothes who tells stupid jokes and calls it “female impersonating.” I don’t expect my neighborhood association to change course, but they should. My neighbors, and my daughters, deserve better.

Maria Baer

Maria Baer is a freelance reporter who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She contributes regularly to Christianity Today and other outlets and co-hosts the Breakpoint podcast with The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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