Since its debut in San Francisco in 2015, Drag Queen Story Hour has become a popular event in libraries across the country. Although the queens set aside their usual bawdy performances for tamer, kid-friendly fare, their costumes and makeup are as over-the-top as ever, and kids love it!
Although the overall response to Drag Queen Story Hour is positive, not all adults are on board. In Anchorage, an anti-LGBT activist recently interrupted the library’s Drag Queen Story Hour to claim that “Transgenders do not exist.” (History proves otherwise.) The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has compiled resources to help libraries defend Drag Queen Story Hour and other Pride-themed events and displays.
I spoke to three drag queens who lead story times at locations around Chicago about their perspectives on the program.
|Muffy Fishbasket is the producer of Story Time With Drag Queens in Chicago.|
|Alexis Hex is the drag witch of Chicago, and her home bar is The Call in Andersonville.|
|Abhijeet is Chicago’s self proclaimed stunt queen who uses fashion and video to create waves in the Chicago drag and nightlife scene.|
Had you heard of Drag Story Time before you were asked to participate in one? If so, what did you think of it?
Muffy: I had. There had been some news about it in California and New York. I hadn’t thought much about it until Women and Children First contacted me to do it for Lit Crawl in Andersonville. I was so excited to see the turn out and realized that there was an obvious need for it here in Chicago
Alexis: I had heard about and seen the videos of Drag Queen Story Time. I thought it was such a great idea and really shows the reach and versatility drag. Drag is limitless.
Abhijeet: Yes I have. I’ve always thought of it as a really beautiful endeavor to begin to introduce kids to queer and trans folks from an early age. It’s always been an event based in teaching diversity and inclusivity.
What do drag queens bring to story time?
Muffy: The Queens I book, on the surface, bring a lot of fun and color. But they also bring diversity and life experience. The children and parents we read for get to see different types of drag and different types of queens.
Alexis: Drag Queens bring a larger than life energy with them, and more importantly Drag represents being whoever and whatever you want to be. It also brings visibility. It’s important the children are able to see themselves represented but it’s equally as important to see and experience different cultures.
Abhijeet: Drag queens are not just the mascots of the queer community. We’re larger than life, we’re fairytale princesses, we’re superheroes. Kids aren’t inherently bigoted unless raised to be that way, and seeing a seven foot glamazon crouch down and read their favorite book with them offers a sense of safety and an assurance that big things don’t have to be scary.
Drag queens interacting with kids provide that glimmer of hope for every child told they were too flamboyant, too much.
Were you nervous about doing Drag Story Time?
Muffy: At first I was. Not sure how we as queens and “Creatures of the bar scene” would be received by a day time public. The parents are lovely and the kids are so excited.
Alexis: I was more excited than nervous. I love little kids and have many younger cousins. I even got to read a book I wrote during story time. Kids have such a great energy and open mind. They just get it. One little girl asked me, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I said today I’m a girl and that was that.
Abhijeet: Not at all. I’ve worked with kids a bunch. I used to volunteer every summer growing up and teach young children conversational English and computer literacy in India. It’s not my first time working with kids in drag either — I’ve had great experiences doing photoshoots with children as well.
What was your experience like, and how did people in the library respond to the event?
Muffy: This is the second year I’ve done it and we’ve gotten more people to come which is great. The Albany Park branch [of the Chicago Public Library] had a great turn out and everyone was super involved.
I got a message from a parent about one of the other branches that we went to thanking us for coming to an area that doesn’t have much in the way this type of diversity.
It was wonderful to know that we are making a difference. And it may only be for one person but for that one person it could mean the world.
Alexis: Everyone who has attended has really enjoyed the events. Especially the ones at library branches a bit farther out or in more conservative neighborhoods. So many parents thanked me more making the trip in person and even some on my Instagram. Many of the parents are so excited to share diversity with their children.
Abhijeet: It was such a great experience embodying what Pride really means to me. It was a chance to just be myself in front of kids still figuring things out.
The audience at the library loved it. I went dressed as Goldilocks with three stuffed bears and the kids immediately recognized who I was and flocked over to inspect my look throughly. Their parents loved the event as well and strongly encouraged their children to explore this bizarre new creature freely. I was every child’s new favorite princess!
What piece of advice would you give to librarians who are contemplating a Drag Queen Story Hour at their library?
Alexis: I would say do it. Reach out to any queen. Most queens will be happy to answer any questions you may have. For many of us our artistic skills goes beyond performance and look, and are willing to make the event whatever you desire. From reading to doing coloring pages or even performing a number. If its something you think would add value to your community then go for it. No matter where the event takes place that visibility is going to be important to someone, and for others it’s a new experience.
Muffy: Be present, get the word out and be ready. You are our link to your direct community. Let us know what they would like and we’ll be there to support you and your library goers!
Thanks to Muffy, Alexis, and Abhijeet for their time. Have you hosted, attended, or participated in a Drag Queen Story Hour? Share your experience in the comments below!
Alex Falck is a Children’s Librarian at the Chicago Public Library. Alex is particularly interested in hearing and amplifying the voices of historically silenced people, including people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. Alex listens to lots of podcasts, and blogs at teenlib.tumblr.com. Find them on Twitter @AlexandriaFalck.