For more than a century, drag queens have been the lifeblood of gay bars and clubs across the globe. In the last decade, they’ve permeated the local pubs with bingo and trivia. But now they’ve found a new market: children in public libraries. And the conservatives are not happy.
It’s understandable to see why some would consider drag queens too adult for children, and that is simply because they haven’t done much research. Their concept of drag queen falls into the past, where it was considered a form of adult entertainment. Not because they strip down on-stage (I’ve yet to see anything of the sort), but simply because it was socially unacceptable. And not just because they dressed as women, but because they did it in connection to the gay community. For that is what drag queening entails. It’s essentially a form of pantomime, but we label it as a drag queen. And pantomime has been around for way more than a century. I’m talking Shakespeare days.
As a drag queen, myself, I can say there are times when drag queening can be too adult for children. It’s an art form, and like all art forms, they are not beholden to decency. Movies, for instance, have classifications that show parents what their children should and shouldn’t watch. It’s also the same reason why we have a children’s book section at the library, and why art galleries inform visitors of adult themes in certain exhibitions. And yet, ironically, I know a lot of parents who have skirted this issue. Why? Because they know their child can handle it.
But drag queens reading childish books to children is not adult in the slightest. For one, the content of which they share is child-friendly. And until I see a picture of a drag queen dressed indecently, I cannot see why they should be stopped. And no, a revealing cleavage is not indecent. Children see way more skin at the beach or even in their local shopping mall. And don’t forget they would have seen the full package entirely as a baby, provided they weren’t on formula.
So yes, drag queen storytime is appropriate for children. But the bigger question is why? Why not have a clown read to children? Or someone dressed as a cucumber? Why does it have to be a drag queen? Well, it’s for the same reason drag queens became popular in the 1960s and 70s.
Who we love and the gender we conform to have both remained unchallenged for most of human existence. It’s only been in the last 50 years when things have begun to shift. And the major catalyst for this change has been drag queens, simply because they are the epitome of different. Not only are they men dressing as women, but they are men acting like women. Sometimes they don’t even bother to act, they just be themselves; men dressing like women acting like men. This is interesting to note because a majority of drag queens don’t want to be women, they just want to be a little different.
But back in the 20th century, drag queens were the political activists, standing on the frontline with their brothers and sisters, marching for gay rights and freedoms. And their political activism shook up the social norms. World-renowned drag entertainer RuPaul Charles, in an article by the New York Times Magazine, says drag is the mocking of identity.
“It’s all nudge, nudge, wink, wink,” Ru says. “We never believe this is who we are. That is why drag is a revolution, because we’re mocking identity. We’re mocking everyone.”
In discussion of this article by the New York Times Magazine, Clinical psychologist, Jennifer O’Brien states that drag queens have long existed within the margins of society.
“Particularly at times when sexual minorities and subversive sexual and gender expression were highly policed and carried the risk of significant legal consequences,” Jennifer says.
And for the latter end of the 20th century, that is exactly what drag queens have done. They’ve challenged the social norm. But with the world moving towards more and more acceptance on a political level, it seems there’s more to be done on a social level. And where better to start than with children? They are the future, after all.
But drag queen storytime is not a soapbox for chanting LGBT rights. It is a platform for sharing the beauty of acceptance. We are not born to hate, we are taught to hate, and the only way in overcoming hatred is by seeing the world in its many colours. Drag queen storytime doesn’t teach children to challenge their gender, it simply teaches them to accept that some people do. They’re too young to consider sexuality, of course, but children are old enough to understand that mommy and daddy sometimes kiss and cuddle because they love each other. But what about the two gay dads who drop off Sally at primary school? Or Dale and Scott who sometimes kiss each other in high school, just like all the boy/girl couples that form during their young adult years?
Sex and gender therapist, Joe Kort says it’s ironic that when people think about children, they don’t focus on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.
“And yet, exposure to these institutional harms are far worse than anything a child might be exposed to in an LGBT Pride parade, observing gay and lesbian relationships, or being read a story by a drag queen,” Joe says.
In fact, the rate of suicide among young people who fall under the LGBT rainbow is far higher than their straight and cis-gendered counterparts, and the main culprit is bullying among peers because of their sexuality or gender difference. Drag queen storytime aims to challenge this unfathomable norm, with the hopes of potentially saving countless young lives from suicide. Ultimately, it teaches kids to accept the differences in this world. That normal is simply just a social construct; that anyone can be whoever they want to be.
Storytelling is a fundamental human trait; it entertains, improves cognitive thinking and enriches the soul. But with a drag queen storyteller, the benefits grow. Children who attend a drag queen storytime event are more likely to build a new sense of normality, challenging society’s concrete stereotypes around sexuality and gender. This gives them pure understanding that everyone around them is different and that that is okay, while also affording them the tools to deal with any gender or sexuality issue they may face in their life.
It’s a lifesaver, really, and the kids love it.