Monday, June 26, 2017

Via The NewYorker: Kids Attend Drag Queen Story Hour


A new reading series at the Brooklyn Public Library introduces elements of gender bending and camp to little ones. 

On a recent Saturday morning, about two dozen small children and their parents gathered in the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library for a new reading series. There were pregnant women with tattoos, breast-feeding moms, and a little girl in pink ballerina gear climbing on the laps of her two dads. Many of the kids, who ranged in age from newborn to five years old, wore tiny T-shirts showcasing their parents’ favorite bands (Nirvana, David Bowie) or political views (one read, “The Future Is Female”).

The event was hosted by Michelle Tea, a writer from Los Angeles, who started attending library story hours after becoming a mom. “Story time rises or falls on the charisma of the storyteller,” she said. “Some seemed to have a personality disorder or didn’t even like children.” She’d brought her partner, Dashiell Lippman, and their two-year-old son, Atticus, who had a haircut that resembled David Beckham’s. “He is pretty butch—we call him Fratticus,” Tea said. “I’m always pushing a tutu on him, but he’s, like, ‘No.’ ”

Tea’s solution, called Drag Queen Story Hour, introduces elements of gender bending and camp. “I have long thought that drag queens need to be the performers at children’s parties, rather than magicians or clowns,” she said. “Drag has become more mainstream. Kids might have seen one on a billboard or on TV.”

Rachel Aimee was at the library because she had seen a Facebook post about the series. “I work at the Feminist Press and thought, Maybe we could present it,” she said. “The thing that first struck me was it’s all about dressing up and being pretty without the baggage of gender coding. As a parent, I’ve been looking for something like that.”

“Yeah, it’s just fun and glitter,” said Tea, who was wearing animal-print palazzo pants and had a red heart tattoo on each of her fingers.

Having a six-year-old daughter has made Aimee question some of her feminist beliefs. “She got really into watching ‘Barbie: Life in the Dream House,’ ” Aimee said. “How could I tell her not to watch it? It has a thousand girls and only, like, two boys in it. I would be teaching her that shows about girls are bad.”

At eleven o’clock, Tea made her way to the front of the room. “Do you all know what a drag queen is?” she asked the children. “Drag queens are amazing. They get to do fun things like dance and sing and travel and play dress-up with their drag-queen friends. And they’re all feminists.” The parents chuckled politely.

The drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess came out, wearing a white sequinned tunic dress and matching heels, bright-pink tights, and a curly auburn wig. (She has performed at Bushwig, a drag festival, and at SFMOMA.) She declined to give her birth name but said that she is a graduate student in media studies at N.Y.U. She put on black owlish reading glasses, sat on a folding chair, and addressed her audience: “Can everyone say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a drag queen’?”

The children just stared.

She would be reading from “Tatterhood,” a collection of feminist folktales, which had originally been published by the Feminist Press, in the nineteen-seventies. The title story, from Norway, features a feisty goat-riding heroine who fights off angry trolls with a spoon.