A group of drag queens in bejeweled ball gowns and stiletto heels brought unexpected glamour to storytime on Mother's Day weekend.
A rambunctious crowd packed into the auditorium of the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Branch on Saturday afternoon for Drag Queen Story Hour. The event, which aims to celebrate diversity and inclusion, drew more than 100 young children and their families.
After a quick song (“If you’re ready for some stories, say oh yeah!”), the three performers introduced themselves by their stage names: Maxi Glamour, Celeste Covington and Blair Warnher.
Dressed in an ankle-length shimmering black dress and red sash, Covington read “The Bad Seed,” a story about a misbehaving sunflower seed.
“I stare at everybody. I glare at everybody. Can you all glare for me?” Covington said, eliciting a hundred tiny scowls. “I do lots of other bad things, too. You know why? Because I’m a bad seed.”
Babies babbled quietly in the background while older children, many of them sitting in their parents’ laps, observed the drag queens with curiosity.
In the weeks leading up to the event, library staff had worked closely with the three volunteer storytellers to help prepare them. Inevitably, they were warned, the children would get “wiggly.”
“There’s such a difference between performing for adults versus little kids,” said Covington. “It’s actually much more nerve-racking performing for kids.”
The brainchild of author Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions, Drag Queen Story Hour first began in San Francisco in 2015. It has since spread to cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Boston and Kansas City.
According to its website, Drag Queen Story Hour introduces kids to “glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models” and helps them learn how to embrace gender diversity.
That goal aligns with the mission of the St. Louis Public Library, according to event organizer Tiger Reed. The library prides itself on providing welcoming spaces to everyone, Reed said, “no matter who they are or where they come from or what they look like.”
"Okay to be different"
The St. Louis Public Library hosted its first Drag Queen Story Hour in September 2017, attracting about 250 people. The event’s success was a key factor in their decision to host the program a second time, Reed said.
“I think Drag Queen Storytime just really sends a message that it’s okay for kids to be different, it’s okay for kids to dress they way they want and be who they are,” said Reed, who is the Youth Services Specialist at the St. Louis Public Library.
After story time, the children mobbed a craft table and decorated their own Drag Queen Story Hour buttons. A handful shyly approached the drag queens to introduce themselves and take pictures. Standing over 6 feet tall in stiletto heels, the performers knelt down to talk to the kids and answer questions.
“I had one kid come up and ask if I was a boy or a girl,” said storyteller Blair Warnher. “I just let her know that I’m a boy, but I’m like a life-size Barbie, just dressing up.”
Drag Queen Story Hour brought parent Janelle Bassett and her two young children to the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Branch for the first time. She said she has been reading books about gender with her daughter, Edith.
“Exposing [our kids] to different expressions of gender is important to us,” Bassett said.
For performer Maxi Glamour, dressing in drag also serves as a way to introduce young audiences to LGBTQ culture and identity.
“Drag queens are the spearheads of queer culture to some extent,” they said. “It was drag queens and trans women who threw the first bricks at Stonewall. It’s showing this monument of queer culture to young audiences.”
The St. Louis Public Library now plans to make Drag Queen Story Hour a biannual event. The next storytime is scheduled for Sept. 22.
Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan.