I’ve always been an advocate of teaching children to love reading. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to become not only a teacher but an author too. When it comes to encouraging children to love reading, the key element you simply must incorporate is that of performance. That, first and foremost, is why I support Drag Queen Story Time.
There are many different things competing for children’s attention. Television, computer games, books, sports, etc. This is not to say that any of these should be barred from children’s lives. Balance, as in all things, is important. However, it cannot be denied that children who grow up with an appreciation for reading reap a great many benefits later in life. They are more able to engage with the world, they appreciate knowledge and they are able to empathise better with others. This is why it is important to show children, from a young age, how much fun reading can be. When reading to very young children, you do this by reading directly to them, on a daily basis, and you put your heart and soul into it. You don’t just read the book, you perform it.
I shall not name names, but I’ve heard a fair few people read books to groups of children in such a way that made me wince. Monotone, no character voices, no gestures, no facial expression, no nothing. Now I know not everyone is a performer at heart, but as I said, there are a lot of things vying for children’s attention. The TV offers bright, moving colours and lots of sound. If children are to learn from a young age that books can be fun, you’ve got to bring that same level of energy and engagement when reading to them.
Drag artists are performers. They operate on a level of theatricality some of us can only dream of. They bring that energy and theatricality to Story Time and, judging by the levels of attendance, it’s fairly clear that it works. The feedback I see from parents and children also goes a long way to confirming how much children are enjoying these sessions. They respond to the colourful costumes and, most importantly, the energy and dynamism of the Drag Queen’s reading. They link how much they are enjoying the performance with the book, and are therefore encouraged to explore books themselves. Long before children learn to read, they can learn to love books.
I greatly admire everyone involved in bringing these fun and engaging story sessions to libraries across the country, and it has saddened me to no end to see the vitriol that is aimed at them. Footage of protestors harassing the Drag Queens, and even shouting vile abuse in front of children, leaves me sickened. The accusations lobbied by some of these individuals don’t bear repeating, but suffice to say, they’re nothing that members of the LGBTQ community haven’t heard before. In a nutshell, the underlying theme of it all is that somehow we are inherently unsafe to be around children. This is, of course, bigoted nonsense. Everybody who works with children goes through the same vetting process.
That being said, it isn’t just that the protestors think we’re unfit to be around children. They also think that we’re there to somehow ‘indoctrinate’ children. The very notion that watching a Drag Queen ready a story is going to somehow ‘turn’ a child gay or trans is beyond laughable. These people are protesting Story Time because they equate being LGBTQ with some level of harm, of trauma. That we were somehow ‘made’ to be the way we are. They cannot possibly allow us the dignity of knowing ourselves, they have to attach some level of blame to something or someone. As the song goes, we’re born this way, and a cis, straight child is going to grow up to be just that, cis and straight. Our sexuality and our gender aren’t just something we decide upon when we turn 18. That’s true of everyone. Ask a straight person when they chose to be straight, and they’ll usually give you a look that suggests just how ridiculous the question is. Rightly so.
Many Drag Queens are reading stories that have LGBTQ themes. All age appropriate and in keeping with educational guidelines. These books aren’t new, and I’m always heartened when I see them in schools. They’re there to speak to the LGBTQ youths of today, wondering if they are alone in how they feel about themselves. They might not speak to cis and straight youths in the same way, but they help them to realise that some of the people in their lives are different to them, and that that’s okay. Reading is meant to open young people’s minds, and LGBTQ inclusive resources do just that. It is not indoctrination to teach children that LGBTQ people exist. Indoctrination is teaching children to hate others for being ‘different’.
You know what? Drag Queens also read books that don’t mention LGBTQ issues. They read all sorts of children’s books, and they do it in a fun and engaging way, using their skills as performers. So, to all those who say that drag is not appropriate for children, I’ll say this. Do you honestly think that a Drag Queen is performing exactly the same material they’d normally do at a Drag Show? Of course not. They’re performers. They adapt their material and their performance to suit their audience. That’s what performers do. The vast majority of us grew up with pantomimes and seeing drag artists on the television. Surprisingly enough, plenty of children who saw Lily Savage back in the day grew up straight and cis. Drag is nothing new, and it is not inherently inappropriate. There are a fair few straight, cis children’s entertainers who have done other things in their careers, including performing adult material. Yet, for some reason, they never get the same level of bile aimed at them as a Drag Queen.
Another element of Drag Queen Story Time that so many people seem to forget is that it’s voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to go. You do not have to take your children. You could not be forced to go. If you’d rather stick your children in front of a screen for ten hours a day, then do so. I guarantee you, the children singing and laughing along at Drag Queen Story Time will be having a much better time, and are making memories that will last. They are learning that books are gateways that open up a world of imagination and fun. They are enjoying themselves, watching and listening to someone in a costume that has most certainly held their attention throughout. The parents of those children have chosen to take their children to the library. They are supervised at all times and they are learning while having fun. That is not something to protest against.
As I write this, we’re currently facing perhaps the biggest cost of living crisis in decades. If you honestly think the biggest problem currently facing the youth of today is Drag Queens reading stories to them, then I can’t help but feel sorry for you. Such ignorance is an indulgence that does no one any good.
It’s someone reading to children in a bright costume and make up. A theatrical tradition that goes back centuries. Frankly, it isn’t something to be concerned about.