Why We Do Drag Queen Story Hour

By Clarence Baney and the Peacemaking and Social Justice Team

  1. What is Drag Queen Story Hour?

Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) took off in 2015 from a library in San Francisco, California. Michelle Tea, feminist, activist, and LGBTQ+ mom used to attend library events with her newborn. While she found the events fostered a welcoming environment, they were tailored to a “hetero” crowd (non-LGBTQ+ crowd). Tea envisioned having similar events that would be affirming of LGBTQ+ families. At its heart, DQSH is rooted in its accessibility for families, primarily for children and parents to experience together. Secondly, the format welcomes LGTBQ+ families – these are families that do not resemble the usual hetero-normative couple (the traditional male husband and female wife) or family-group. DQSH welcomes families of different types to join together for a period of sharing, of affirming one another, and for community building and formation.

2. What is Drag and what is a Drag Queen?

The exact origins of the term drag are unknown. Drag most likely originated in theatre productions in which males were cast, dressed, and acted to portray female characters. Today, the art form has evolved to become more intricate and sophisticated. It can refer to characters that are feminine, Drag Queens, or characters that are masculine, Drag Kings. The drag artist/performer aims to depict a character and persona both in actions and visually through clothing, mannerisms, and most importantly make-up art. The aim is to create a fantasy and tell a story through performance.  At its essence, drag is an art form.

See video: “Kids Meet a Drag Queen”
See video: “The History of the Word Drag”

3. What is the significance of a Drag Queen reading stories to children?

Some of the noted benefits are:

  • Teaching children to use their imaginations and teaching creativity;
  • Helping to teach children and adults lessons about accepting others, diversity, self-love, and respect for others.
  • Establishing a safe space environment for children and adults to be themselves. LGBTQ+ people do not often see themselves reflected in everyday world and culture. Drag Queen Story Hours, and drag queens in general, help to give them a chance to gain self-esteem and confidence in their queer identities.
  • The costumes and imaginative presentation of the Drag Queen enhance the story as the story teller themselves is conveying a story through their dramatic appearance and performance. Additionally, by breaking down barriers of traditional gender norms, drag queens help to create an atmosphere that is both open, accepting, and free of anything that could inhibit imagination. If even, drag queens provoke questions, that in of itself is evidence that they are opening the gateway to wonder and engagement.
  • Providing a shared experience for both children and adults.
  • Stories are both mirrors and windows.  Children and adults may see themselves reflected in the stories and the drag queen.
  • See video from the PBS NewsHour, “Drag Queen Story Hour offers a different kind of page-turner”

4. Is exposing children to Drag Queens harmful?

It is important to remember that DQSH was created by a mother (who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community) for she and her child to enjoy, and experience together, in a safe environment that breaks the barriers and constraints of traditional gender and sexual identity norms. DQSH is for children to enjoy with their parents. To that end, parents should feel free to make the decision as to whether DQSH is suitable for them and their children. 

See article from PBS “Political rhetoric, false claims obscure the history of drag performance”

5. Do you have to be gay to be a drag queen?

No. There are drag performers who are not gay. There are women who perform as drag queens; and, there are trans women and non-binary people who are drag queens, too. In fact, elements of drag appear in lesser ways in our everyday lives.

The tools and art of drag are actually used more often than you realize, and in everyday places. When a celebrity or public figure, such as a politician, creates a persona to project an image to the public, this is actually a form of drag, albeit subdued.  Additionally, look around you at church. To project an image of unity and solidarity, the choir may wear robes.  To indicate their role as clergy and acting in a priestly capacity, our pastors wear robes and stoles to convey the sacredness of the duties they perform. This does not denude these roles. It helps us, the congregants, to understand who these people are, and affects how we process what they say and do. These garments heighten the significance of what we experience in a worship service and help us connect to something beyond the physical world. Perhaps, it helps us to imagine a connection to a world beyond ours? 

6. Is DQSH appropriate for the Church, (big “C”… church universal)?

Absolutely! Remember in most of the discourse that Jesus has with his disciples, followers, and listeners, he not only asks, but demands that they use their imaginations in order to understand the realm and nature of God. Through stories with exaggerated characters, Jesus taught us about God’s sense of forgiveness, God’s love for all –including the “other” – and what it means to love one another. One could say that Jesus used tools employed by drag artists! Likewise, the Church is called to continually reimagine, reinvent, and rethink who it is, what its purpose in the world ought to be, and how it shall act to create a more just world. DQSH can help our church to think differently and break with the usual parameters that may confine our imaginations and intelligence. Drag invites us to not only reimagine, but to actively be part of creating the “fantasy” during the story time. These are tools and skills the Church requires in order to truly become “The Church of Christ in Every Age”. Lastly, DQSH gives our church an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the creation of “sacred” safe-spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and adult, by giving them a church experience where they may interact with someone who can reflect back to them something that resembles their identities.

7. How can DQSH help children and adults learn about their faith and God’s love?

In Genesis 1 for every act of creation, God said to God’s self, “…and it was good.” When God created humankind, God also called it “good.” LGBTQ+ Children and adults do not often see themselves as part of God’s act of creation, and thus do not always see themselves as belonging to a loving God. They may have questions about their identity, who they are, may not understand that their creation was good too. They might not understand their intrinsic value and their purpose in the world. 

DQSH, in a church, invites children and adults to reimagine \ to explore their identities in the midst of their church family, who have covenanted to be part of the faith formation of children and each other. Most importantly, DQSH helps cultivate self-confidence in LGBTQ+ folks (kids and adults) who are often in non-affirming environments, that are primarily cisgender and heterosexual. 

8. Why do we have DQSH at First Presbyterian Church of Howard County?

WE – the Church – have done a lot to tell the LGBTQ+ community that they are not welcome, not worthy, not loved. We’ve put forth destructive messages in the name of theology for generations. As a confession of our complicity in weaponizing bad theology, we make space for DQSH.

FOOD For the Journey: 

 “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:27-28

The prevalance of drag in mainstream culture has broken down barriers for so many youths and adults who have struggled with accepting their identities. The church strives to break down barriers, as well, to allow for God’s realm of peace and justice to prevail on Earth. What are some others ways that the Church could break down barriers to create sacred safe space in the church, that also affirms identities and values LGBTQ youths and adults?