Voices: Drag Queen Story Hour protesters are the real problem – not the queens

·4-min read
Drag is about dressing up; it is about performance (Drag Queen Story Hour UK/Facebook)
Drag is about dressing up; it is about performance (Drag Queen Story Hour UK/Facebook)

In protest against a Drag Queen Story Hour event in Reading on Monday – the first in a UK-wide tour of council libraries – a group of concerned citizens (shall we say) stormed a library, brandished placards, and yelled “paedophile” at the queen performing, in a display of theatricality more typical of the target of their wrath.

So you do have to appreciate the irony. This is the kind of thing we have not seen since the girlfriend of the Match.com founder left him for a man she met on Match.com. Here are a group of school-age children listening to someone in a library nourish empathy, imagination and a general love of literature through reading and in come the spoilsports, hurling abuse, screeching obscenities and vulgarly making a scene of themselves. And this in the cause of “protecting” children.

But such profound irony does risk slipping into poignancy and pathos. The queen in question – Aida H. Dee, aka Sab Samuel – has been doxxed and threatened with crucifixion for the grave crime of reading to children while looking fabulous. She continues to do it; she even did another event on the same day she was heckled in Reading. “We knew this was going to happen,” she said after the first reading. That shows a degree of courage, tough-mindedness and self-respect that I will venture to say the protesters could only wish of having. Not the worst example in the world to set for kids, either.

Drag Queen Story Hour, for the uninitiated, is an international movement aimed at inspiring creativity and a love for stories in children. But there is a depressingly popular notion that drag is a kind of “child grooming” or in some way sexual, and this is a pernicious myth that must be confronted and ridiculed head on. Drag is about dressing up. It is about performance. Drag queens are (typically, at any rate) over-the-top parodies of women: they are more gender-rigid than gender-fluid, for goodness’ sake.

And children, in case you hadn’t noticed, rather like this sort of thing. That Christmas panto you find it so tricky to get tickets for every year almost always features a flamboyant “dame”. Halloween, school plays, themed fancy dress days (pray for the Greek or Roman day, parents: I hear a bedsheet makes a serviceable toga)—all of these instances give kids a chance to have fun trying on other identities, and to learn that beneath the roles we play, behind the stories we insist on telling ourselves, we are all just human beings: radically mutable, and beautiful, and just a bit silly.

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Am I stating the obvious …? Well, for some on the other side of the argument, Drag Queen Story Hour is a matter for grave concern. The stakes, apparently, are quite high. In point of fact you would not believe the fuss that has been made in the States about this sort of thing: the journalist Sohrab Ahmari has described Drag Queen Story Hour as reflecting the collapse of Western civilisation and as – wait for it – “demonic”.

At an event in Nevada, some damaged soul drew a bloody gun. Happily, queens across the pond, on our turbulent little island and elsewhere have stood firm in the face of all of this, and continue to do so. (Well, as firm as you can stand in six-inch heels.) But we cannot take it for granted that someone in sequins, massive false lashes and a Marie Antoinette wig will still be able to read to children. What a sentence.

Not that you have any reason to care, reader, but for the record, I would have loved as a child to have been read to by Aida H. Dee, or any other queen. (I still would, frankly.) And I imagine I would have found the unexpected arrival of angry protesters branding placards and throwing insults around both confusing and slightly upsetting. So I sincerely hope that those who get themselves quite so worked up about DQSH can either shed their illusions and learn to take part in the fun, or at the very least try not to ruin it for everyone else. I mean, won’t somebody please think of the children?

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