It’s drag queen story time

By james higgins, Wednesday Aug 9, 2017

Parents will remember the family area at Pride this year attracted more attention than usual, as a succession of six footers crouched in stilettos and leafed through the latest in children’s literature.

With the rehearsals now done, the queens are geared to host a big story time at the Watershed on the 25 August.

Drag Queen Story Time (DQST) might mean nothing right now but, the pioneering UK project is gearing itself up for its formal debut.

Started in the US, DQST has grown into a well-known project. But when Bristol’s Tom Canham tweeted that it was time the UK caught up, World of Wonder (WOW) chivvied him into making that a reality.

WOW are a leading US production company who have established themselves as a platform for, among others, LGBT+ voices. Tom didn’t need much encouragement.

Mary Gold greets a young listener

“The idea is a simple one, but it still takes a great deal of organisation,” Tom explains. “Some people believe there’s an ‘agenda’ – we read The Hungry Caterpillar, but we also read stories about little girls who want adventures or boys that want to wear dresses. The agenda is simply to be open to all.”

Tom says why the project appealed to him: “I experienced homelessness at a young age, and as well as being gay, it forced me apart from lots of the other kids”. The project hopes to leave an impression on every child – gay, straight, boy, girl, or otherwise.

Tom says what he thinks is most powerful about the project “is seeing adults being fun, being themselves”.

“Children aren’t born feeling ashamed or embarrassed. DQST shows kids adulthood isn’t about sacrificing a sense of self”.

It’s 2017, yet the idea of a drag queen armed with a storybook upsets some. “We’ve received some abuse, most of it online. I’ve been called a paedophile and a pervert. I’m accused of sexualising and pushing my ‘agenda’ on children”.

“We were also ambushed on the radio by a DJ – Talk2Me Radio, it turns out, was keener to talk, than to listen. It transpired the section was called ‘Transvestites have no place in primary schools’. The important thing is parents, children, libraries, nurseries and schools are thrilled”.

Five drag queens are actively involved on a day to day basis, but Tom has 30 phone numbers of queens ready to help out. As a small, non-profit, group, however, Tom is not able to cover the expenses of the performers.

The future of DQST looks promising given the huge amount of interest. Tom has had drag queens from Birmingham and the North looking to take part, and there seemed to be no end to the fascination of children and make-up.

DQST have also been booked by the London Early Years Foundation for its network of nurseries.

Alyssa makes crown props for the next story

Maia Livingstone, from First Choice Grass who provided the artificial grass for the family area said: “It’s been wonderful to see whole families getting comfortable, listening to stories together.”

Alyssa Van Delle explains what it’s like to partake: “We do it in daylight which can be unforgiving when you’re used to a soft club light. You also can’t be angry when your audience feels that their neighbour’s hair is more interesting than you.”

Mary Gold agrees: “I’m used to a few shock jokes to get their attention. A few big lads heckling you is easy. I think the kids might be more of a handful”.

“There’s been a few kids that have completely inspired me to take part me,” Divina de Campo said, “the complete fascination and enjoyment they get has shown me how much mucking about with comedy glasses and a story book can do”.

You can next catch Drag Queen Story Time at the Watershed at 10 am on Friday, August 25.

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