By Barrett White
Sequined dresses, wigs that could put Dolly Parton to shame, a face beat to the heavens, and a book—story time never looked so glamorous. Soon this glittery scene will be a regular sight at the Houston Public Library, which launches Drag Queen Story Time on September 30.
The idea to bring Drag Queen Story Time to Houston was spearheaded by Houstonian Trent Lira of the musical duo The Space Kiddettes. After seeing similar successful story times in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, Lira decided that a city as diverse as Houston needed to embrace such an event. “I’d seen that major cities had similar programs and we thought Houston needed something like that,” Lira says. “So we submitted the idea to their programming team. We’re hosting it the last Saturday of every month until January.”
“We felt that this type of program would be ideal in promoting creativity and in helping to instill a sense of love and acceptance in our children,” adds Kallie Benes, youth services advocate for the Houston Public Library. “[It also] encourages them to be true to themselves.”
The story time concept was approved for a six-month run at the Houston Public Library’s Freed-Montrose campus, located in Montrose—Houston’s historically LGBTQ district. The monthly event was intended to begin on the last Saturday of August, but was postponed until September due to Hurricane Harvey.
For the first series of Drag Queen Story Times, the library will host local queens Tatiana Mala-Niña (usually seen dripping in jewels at Hamburger Mary’s) and Blackberri (known for her Technicolor costumes and full beard when performing at Michael’s Outpost). The Space Kiddettes will also join the queens for story times. While most stories will be geared toward children eight and under, kids of all ages are welcome.
Blackberri, known out of drag as Darius Vallier, originally hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana. She moved to Houston in 2010 to study fashion design, quickly made friends in the drag community, and used shows as practice for costume construction. After a stint as a costumer she thought, “I can do this. I can be different and I can make a splash.”
“I hope that families see that queer culture is nothing to fear!” Blackberri says. “That your child can be part of the LGBTQ community and be okay—that your family does not have to fear queer people, and that exposure to queer culture helps fight stigmas and ignorance when growing up.”
For The Space Kiddettes, the Houston Public Library venue is certainly a switch-up from their usual stomping grounds such as Barbarella or Leon’s Lounge. The group also recently took the main stage at the 2017 Pride celebration in Lira’s hometown of Corpus Christi—the city’s first sanctioned Pride.
“I’m most excited about working with the kids and getting to see their reactions and excitement,” Lira says. “And to see the queens, of course. Many of them are good friends of mine and they’re very excited for it, so that makes me very excited. It’s good to know that our LGBTQ community wants to give back any way they can. We hope the kids get to experience the idea of inclusion and diversity with something as simple as a drag queen reading them a story. If you think about it, drag and queer culture are actually very accessible and digestible to kids. For children, the idea of colorful costume play and blurred gender lines are not taboo.”
Library staff are just as enthusiastic. Despite the minor scheduling setback, the Montrose-area campus is ready to bring a little color to the common area. “When discussing the opportunity to host a program like this, I thought about what this experience would mean to my four-year-old son,” Benes says. “It was very simple—wear what makes you happy. Just as my son likes to dress in superhero clothes on the outside because it makes him feel happy on the inside, these queens are dressing to reflect who they are and how they feel. We are excited to share this message with children in Houston!”
Drag Queen Story Time will be held on the last Saturday of every month from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. at the Freed-Montrose campus of the Houston Public Library (4100 Montrose Boulevard).