Mondays are…Mondays. For many of the adult persuasion it means the weekly conference calls, or facing up to the fact that the report you promised to complete as you spent three days binge watching “Dear White People,” was surprise – still due today.
This particular “Yep You Still Got That Awful Job” Day is different.
In a secret 3rd floor catacomb in a magical castle, something amazing was happening.
- The location was actually the New York Public Library’s Aguilar Branch.
- The room ain’t a secret, they have an elevator door and everything, leading right up to it.
But, something amazing was happening.
The New York Public Library was rolling out Drag Queen Story Hour in Harlem, hosted by none other than New York’s legendary drag performer Harmonica Sunbeam.
The “kids” were everywhere and by “kids” this reporter means some incredibly energetic and smart toddlers. Side note – they were all fabulously dressed.
Harmonica Sunbeam towered over the children like a glittery fairy godmother complete with a sequenced purse from which she pulled out a few books to read to the kids.
Ms. Sunbeam worked the crowd like a happy hour in Hell’s Kitchen, making sure she remembered and repeated every child’s name, even asking questions, offering fashion and furniture tips.
“Anyone know any songs?” Ms. Sunbeam asked the crowd. She pointed to a girl with a pigtail and vibrant eyes.
“Adele,” she said. The adults fell out.
“Can we sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” Ms. Sunbeam pivots, “Let’s sing that cause I am not sure everyone has iTunes.”
By the time the crown-making portion (yes the babies got to make their own crowns) of the hour was done, each one of the kids could have hosted a set at Boxers.
The crowd was a diverse mix of parents, children, and onlookers. It’s how we think America should look like without all the misogyny and racism tied to our pumps.
Moving the crowd should be old hat for Ms. Sunbeam who has performed at just about every venue in New York. Entertaining children, however, is a whole new bag.
“I kind of think of them – this is a joke so it’s all in fun – it’s like performing for drunken adults,” Ms. Sunbeam says with a wink and a laugh that echoes in the large room. “You’re trying to get their attention and when it works it works and when it doesn’t you move on to something else.”
Ms. Sunbeam was sent information about the DQSH via a Facebook posting and quickly applied. Monday marked her second event of the summer.
Though Ms. Sunbeam may be considered the Queen of the Night in many circles, there are benefits to gigs before cocktail hour.
“Here, because there is no liquor no temptation,” Ms. Sunbeam said again with that laugh. “It’s daytime. I can go home and get a full nights rest, it has its perks especially after years of working the nightclubs. It’s a great change of pace.”
The Drag Queen Story Hour was the brainchild of Michelle Tea, a writer and founder of RADAR Productions, a non-profit organization that offers Queer literary programming in San Francisco and beyond.
DQSH blew up in San Francisco and gained traction in Los Angeles, debuting in Brooklyn last year. Now New York City gets a turn with a little help from the New York Public Library.
“When we heard about DQSH we thought it was an amazing idea,” said Samantha Terrazas, Literacy Coordinator for the NYPL. “We’re really trying to work to expose our kids to different programs, and it was an amazing opportunity.”
Rachel Aimee, a parent based in New York heard about DQSH and immediately set on a quest to bring the program to New York.
“As a parent, I find it frustrating that kids are boxed into narrow gender categories,” Aimee said. “They’re taught from very young that pink things are for girls and blue things are for boys.”
“I found it very depressing and I also find that often the backlash of this is the shaming of girlie things – like princess shaming. That I find depressing too.”
For Aimee and her ilk, the DQSH presents a kaleidoscope of choices for kids.
“It’s challenging gender stereotypes but not shaming girlie things. Anyone can wear a dress,” Aimee said.
In the New York area, it should come as no surprise that the DQSH was a huge success. Aimee, who is a New York Coordinator for DQSH, said more than 135 people attended an event in Park Slope. But there is still work to be done in spreading the word.
“I think it’s important that we are bringing it to different neighborhoods,” Aimee said. “We don’t want to just serve communities with an already strong queer presence. The New York Public Library is really helping us to do this by spreading it to different branches.”
Drag Queen Story Hour has events set up all across Manhattan through October. Check out the website for more information.