“A lot of them, I have found, don’t even see gender with us. A lot of them just call us ‘princesses,’ ” says drag queen Muffy Fishbasket of her youngest fans.
Since summer 2016, Muffy has spearheaded Story Time with Drag Queens, the Chicago outpost of a growing national network of kids’ story hours with drag divas, started in San Francisco in December 2015 and rapidly spawning new offshoots. “I’ve been trying to mentor smaller cities,” Muffy says. “One of my drag sisters…we used to perform with in Chicago, she moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and they’ve started one there.”
Geared toward kiddos ages 3 and up, Story Time with Drag Queens features Muffy and her “Good Time Galz” (who perform more grown-up material at venues like the Call and Uptown Underground) reading classic picture books like Corduroy as well as newer titles, often with inclusive messages.
Readings have taken place at Center on Halsted, Chicago Public Library branches, Navy Pier’s family Pride celebration and the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 50th-anniversary weekend; the organizers have partnered with Andersonville bookstore Women & Children First to make the selected books available for parents to purchase at the events.
“I think we get a lot of parents that maybe used to go to drag shows but now that they have kids and bedtime is 8 o’clock, [they] don’t get out,” says Muffy. “So it’s a nice experience for them to get a taste of nightlife—but in the middle of the afternoon.”
The mere concept of drag queens mixing with tots has infuriated some agenda-driven commentators. In October, InfoWars shouter Alex Jones went on a video tirade in response to news accounts of the program, denouncing the readers who “show up to have their way with your children in demon outfits!”
Muffy, who’s also working with the Davis Theater’s Carbon Arc restaurant to develop a “family-friendly drag brunch,” laughs at such reactions. “I’m kind of a walking cartoon character,” she says of her kid appeal, noting that Story Time with Drag Queens isn’t that far removed from the long tradition of clowns playing exaggerated personas to entertain kiddies.
“It’s free advertisement,” she says of the pearl-clutching. “The parents that are about [Story Time], that’s sometimes how they find out about it: ‘Oh, hey, that sounds great and I’m going to take my child to it.’ ”