When it comes to playing pretend and dress-up, writer and L.A. parent Michelle Tea thinks drag queens and children operate on the same wavelength.
“They’re both imaginative and playful, they’re both very funny and see the humor in the world,” says Tea, founder of Drag Queen Story Hour, a children’s reading series hosted by drag queens. “The drag queens are quick to point out the similarities between the toddlers and their normal audiences at bars—they’re either drunk or acting drunk, and they’ll talk during your performance.”
Since its 2016 debut in San Francisco, Drag Queen Story Hour has expanded throughout the country and around the globe, reaching England, Brazil and China. The events here stretch across L.A.—from Pasadena and Echo Park to West Hollywood—and crop up at least once a month at a local bookstore or public library.
“I think we’re really fortunate to be in a place where we’re not battling ignorance,” says Tea of the L.A. chapter. “It’s not about having to counter something negative happening in the community. It’s just about providing kids with an inspiring and imaginative kind of creature to read to them.”
The program embraces progressive children’s literature and tends to focus not on gender but individuality. Tea says parents in L.A. are more likely to raise an eyebrow at the drag queens magnifying princess culture than the notion of gender confusion. And while she does introduce the concept of the drag queen beforehand, Tea describes them as fantastical heroes, not boys dressed as girls.
“There are no limits for kids’ imaginations,” says Tea. “And I think for drag queens the idea is about pushing limits and pushing boundaries.”