Teaching the Children about Fairytales

Figure 1: Families greeting each other outside the Brooklyn Public Library Entrance

Figure 1: Families greeting each other outside the Brooklyn Public Library Entrance

Guarded by security personal and hidden upstairs, behind Stairway D of the Brooklyn Public Library, the inclusive cove disguised as the Youth Wing Upper Program room frequently hosts performances by glitzy men in dresses to children from ages three to eight.

As queer culture becomes closer to the mainstream, with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Netflix’s Queer Eye, the complex question of when exactly should minors be introduced to these colorful ideas that make up LGBTQ+ history and queer culture still remains.

Gay culture can look like someone wearing cute shades, snapping or snickering because, "In the great tradition of Paris is Burning, bring out your Library Cards! Because reading is what? FUNDAMENTAL!”

If you didn’t catch that last reference, you probably are not familiar with queer media and that is okay. Unbeknownst to society, its most common phrases and crazy sensations, like Cardi’s infamous okkuur noise or Madonna’s edgy Vogue video, stem from queer culture.

Figure 2: Brooklyn Public Library inclusivity sign

Figure 2: Brooklyn Public Library inclusivity sign

Yet a nationwide federal study asked high school students about their sexuality and found that 1.3 million students identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual teenagers. The results discovered that these teens were at a far greater risk for experiencing signs of depression, bullying and many types of violence in comparison to their straight-identifying friends.  

The New York Times reported that year that these “adolescents were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. They skipped school far more often because they did not feel safe; at least a third had been bullied on school property. And they were twice as likely as heterosexual students to have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.”

The Trevor Project, known as the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ minors, recognizes that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 19 in the U.S. However, the Trevor Project identifies that “48 states are missing key components to suicide prevention policies in their schools, such as teacher trainings, intervention guidelines, policies in support of high risk youth, and more.”

At the Brooklyn Public Library, Drag Queen Story Hour encourages children’s imagination and the opportunity to experience glamorous, positive examples of imagination through these queer performers. Through these fairytales, kids take home the message of acceptance along with their cutesy crafts.

Figure 3: Picture from Miz Jade’s  Social Media

Figure 3: Picture from Miz Jade’s Social Media

These entertainers, traditionally found in gay night clubs, are now taking up libraries, bookstores, toy stores, and even schools. Here, kids are joined with their parents and sit criss-cross-applesauce around the floor with eyes and ears peeled to the story being read aloud to them.

Amongst the casual hum of babies and parents fussing, Mizz Jade read aloud a story with themes of being one’s own true self and being okay with it. Her white sparkled leotard twinkled in attendee Katy Bishop’s daughter’s bright blue eyes. Moving to Brooklyn about a year ago, Bishop wanted to get involved with her community for the sake of her growing family.

Figure 4:  Miz Jade  looking fierce with her dramatic fan

Figure 4: Miz Jade looking fierce with her dramatic fan

This was Bishop‘s and her daughter’s second time coming to a Drag Queen Story Hour. “I wasn’t surprised by the crowd at all,” explained Bishop as she was heading out stroller in hand. “We actually planned to come early so we could have a decent seat.”

Besides the beautiful dress and drag of it all, Bishop explains to other parents that this experience is like any other story hour– just more entertaining and conducive for her child to embrace different people to learn how to begin understanding others.

With children books expanding their market, social justice books are becoming widely popular among children, young adults, and educators alike. These stories reflect on multicultural and social justice issues to match the 21rst century’s melting pot of identities. These are the stories that have not been told due to the lack of visibility and inclusivity.

For example, the children’s picture book, A Day in The Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss details a different take on Vice President Mike Pence’s attempt at a children’s book. Satirically pointing out Pence’s criticism on the LGBTQ+ community, Twiss depicts a love story unveiling amongst bunnies who also happen to be gay. This story normalizes a message that is rarely taught to children, opening their minds to endless possibilities of what love looks like.

Karen Dockery, a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn native, took her daughter to the library to get a library card registered and to take advantage of the resources that the library provided for her baby in braids with bright barrettes at the ends. Despite acknowledging that Drag Queen Story Hour promotes a different lifestyle than Dockery’s family is accustomed to, she enjoyed the experience with her daughter’s drag queen crown craft in hand.

Dockery wanted to relay a deeper message of equality to her daughter. While being exposed to what seemed like a glamourous foreigner, Dockery joined the storytime reading for the first time to bring a sense of normality towards diversity. “Nobody is different, cause at the end, we are all the same,” Dockery said. “Not the color of our skin, not the gender, not whatever. We’re not that different, we are all one.”

Figure 5: Mizz Jade's in her sparkly white leotard

Figure 5: Mizz Jade's in her sparkly white leotard

California, Colorado, New Jersey, and as of August 2019, Illinois became the fourth state to implement LGBTQ+ studies inside their public school curriculums. As a firm believer that hate stems from ignorance and fear, whereas knowledge holds power; why shouldn’t students have an opportunity to be in a safe environment that encourages students to ask questions and seek answers.

Currently, society thrives off of binary labeling that creates harmful societal expectations. Right or Wrong. Left-wing or Right-wing. Black or White. Boy or Girl. But as society transitions to a point where diversity is the new norm, the children of today will be immediately empowered with a new reinterpretation how we should interact across the rainbow.

A queer studies textbook by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker titled How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide for Exploring Who You Are, acknowledges that “A person’s experience is their experience, and the many complex reasons behind it ­– even if we could figure them all out – shouldn’t make a difference to whether we treat a person well or not, recognize their human rights, or try to help them be as comfortable and fulfilled as possible in the world.”