What do you get when you combine chalk, balloons, children’s books, and a whole lot of light blue sparkles? Anything but a stormy day, as attendees of Chapel Hill’s Drag Queen Story Time would tell you.
Stormie Daie, a local drag legend from Durham’s House of Coxx, read five stories focused on gender, friendship, and culture to a group of children and their parents earlier this month. She engaged the audience with jokes, call-and-response participation, and a full-blown dance routine. While most Pride events are geared towards adults, incorporating sexual jokes, revealing outfits, and serious discussions about topics like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, people of all ages attended the story time, and the attendees, organizers and speakers all stressed the importance of age-inclusive Pride events.
Drag queen story time, despite its relatively lighthearted, kid-friendly nature, is a form of rebellion amid recent events, Stormie Daie told the INDY.
She referenced attempts to shut down such events made by anti-LGBTQ+ activists in Texas, who say drag queens are “immersed in fetishism.” One man described them as “a bunch of homosexuals that are molesting children.” Stormie Daie said the outcry over drag queen story times has become “a part of the movement.”
“As much as it seems like an event for children, it really is a part of the whole owning the story, educating people about community and culture – especially gender and consent – and embracing differences,” Stormie Daie said. “So, I love being a part of story time, because it feels like what we should be doing for Pride: mixing fun and joy with the protest element. This is kind of a protest because a lot of people think we shouldn’t be gathering and doing this, and I’m so happy there are parents who disagree.”
Story time was one of several events jointly organized by the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro for their #SmallTownPride series. Attendees listened to stories that addressed gender in simple, kid-friendly language, and Stormie Daie added her own commentary to make characters more relatable.
Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship by the queer, disabled author Jessica Walton tells the story of a teddy bear named Thomas who feels sad while playing with his friends because something is eating him up on the inside.
“Uh oh. Thomas has a secret right?,” Stormie Daie asked the audience. “Something on the inside. You ever have something you feel like you can’t tell people, even when they’re your friend? Yeah, I do. I do that a lot. It’s hard to talk to friends sometimes.”
Thomas realizes he identifies as a girl and would like to be called Tilly. By the story’s end, Tilly has moved her bowtie into her hair, wearing it as a bow, and she is still able to play with her friends the way she did before changing her name.
In From the Stars by Kai Cheng Thom, protagonist Miu Lan was born when both the moon and sun were in the sky. Thus, they cannot decide whether to be a boy or a girl, a bird or a fish, a cat or a rabbit. They have feathers, scales, fur, and paws, and they initially are mocked by other children on their first day of school for being different. Eventually, Miu Lan’s peers come to appreciate and admire their unique gifts, such as being able to swim and fly with ease.
“So, who’s gonna remember, they can be whatever they be, right?” Stormie Daie asked her captive audience. “You can wear whatever you wanna wear, for the most part. Usually, shoes are required for entry and service, but that’s another story. But we also remember to be nice to each other, right? And don’t limit yourself. Be whatever you want to be.”
One story, The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, was a particular hit. Audience members repeated the three-word motions as Stormie Daie called them out. The shoes on a drag queen also go stomp, stomp, stomp, while the mouth on a drag queen goes “bla, bla, bla,” a joke that was not lost on Stormie Daie.
“Girl, the shade of this book,” she said, to laughter.
Despite the minor amounts of shade and sass that were thrown, acceptance and community were the event’s overriding themes. This remained especially true for audience members who said they had barely ventured outside during the earlier months of the pandemic.
“I just want to show my support for the community,” said Shana Roth, who brought her infant son Elliott. “And I thought it would be something that he [Elliott] would enjoy. In the pandemic, this is one of his first public activities. It just seemed like a safe and fun event, and I think it’s super important just to start building an understanding of acceptance of all types of people from an early age.”
Creating a Pride event that would engage a more diverse swath of people was the goal, said organizer Matt DeBellis, who identifies as gay. The fact that Pride has made it to small towns like Chapel Hill after years of being confined to larger cities is proof of the event’s natural evolution, said DeBellis.
“We thought this would be a good community event, and we wanted to do something with kids,” DeBellis said. “And this is something that I think all of us have always wanted to attend. I’ve never attended a drag queen story time, but if I were a two to seven-year-old I would be completely in love with everything that’s going on here right now.”
Organizers weren’t the only local government representatives to attend story time. Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman also came with her family. She said events like story time make her and her wife feel proud to live in Chapel Hill.
“Having representation in our elected office, having events like this, having Pride flags on Franklin Street, all of that visibility is so important for the community,” Stegman said. “And taking action, too, like the nondiscrimination ordinance we passed. Nobody had these conversations [when I was growing up]. There was no acknowledgement of difference, whether it was LGBTQ or other ways that we’re all different. And so I’m so glad it’s happening.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.
Comment on this story at email@example.com.