Walking into the San Francisco Library in Bernal Heights on a Saturday afternoon, I see it’s packed with excited, brightly clad kids and caregivers here for story time. Instead of a librarian, they’re circled around a tall figure. Wearing a black sequined gown, stilettos, and a platinum blonde wig, and seated with a book in her long painted nails, it's Yves St. Croissant, aka Sean Santos, one of San Francisco’s beloved Drag Queens.
“My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named boo boo butt," reads St. Croissant. "Yay!”
Welcome to the Drag Queen Story Hour, where San Francisco’s Queens take the show to a different kind of stage, to perform story time. Jenny Proenza says she and her five-year-old daughter are enjoying the show.
“It’s so nice to see a little slice of fabulous in Bernal Heights, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pop in,” she says. She appreciates the discussion about gender, fashion-choices, and identity, “which is something we talk about at home a lot as a non-gender conforming family. And it’s really nice to see that reflected out in the world, especially through drag.”
Radar Productions has organized readings in New York City, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. The Queens choose their favorite books, like “Worm Loves Worm” by J.J. Austrian, and “My Princess Boy” by Cheryl Kilodavis. A favorite for Yves St. Croissant is “My Teacher is a Monster” by Peter Brown.
“When I first picked it up, I found it surprising that this teacher was actually a monster through perception," says St. Croissant. And I like that through bonding and going through an experience outside of their normal every day, they were able to see the true soul behind. And sometimes we don’t see the true beautiful nature of people.”
The Drag Queen Story Hour was founded in 2015, and since then, it’s grown across the country. There have been six library readings this year in honor of Pride Month, and dozens more in classrooms and bookstores. One takes place a week after the Bernal Heights reading at the Dimond District Rec Center in Oakland.
Chairs are moved back and strollers pushed outside as kids, toddlers, and parents pack the recreation room. Oakland’s first Drag Queen Story Hour is a hit. More than 300 people show up for story time with Beatrice Thomas, whose alter ego is Black Benatar.
Dressed in a bright green dress, stilettos, and big, blonde hair, Black Benatar starts off with what she calls a “drag queen primer.” She asks the crowd, “So how does a drag queen say hello?” She demonstrates, and the room laughs and echos back, “He-eyyyyyyy!” And for the real hello, she says, “If you see a really close friend, and gender is not an issue, you go ‘Heyy girrrrrllll!” The crowd calls back, “Hey GIRRRLL!”
By the second book, kids are on their feet at the front of the large circle, jumping and laughing through the story. Some recognize books like “This Day In June,” a story of the annual Pride Parade and everyone who is a part of it. Black Benatar reads, “This day in June, parades start soon. Rainbow arches, joyful marches... Motors roaring, spirits soaring... Woo!”
Three-year-old Ezra Goodman-Lucker shouts out during the show. His papa, Kerrick, says the Queens are a positive role model.
“We were explaining Drag Queens to Ezra last night," he says. "My partner said that a drag queen is someone who is a man most of the time and on some occasions likes to put on really fabulous clothes and really beautiful makeup. And so Ezra said, 'I want to be a drag queen!' So we said, 'Hooray! Fabulous!'”
Oakland library administrators say they’ve had many requests to make Drag Queen Story Hour a recurring event all year long. It’s the same in San Francisco.
Back in Bernal Heights, after Yves St. Croissant’s reading there’s face painting, cookies, and kids line up to meet the Queen.
“That is just a feeling that can’t be explained through anything else,” says St Croissant. “I think what it stems from is me feeling a little bit uncomfortable in the feelings or desires of wanting to dress up or be creative and play with my gender a little bit. The feeling of acceptance does a lot for the little boy inside of me that didn’t feel, I mean, that was a really dark place for me. So it’s almost like the opposite of depression and darkness that exists within me. So it’s healing.”
Kids react in all different ways. Some are shy, some are thrilled, and some are curious.
“Today there was a little girl, like, ‘He was wearing girls clothes,’ and she was so, like open about it,” says St. Croissant, adding the parents cut in, “remember we talked about, you can dress up however you want, you can be a boy one day or a girl another day.”
St. Croissant, wearing blue sparkly lipstick, added, “And you can even take it a step further and wear blueberry lips that sparkle in the sun!’
As families pile out of the Library, they’re glowing. Some passing by see the smiles and ask about the event, and say they’re sorry they missed it. Parents tell them it was fabulous. Wonderful. And you can see the sense of pride on parents faces, almost like satisfaction they had shown their kids something important: a day at the library where beauty and wonder don’t end with story time.