Halifax drag legend Rouge Fatale was a vision in sequins last Friday (Nov. 24) as she rang in Dalhousie University’s first Drag Storytime event. Overhead lights glinted from winged sleeves and bounced between whisps of fuchsia hair, as she took a seat in the MacMechan Auditorium at the Killam Memorial Library.
Fatale was joined by a panel of experts, including Drs. Roberta Barker, Matthew Numer, and Stephanie Kapusta for a post-storytime conversation moderated by Dr. Rick Ezekiel, Dal's vice provost student affairs.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity for you as members of our community to see some fabulous library programming that you might not otherwise experience and also to use this performance as a starting point for a facilitated discussion about the many aspects of gender with experts from across the university doing work in sexual health, feminist philosophy, and performance studies,” said host Michael Vandenburg, dean of libraries at Dal.
Drag storytimes are a regular part of programming in many public libraries, but less so in an academic library setting. With the recent protests and counter-protests in Halifax and across the country regarding the rights of trans youth, Vandenburg felt it was timely and critical to support the well-being of our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and to create supportive, diverse, and healthy spaces for exploration and learning.
“Come sit with me,” Fatale said as she initiated storytime. A small group shuffled closer to sit cross-legged on the floor. The sight evoked nostalgic memories of kindergarten storytime with a favourite teacher. The rest of the crowd filed into auditorium seating, waiting for the show to begin.
Exploring self-expression, having fun
Fatale shared four children’s books with the crowd. As she read, her larger-than-life persona filled the space with character voices, personal anecdotes, and perfectly timed jokes between pages.
The books chosen for the event included The Sublime Ms. Stacks by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Dani Jones; My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart; Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Holly Hatam; and There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Lucille Colandro, with illustrations from Jared Lee.
The chosen titles offered a balance of fun, humour, and heartwarming content, with My Shadow is Pink drawing out a sniffle or two among listeners. The story follows a young boy with a pink shadow, living in a world of blue shadows.
“This one's a big one for me because it shows that it doesn't matter what colour your shadow is, as long as you find the right people,” Fatale explained.
The final title worked as a reminder that drag storytime isn’t all about exploring gender and self-expression, it’s also about being silly and having fun in a “safer space.” Fatale joked about the old lady swallowing flies, pets, and farm animals.
“Someone did not have a gastric bypass,” she said, setting the crowd into fits of laughter.
When the reading wrapped up, panelists spoke on topics ranging from gender in early theatre to personal experiences with family dynamics relating to content in Fatale’s book choices.
As the afternoon wrapped up, audience members were invited to share questions. Andrea King from the Faculty of Open Learning brought 30 of her students visiting from Columbia. She asked, “What is your best piece of advice to a new teacher to create this safe space for kids?”
“A good teacher has to accommodate the needs and capacity of a class,” answered Dr. Kapusta.
Dr. Kapusta went on to explain the differences between creating safe spaces for older students and remaining open to differences.
“Shadows sometimes disappear. Whether it’s pink or blue, or something else. Just let the shadow appear.”
Drag storytime is designed to create what Fatale calls, a “safer space”. Not safe, because as Fatale says, no space is 100 per cent safe.
“We have to face the facts,” Fatale said, “Kids are not dumb. These tiny humans are sponges. They pay attention to everything, and I want them to see it’s okay for Auntie Rouge to come in and talk with them.”
To join Fatale in future Drag Storytime events, follow the force behind Fatale’s sassy drag persona, Jason Spurrell on Instagram.
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