Y’all, My family did a thing, and it was super-awesome. But because it’s 2020, and we can’t have nice things, there was a pall over the experience, too; and, in the interest of being dialectical, thanks to all the DBT in which I’m currently swaddled, I’d like to mention both.
Last Sunday, we went to Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City Philadelphia for our very first taste of Drag Queen Story Hour. In the interesting Venn Diagram of my professional and advocacy lives, and somewhat obviously given the location, this story hour was Jewishly-themed; all about Purim, in fact, which is March 10th this year.
So. First, some history.
Brittany Lynn is a local Philly drag queen, and she is fierce AF. She is the same Brittany Lynn being honored next Sunday on the Ides of March, only it has nothing to do with the Ides of March, because it is ALSO Brittany Lynn Day. This advocate and performer is best known for creating Drag Queen Story Hour, something that you could not possibly think would be contentious and yet is somehow contentious.
Drag Queen Story Hour is literally exactly what it sounds like, and if you thought gorgeous and formidable women reading books about inclusivity and tolerance to children of all socioeconomic levels was a good thing, well, I’m sorry to tell you that conservatives think you’re WRONG, WRONG, SO WRONG, IT’S TERRIBLE, IT’S CORRUPTING THE YOUTH, YOU’RE WRONG. There have been protests over Drag Queen Story Hour, and boycotts, and religious fervor, and so much hubbub that there was literally a POLICE PRESENCE at the synagogue in case any alt-right nonsense popped up.
But, the reason this Purim-themed version at Rodeph Shalom was so significant has to do with the Purim tradition of dressing up in costumes to commemorate the holiday. As my Jewish husband puts it, it used to be more costumes from the Book of Esther, all featuring characters from the Purim story. Now, however, it is essentially Jewish Halloween sans candy, and all manner of costuming is welcome and expected.
As the director of this program so eloquently stated, Purim is an opportunity to dress up as something we are not; to use a costume to express what we are on the inside that people typically don’t see from the outside. Because our insides are special, and so we can look like whatever we want on the outside to celebrate them, and are you seeing how well Purim and drag queens are aligning here?
So, here’s where I, and my beloved soulmate and progeny, come in. First, Rodeph Shalom has…wait for it…a parking lot. In Center City. A parking lot in Center City. Do you understand the significance, fellow city-dwellers??? We were able to introduce our children to the their very first drag queen, reading books we love, in the most gorgeous of synagogues, WITH FREE PARKING.
Maybe there IS a God, come to think of it.
We arrive, and Brittany Lynn is just a force, and there are dozens of families, progressives and their progressive minis, and there is just an overall sense of celebration and warmth and community. There are bagels (naturally) and costumes and wailing and laughter, and it all seemed so delightfully human…the best parts of the human condition, come together to celebrate literature and freedom of expression.
Brittany Lynn read some of our favorite bedtime books, including Red: A Crayon’s Story and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. Now, with an autistic four year-old and an inquisitive eighteen month-old, we did not exactly HEAR all of those favorite bedtime books, but I was surprised by how much we DID actually get to experience.
And the rest of the time? We tried to color on the synagogue with crayons.
Ultimately, it was one of the best Sundays in awhile, and I left happy with my children, happy with my morning, and happy with a community that welcomes all, despite appearance, despite ideology, despite orientation and gender and outward expression. And all of this was witnessed by children, dozens of children, blank slates just desperate for behavior to model and values to adopt.
And Drag Queen Story Hour is my kind of example to set for my children.