LEWISTON — Jake Boyce isn’t sure what he’ll read or what he’ll wear, but Aug. 11 he’ll appear at Quiet City Books. He’ll go as his alter ego, Chartreuse. And he’ll be ready to read to children.
“We’ll start the session talking about: ‘Do you know what a drag queen is? Do you like to dress up? Oh my gosh, I do, too!'” he said.
His invitation began with a Facebook post.
“IDK (I don’t know) any drag queens but if any are on this page, I would love it if you started something like this in the twin cities!!!” Dailath Leavitt wrote on Lewiston Rocks’ page Wednesday. “My kids will be there!”
She included a clip of a perky, sparkly drag queen reading to young children at a New York library, and talking with them about gender fluidity, being themselves and accepting others.
Gender fluidity, when gender expression shifts between masculine and feminine, can be displayed in how a person dresses or expresses and describes himself or herself.
Leavitt had seen the video about Drag Queen Story Hour — a national program that encourages drag queens and children to read together — on another Facebook group. Replies in that group were negative. She thought her friends in Lewiston Rocks might have a different response.
She was right.
Within hours, Quiet City owner Courtney Schlachter had planned a Drag Queen Story Hour in Lewiston, booked Boyce as the reader and issued Facebook invitations.
“I really didn’t think it would happen so soon,” Leavitt said. “I’m really happy and I’m excited.”
Drag Queen Story Hour started three years ago on the West Coast. It spread quickly across the country as a way to introduce children to “glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models,” according to its website.
The organization has 20 active chapters, and another 10 or so groups looking to start a chapter or planning a story time.
“This is a great way to bridge worlds where you can be around someone who’s completely different, who has a different gender presentation or something that’s different or non-binary … so you don’t grow up to be scared and defensive or hateful and mean to people who are different than you,” Drag Queen Story Hour co-founder Jonathan Hamilt said.
There have been Drag Queen Story Hour events in at least a couple of spots in Maine — at Quill Books & Beverage in Westbrook and, once last summer during Lewiston-Auburn’s pride celebration, at Schlachter’s Quiet City Books.
“It was a success for the queen, Miss E’on, and for the audience,” Schlachter said. “It was heartwarming and inspiring to see her connect with a young audience that carried no judgments. They simply accepted her as she was, all glamorous and sparkly and colorful.
“Many of the children had their photos taken with Miss E’on and gave her big hugs before they left. A number of adults without children had stopped in as well, because they loved the premise of the event and wanted to support it.”
Schlachter had wanted to host another Drag Queen Story Hour. Leavitt’s Facebook post prompted her to get moving.
“I want to host these events for a couple reasons: As a mom, I want my children to get to meet and see people with life experiences, talents and cultures different from our own. I want them to see the world and the people around us with open eyes, minds and hearts,” she said.
“We live in a small city, so as a business owner I want to be a venue for different types of events that can help other parents and caregivers share a bigger picture with their kids as well.”
Leavitt’s post to Lewiston Rocks received more than 150 comments in 24 hours. Not all were positive.
“This is not what (our) children need,” Frank McEachern wrote. He added an hour later, “Sick.”
“Over the top for children,” Gary Rubito said.
But the vast majority praised the video or said they would like to see such an event in town.
“Looooove this!” Amy Gagnon White wrote.
“This would be very cool!” wrote Jess Smith.
Boyce will appear as Chartreuse, also known as Char or Miss T. Although he has not interacted with children much while in drag — he just started performing in May — Boyce has a lot of experience working with young people.
He co-directed Community Little Theatre’s youth and teen summer program in Lewiston, and worked in special education at Geiger Elementary School in Lewiston. He works in a special education program at Falmouth Elementary School.
Although he does not know which books he will read, he does want his choice to be LGBTQ-themed.
“I’m hoping that I get to hear some really interesting questions or comments from the kids,” he said. “I think I’m most looking forward to the impact it has on them, and the energy we have in the room together.”
Drag Queen Story Hour is scheduled for 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 11, at Quiet City Books on Lisbon Street. It will be free.