The first Drag Story Hour at the Rondo library in St. Paul was a sparkling, high-kicking smash.
The room was steamy, and not just because there was a summer rain finishing up outside, but also because the room was packed. A full house had turned up to watch a drag performer read a story.
Families with kids young enough for diapers and old enough for iPhones filled the chairs, spilled into the aisles and packed into corners. Most wore the rainbow buttons reading "We belong together" available on a table by the door.
This had to be one of the biggest events in the library's recent history. An announcer was barely audible over the dull roar of crying kids and shushing parents. Eventually someone found Sasha Cassadine a microphone.
Cassadine side-eyed the crowd and chuckled. “I’m used to these” he said.
There was a lot of pressure on Cassadine for this performance. Drag Story Hour had been through the wringer on the internet. No sooner had the St. Paul Public Library promoted the event on Facebook and Twitter had the hateful comments started, critics claiming it was inappropriate for kids -- somehow too sexy, even though it’s no raunchier than seeing Cinderella at Disneyland.
What does one wear to an event for kids when people are calling you a “pedo” on the internet?
Cassadine chose a Queen of Hearts fantasy gown, with velvet textures and glittery hearts sewn in, his hair a whipped cream swirl. He had been planning something a little more clownish for the kids’ event, but his boyfriend convinced him to change his plans: For this one, go regal.
Cassadine was nervous, sweating a little. He didn’t show it as he opened up his book of choice: The Skin You Live In by Michael J. Tyler. He looked at the microphone in one hand and the book in the other and asked the audience, “Who wants to help Queen Mother?”
A young volunteer became a page-turning assistant, Cassadine's “little Vanna White.”
Then he began to read. In spite of the online rancor, Queen Mother had a supportive room. Parents held up their phones and recorded as he made snippy asides to the crowd and talked about the importance of being who you are. The message wasn’t lost on most of the adults.
“It was fabulous,” Katie Kimball of St. Paul said after Cassadine got the room dancing to "No Place I’d Rather Be." Kimball's been to drag shows before, at the Gay ‘90s, and she’s heard of Drag Story Hour out in New York. She was excited to see something like this finally come to her hometown.
“I hope everyone keeps coming to these so we can have more of them,” she says.
And the kids? They were just thrilled to see a vision in costume moving about the room, gazing upon them with imperious amusement. They took turns carting around the little felt crown Cassadine brought with, and offered answers to his every rhetorical question.
They were excited to meet a queen. Drag had nothing to do with it.
“This is an absolute joy,” Cassadine said between photo ops with parents and kids. He said he hoped any of the people who'd complained about the event could see how much fun it was. There was no indication that anyone in the room had a problem. Most stayed behind to decorate a crown and add a little regal flair to their looks.
If there’s another one of these next year, Cassadine will be there. Next time he wants to wear a much, much bigger costume.