Divided opinions on Drag Q&A at Talcott Free Library
The Talcott Free Library has scheduled a youth event for July 14, 2023 called Drag Q&A. Strong opinions, both in favor of the event and against it, will be heard at the library's board meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Rockton Community Center, 302 W Main St, Rockton. Two rallies have been organized by opposing groups, who have advised supporters to arrive before 6:30 p.m. if they want a seat.
The library's current Facebook event listing says, "Join us in welcoming drag artist, Krystal Ball, who will be stopping in to show off makeup and costuming skills and to answer questions about the art of drag. This program is LGBTQ+ friendly and anyone interested can attend."
Note: a male drag performer is traditionally referred to as "she" when in drag, as "he" when not. This performer's pronouns are she/he/they.
About the event
Krystal Ball is the stage name of a tall 26-year-old Rockford man who often appears in heavy makeup, false eyelashes, eye shadow, red lipstick, short dresses, and high boots. She has performed at events such as Drag Queen Bingo, Drag Queen Brunch, and Coven: Infirmary. She recently appeared at Woodstock Pride Fest and Cantina 52, a tequila bar in Crystal Lake. She calls herself a diva but not in the operatic senses. She often goes for a more ghoulish look, saying, "I love being able to tap into my spooky side every now and then!" Her versatile performances have included lighting a fire in the palm of her hand, lip-synching to Over the Rainbow, and back-bending down to the floor. She hosts the long-running video series Drag Showdown.
The Talcott Library's original Facebook event listing showed Krystal Ball posing on a bed wearing a dark wig. It said, "This program is LGBTQ+ friendly and honors the Find Your Voice summer reading theme. For grades 6th through 12th. Bring your friends!"
Now the event listing no longer includes the photo or suggests grade levels, nor does it invite teens to bring their friends. In a FAQ post on Facebook, the library clarified that "Parents have authority over their teens and can choose whether or not to attend."
More about the issue
In the FAQ post, the library added, "Drag is a type of performance art. Drag performers make the act of expressing gender — through their stage name, clothing, makeup, hair, and how they perform on stage — highly creative, exaggerated, and/or theatrical. It does not have anything to do with sexual orientation or sexuality though it is often associated with the LGBTQIA+ community as that is where the art began. There are many common misconceptions about the art and that’s why the library is hosting a Q&A so that young people can ask questions and we can foster understanding and unity in our community."
Judging from their comments on social media, neither supporters and opponents agree that the issue has nothing to do with "sexual orientation or sexuality." Opponents charge that the event will "sexualize children," which the library denies. Supporters are calling it a "pride event" when the library hasn't. We have reached out to Krystal Ball to ask if she/he agrees with the library's view. Her social media posts and interviews show that while she is highly committed to her art, sexual orientation and sexuality are important issues for her.
The Rockford Family Initiative has reposted the library's now-deleted Facebook event image and say, "Please come to express your opposition to having drag queens indoctrinate our children!... Why would they sexualize children in this way? Ask them to CANCEL THIS NOW!" Joined by other conservative groups, they are planning a 6:30 p.m. protest, posted on Facebook as Talcott Library: Cancel Drag Event for Children.
Opponents of the event say, "Please come to express your opposition to having drag queens indoctrinate our children! ... This perverse "Drag Q&A" will present a "drag queen" that performs at night clubs. The library originally posted that it’s for children - 'grades 6th through 12th,' but has now opened up the event to all ages.... Does the library really want a nightclub performer around children? Also, drag shows for children are completely inappropriate!"
In response, organizers of a competing Facebook event, Show Support for the Talcott Library Pride Event!, also at 6:30 p.m., says, "Let’s show these bigots that THEY are the ones unwelcome here. Rockton and the surrounding communities not only welcome drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community, but we celebrate them and lift up their voices. Please join us at the board meeting to show our support the the library, the drag community, and to all of our children, who have the right to learn about all the different types of beauty in the world." Supporters of that event include Women's March Rockford, who plans to deploy rainbow umbrellas, and the RAAC Rockford Area Arts Council.
The meeting rules
Because of the controversy over the July event, the Talcott Library board moved their meeting from the library to the Rockton Community Center. They ask attendees to give priority for seating and comments to residents of the Rockton library district.
The library board has announced:
- Public comment will be taken at the beginning of the meeting. Those wishing to speak must sign the sign in sheet prior to the call to order. The sign in sheet will request the person's name, topic to be addressed, and whether they are a resident of the Talcott Free Library District. The board reserves the right to grant priority to residents of the district.
- Speakers will be limited to a total of 3 minutes each. At the beginning of the meeting, the board will decide the amount of time to be set aside for public comment. A member of the board will be appointed as time keeper.
- The Board will not tolerate personal attacks or inappropriate language.
- The Board President may cut off comments which are irrelevant, repetitious, scurrilous or disruptive.
- Signs, placards, banners or the like will be allowed inside the building but are asked to be left along the back or sides for the meeting's duration.
The future and past
Supporters of the July event hope that the library won't cancel it, but if they do, several supporters plan to hold their own event. Jessica Green says, "I would personally see to it that we organize our own Rockton PRIDE/DRAG event and have Krystal there for all its glory!"
However, some members of the LGBTQ+ community don't equate drag performance with gay rights. One gay man pointed out to me that in Shakespeare's day, female roles were always played by males, and no social statement was implied. Another gay man posted (and was mocked) on Krystal Ball's Twitter feed, saying "Stop stereotyping gay men with drag queens and ballrooms and voguing.... you wouldn't do that to any other groups."
In a 2018 interview, Krystal Ball said she was first inspired by RuPaul's Drag Race, but "I think one misconception that people have about drag is that there’s one type of drag. I think that Drag Race is amazing, but one of its downfalls is that it’s mainstreaming drag, and if you don’t fit that mold that it has created, you won’t be successful. Many drag queens feel put down because their art isn’t seen as “drag”. Bearded drag, boy drag, it’s all drag!"
The July Talcott Library event would not be Rockton's first drag appearance. Sugar Britches and After the Vine sponsored Drag Queen Bingo in February 2022 as part of Galentine's Day, but it was for adults only. The yeti even posed with the drag queen. After the Vine hosted another bingo in November 2022 to help support Wimpy's Fund. Rockton Inn hosted a Drag Queen Bingo & Brunch in May 2022. Public drag performances in Rockford may date back to the 1960s.
A movement called Drag Story Hour has become a lightning rod in culture wars, saying that it "captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves."
The Talcott event does not publicly claim to be part of the Drag Story Hour movement. But in its claim to "foster understanding and unity in our community," it resembles another movement, The Human Library, a 23-year-old organization that has been active in 85 countries, including the Rockford and Janesville libraries. The Human Library calls itself "a library of people. We host events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. Every human book from our bookshelf represent a group in our society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination..." So possibly the Drag Q&A could be considered a human library, with a single controversial book. Whether the Talcott Library chose that book wisely is another question.
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