Monday, October 25, 2021
Lil Miss Hot Mess will present her research on drag studies at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St., in the Dorothy Rubel Room at 7 pm on Tuesday, Oct 26.
Lil Miss Hot Mess is a well-known drag queen, activist, scholar, children’s book writer and storyteller of Drag Queen Story Hour, a program that brings drag queens and children together for storytime. Her children’s books include The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish. (The forthcoming If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It will be available in May.) Lil Miss Hot Mess is a professor at UA who teaches history and theory of play. Lil Miss Hot Mess’s presentation is part of UA’s 2021 Tucson Humanities Festival and will be available for live stream at humanitiesfestival.arizona.edu/live.
What can attendees expect to see at the presentation?
It’s an overview of my work with Drag Queen Story Hour and some research that I've done on drag pedagogy. In addition to being a drag performer, I am also a professor at the U of A. Some of my research is about what can we learn from Drag Queen Story Hour in the broadest possible sense. Not just, how do we think about LGBT or gender 101? But, how we can learn to be better teachers or educators if we adapt some of the strategies of drag performers. I talk about things like how to incorporate humor to de-stigmatize difficult topics.
What topics are you destigmatizing?
When I talk about drag I like to actually highlight that it's not just about gender, it's not just about a physical transformation because drag has many different forms. Drag is about exaggeration. It's about turning your fantasy into a reality and often it's about dealing with difficult topics through a sense of camp, through a sense of humor. Being willing to laugh at ourselves and laugh at the world, but also take some of these things seriously. For example with Drag Queen Story Hour, we like to read books that address different topics of diversity, bullying, of finding your own creative voice. But, we also like to read the classic Everyone Poops. Which is a way of taking a thing that can be serious, scary, or shameful for kids and reading the book together and laughing at it. I also think it is for kids who might be questioning their identity, their gender identity or feel different because they are multiracial, adopted or have a disability. They learn about finding strength through humor and leaning into those things that make us different is part of what drag culture is all about.
What inspired you to do this type of research?
I fell into Drag Queen Story Hour through some of my friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. It started in 2015. I was living in New York at the time, and we brought it to New York. You know, it's blossomed all around the country and all around the world. I think there are so many affinities between drag performers and children. Drag is literally dressing up and playing. Kids are all about imagination. They're all about play, they're all about asking a lot of questions and I think that's another thing drag does well is that it questions authority, it questions history. It asks why? Why should we do something one way because it has always been done that way? Being able to explore that with kids not only provides them an important educational opportunity but I've also learned a lot in so many different ways from working with children in drag. The research came after doing the events because I wanted to go a little bit deeper.
It's like a commentary on education and how we can approach talking about these deeper topics with kids.
Much of education is test scores and memorizing. Even important work in diversity or social justice topics still tends to be framed as learning the vocabulary for LGBTQ or learning how to get some of these things right. I think that drag opens up a little bit more space for improvisation, for experimentation, for taking risks, for being willing to fail together and laugh at off or learn from it. I think that is actually a major shift from the way that we think of education in this country.
What are you hoping people walk away with from your event?
My main goal throughout all of this work is to get people to loosen up a little bit and enjoy that sense of play and be open to thinking about things in a different way. I will talk about five specific strategies that people can use but again, I don't want people walking away with notes. I want people to walk away feeling that we can activate our imaginations to do things differently. How do we tap into our own creativity? How do we use that to reimagine our world?
I think drag can intersect with a lot of different aspects of our lives. One thing that I try to make clear is that when I talk about drag pedagogy or drag education, I'm not suggesting that every teacher put on a wig or a pair of heels. But that people think about some of these elements to transforming something about the way you work, or bringing out an aspect of your personality that you don't always allow to shine can change the way that you relate to people or relate to different situations. So it's not about becoming a drag but it’s really about learning a little bit from us.