Drag queen story hour: tales of acceptance and dreams
Born Jun Araki, JohnJ never felt comfortable in the female gender they were born into. At elementary school, they would wear trousers under their school uniform skirts and on field trips, were too self-conscious to take a bath with female students. JohnJ often felt frustrated at being seen as a woman, and how they were expected to act.
Although more and more LGBTQI+ people are seen on TV and talked about in Japan, strict social norms and stigmatization still keep many in the closet, hiding their sexual identity. Luckily, JohnJ didn’t experience severe bullying or ostracism while growing up, but they always felt invisible, and that they didn’t belong, even when surrounded by friends.
Going beyond gender boundaries
Hoping to find an identity they were comfortable with, and a way to express that identity, JohnJ tried painting, studying fashion, and dancing. In dance, JohnJ finally succeeded, and tried to stand out with flashy makeup and gorgeous, extravagant costumes while performing on stage.
People began calling JohnJ a drag queen. Not knowing what it meant, JohnJ looked it up, and found that drag queens came out of LGBTQI+ culture, and they express and caricature femininity in the extreme.
JohnJ understood that drag queens can easily go beyond accepted gender boundaries, and are neither men nor women. This resonated with them, and they took on the moniker of drag queen, and took to performing as one, in different parts of the world.
When not in drag, JohnJ works for the Community Centre, Akta in Tokyo’s Shinjuku-Ni Chome, one of the most popular LGBTQI+ districts in Asia. The Centre provides information and education on HIV/AIDS in different languages while serving as an event space for anyone in that community. They are also an avid advocate for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, and have organized events for sexual minorities, helping them to feel that they have a place where they belong.
It’s okay to be different
When JohnJ heard that Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) was opening a chapter in Tokyo, they were immediately interested in taking part.
DQSH was started in San Francisco in 2015 and has grown to nearly 40 chapters. Its members tell stories in libraries, schools, and bookstores in the United States and, as of this year, in five other countries. Story hours are open to anyone, but children in the audience are typically of elementary school age, and less likely to be confined by social norms and conditioned by prejudices.
One of the books JohnJ likes reading to them is “It’s Okay to be Different” by Todd Parr. By giving young children an opportunity to meet different people, including drag queens, JohnJ hopes that these children will learn about diversity, and come to accept differences in people.
If a child is an LGBTQI+ person, the encounter may be a boost for that child, believes JohnJ, and it may prevent bullying or anything negative happening to them, as well as give them a positive self-image.
JohnJ says that they would like to have more of this type of experience with people, especially children. Little by little, they hope, this may lead to create a glittering world where everyone will shine by being who they are.
Find out more about JohnJ in this UN in Action video: