Drag queen Bella Aldama reads to kids at the Sacramento Public Library.
Photo: Christian Aguirre
Christian Aguirre is a drag queen in California who goes by Bella Aldama. Bella, or Miss Bella, as she’s known to her younger fans, frequently headlines “Drag Queen Story Hours” at public libraries, where she reads books to children. Which is how she accidentally, and without her knowledge, caused a raging national political debate. Wait … what?
At the end of May, the conservative columnist and New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari wrote an essay for the Catholic magazine First Things entitled “Against David French–ism.” “I recently quipped on Twitter that there is no ‘polite, David French–ian third way around the cultural civil war,’” Ahmari wrote. “I added, ‘The only way is through’—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.” What had spurred this attack on the conservative pundit and National Review contributor David French? “What prompted my ire was a Facebook ad for a children’s drag queen reading hour at a public library in Sacramento,” Ahmari explained.
Ahmari’s, uh, colorful language — “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils” — and the subsequent response from French hit a particular nerve among right-wing and conservative writers (and the liberals haplessly following along). The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Intelligencer all produced analyses and responses. The New York Times devoted two different op-ed columns, one from Bret Stephens and one from Ross Douthat, to the debate, which Douthat described as a “war.”
Personally I was still wondering about the drag queen who’d unleashed the wrathful Catholic integralist in Ahmari. A little digging led me to an event listing on Facebook for a Drag Queen Story Time at the Scramento Public Library on June 2. The DQST event, the library explained in the description, was back by popular demand, and Miss Bella would be reading two books. One, Julian Is a Mermaid, is a story about a little boy who is inspired to dress up as a mermaid after spying three well-dressed women on his train and is worried what his grandmother will think of him. The other, The Family Book, is an illustrated story about how families come in all shapes and sizes.
Because I was curious to know what Bella might think about inadvertently causing a “war” between conservative thought leaders, I reached out. Aguirre said he had no idea what I was talking about, but he was kind enough to answer all of my questions anyway.
Can you tell me a little about your drag career?
I started doing drag about seven years ago. Bella’s persona is a glamorous Mexican woman that is proud of sharing her language and heritage through music and fashion. She is also a more outgoing version of myself. Bella enjoys planning fund-raisers and special events that benefit people under the LGBTQ+ community, especially youth and HIV-positive folx.
What do you enjoy about doing drag?
Some of the most enjoyable things about doing drag would be performing at different events such as local clubs, Pride events, youth dances, fund-raisers, and libraries. Meeting different people and hearing their journeys is really breathtaking and empowering. The most important thing would be inspiring people to be themselves and respect others around them. Regardless of ethnicity, sexual orientation, or pronouns people use, everyone deserves to be treated equally.
What is it like reading to kids? How do they react?
I have been doing Drag Queen Story Hour for almost three years. Kids’ reactions are very impressive. They are very talkative, energetic, outspoken, and charismatic. The thing I enjoy the most is seeing kids being themselves while they are accompanied by their family members. Hearing the kids sharing different ways of gender identity such as wearing makeup, a scarf, a bow tie, glittery shoes, or nail polish.
Before my email, were you aware that people were angry about DQST?
I honestly did not hear much backlash from Sacramento as I did from Brentwood. I believe that there are many people against these types of events, but that they only create inclusiveness and diversity. I also believe that we should have more Drag Queen Story Hour events in such beautiful libraries.
Did you know people were mad specifically about your story time in Sacramento?
I was not aware about this, but everybody deserves the right to have an opinion. Unfortunately, some people are not open-minded, and their comments prevent others from attending these events. At the end of the day, kids should always be able to decide with their parents’ support.
Why do you think conservatives get so angry about drag queens reading age-appropriate books to children?
Some people are afraid of accepting people that are different than them. Thankfully, LGBTQ+ people and people of color are all around and we will not be erased.
Do you plan to continue doing DQST?
I will gladly continue doing Drag Queen Story Hour as long as I have the support of my community, bookstores, and the library system. Something that motivates my career is inspiring kids to be themselves as well as seeing families supporting their children.
Bella Aldama will be reading at the Walnut Creek Library on July 1 and at Under the Rainbow, a thrift store, in El Cerrito on July 3. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.