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The small reading space in the Margaret Hennigar Public Library was buzzing with activity. Library staff were pleasantly surprised by the turnout for a special children’s story time as they greeted upwards of 125 enthusiastic visitors, many sporting rainbows and Pride-themed hats and T-shirts. Visitors were given rainbow emblazoned name tags with space to include their preferred pronouns. Children ranging from toddlers to 10 years old, accompanied by teens, parents and grandparents, some cuddling newborns, settled on cushions spread around the floor and shared benches as they waited for a special guest to read to them. BECOMING ZARA Meanwhile, down the hall in the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC), diva drag queen Zara Matrix (she/her) appeared from a makeshift dressing room like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Matrix wore a carefully designed elegant full-length vivid pink silk dress with green vine flower embellishments and rhinestones she sewed by hand, coordinating it with five-inch bright pink platform heels, huge eyelashes and pink lipstick, topped off by an outrageous pink wig put in curlers, teased, trimmed and styled the night before. To the confidently flamboyant Matrix, Zara the persona was a form of creative artistic expression being unveiled at Lunenburg County Pride’s first Drag Queen Storytime on Aug. 17. The event was part of the first week of Pride events on the South Shore. “I find it rewarding being able to create, head to toe, what you are going to look like. I love it,” Matrix said during a recent interview. “My goal with drag is creating a more inclusive world, creating events and being part of spaces that promote inclusion and diversity, while also being a fun, fierce drag queen entertainer,” Matrix said. However, even the fierce drag queen admitted she was a little nervous making her grand entrance for her first storytime. Fortunately, a welcoming reception helped her relax. “Seeing their reaction was really sweet because kids are honest and upfront. They were excited and happy, which made me excited and happy to be there as well,” Matrix said. “I was surprised by the amount of people who came out for a smaller community,” she said. POTENTIAL CONTROVERSY “I know some people think drag is not appropriate around children, although it’s not that different from your kid’s favourite Disney character or the Easter Bunny,” Matrix said. “When the kids saw me a couple of them were, ‘Oh my goodness, are you a princess? Are you some fairy tale magic character?’ Their imaginations kind of go crazy,” she said. “Some people don’t know what drag is and for some reason they sexualize it. There was no sexualizing of anything,” Matrix said of the Drag Queen Storytime. Matrix read three books from the library’s LGBTQ+ collection espousing self-love, diversity and inclusion during the hour-long program. There were also children’s songs and crafts. However, the story about a little boy who loved mermaids resonated with Matrix in a special way. “There were parts in the book that showed the boy dressing up as a mermaid, wrapping a blanket around his legs for a tail and putting a long plant on his head while pretending to have long hair. That reminded me of when I was little. I used to do the same thing when I would find whatever outfit I could to put on,” Matrix remembered. Matrix said the storytime experience made her wonder if meeting a confident drag queen role model like Zara would have inspired her as a child. “I think if I was at an event where those books were being read and the ideas of inclusion and its okay to be yourself, then I think I would have been a much happier kid because there were definitely times when I struggled with loving myself and being okay with myself,” said Matrix. “Without those role models, as a kid I felt so alone. It was really hard.” “I would hope I can inspire and help some kid out there to feel like they saw someone who they can relate to and who can inspire them to be themselves and do what they want to do without fear of judgement from others,” Matrix said. HELPFUL TO PARENTS “And it also would have helped my parents,” Matrix said. “They would have been able to learn about the meaning of inclusion.” Matrix’s mother, Kim Myra, agreed. “I knew from a young age that when Zara was dressing up, that she was a special child,” Myra said. “It would have allowed me to understand that everyone is equal. Dressing up is okay.” “It’s an educational experience and an eyeopener for people who do not understand drag queens and their performances and what they do for communities,” Myra said of the storytime event. “They are expressing themselves as entertainers. They are allowing kids to see that you can do whatever you want to express yourself and it’s okay,” Myra said. Myra, an employee at the LCLC, was on hand to greet her son on arrival and help her get ready for storytime. “We got her ready in the office and I walked down with her and stayed with her for the event,” Myra said. “I’m just a huge fan on the sidelines.” “A lot of people don’t have that support, especially in the gay community. And so, I’m really lucky to have her,” Matrix said. “I was proud of her. I love that I have a mother who is not afraid of who I am and supports me and isn’t embarrassed to talk about me.” NEWFOUND CONFIDENCE Matrix said starting to perform in drag five years ago bolstered her confidence. “When you put the wig, make up and outfit on, it’s almost like a super-hero outfit and you have a newfound confidence,” Matrix said. “I was struggling with mental health and self-acceptance, and I started to realize I am the same person apart from all the wigs and make up.” A PARENT’S PERSPECTIVE Meghan Maclellan of Upper Lahave attended with her nineyear-old daughter Olivia. “I think it sends a good message to my daughter about inclusion and taking people as they are, meeting them where they are and respecting their truth story. And that kindness and love comes first,” Maclellan said. Maclellan said the event brings needed exposure to the LGBTQ community on the South Shore. “I feel like with more exposure you can at least accept that if it isn’t your cup of tea, well it is for so many other people. And so many people find joy in it,” Maclellan said. Ashley Nunn-smith, chief librarian and CEO of South Shore Public Libraries, said the library’s values include open dialogue, freedom of information and freedom of expression. “And the library being a safe and welcoming place is a great place to have those discussions,” Nunn-smith said. “There might be one or two people, that’s not their thing and they might even be offended if they choose to. That’s okay, they don’t have to attend,” Nunn-smith said of the event. “Out of the people who came, there was 100 per cent enthusiasm. We had one adult say, ‘I wish we had a program like this when I was younger.’” Nunn-smith said, “The South Shore Public Libraries are proud to be community-led libraries.” “We look forward to partnering with Lunenburg Pride again to offer inclusive and welcoming programming to the LGBTQ+ community and their families,” she said. “I was happy and proud that I could be there doing this first Drag Queen Storytime in a small community,” Zara Matrix said. “Especially with kids when youth struggle with self-identity these days. As someone who struggled with that, I want to do everything I can to help the next generation.” “I hope I can be part of the next one as well,” she said.