Ever since I came across the story about Aida H Dee recently and the cancellation of her storytelling hour at Leeds Libraries in the UK, I have been shocked by the hate comments and trolling she has received, as well as how a similar initiative in the US has encountered the same issues.
We wanted to give libraries helpful insights into holding diverse events and so to celebrate #PrideMonth we spoke with Sab Samuel, the person behind Aida H Dee. Sab hopes to inspire children to be who they want to be, and enjoy diverse stories read in a 'safe space' - their local library.
Sab tours with other drag queens, providing fun and interactive kids shows in libraries across the UK reading stories to children while teaching inclusivity.
Sab talks with me about:
the importance of having diverse role models
examples of drag throughout history and culture
identity loss and respecting the way others identify
the challenges of being a storytelling drag queen including dealing with trolling
an inspiring story showing the impact of the storytelling
Drag Queen Story Hour UK - https://www.dragqueenstoryhour.co.uk/
Drag Queen Story Hour Isn’t Going Anywhere — But It’s Getting Serious About Safety - https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/drag-queen-story-hour-proud-boy-safety-1368900/
Bristol library service defends hosting Drag Queen Story Hour UK - https://www.bristolworld.com/news/drag-queen-story-hour-bristol-library-service-defends-hosting-summer-tour-3703172
Drag queen doxxed and threatened with crucifixion by Mumsnet users all because she wanted to read books to children - https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/06/23/drag-queen-story-hour-uk-aida-h-dee-sab-samuel-leeds-city-council-sarah-field-mumsnet/
BBC News Story - Drag queen act for kids goes on despite hate mail - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-60939344
BBC News Story - Children's Drag Queen Story Hour UK event cancelled 'over' hate comments - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-53164255
Lou: Hello everybody and welcome. Wow, I am absolutely delighted to have with me today, Sab Samuel. Now, Sab has an alter ego called Aida H Dee and we are going to be talking about storytelling in libraries, specifically to help to inspire the library community about holding diverse events. So, hello and welcome.
Sab: Hello. It's lovely to be here. I'm really happy to be here, it's really nice. I'm really excited.
Lou: Well, it's amazing and I'm delighted that we are both in Wales, which is brilliant. Now, Sab has a website which you can go to called www.dragqueenstoryhour.co.uk and you can find loads of fantastic information, and you can even buy Sab's two books that are on there and I went on there and did a little bit of shopping, so I'm very excited to read those books to my children. Okay, Sab. Now, before we get started, there is a question that we always ask everyone and that's to do with our campaign #IntBunchWordOfTheDay So what is your favourite word and why?
Sab: Oh, but I've got so many words. You can't ask somebody their favourite words and just give them, I can only choose one. That's horrible!
Lou: I know! Especially someone that does storytelling, that reads words all the time.
Sab: Do you know what? I really like the word, it's not a word, it's a name. It's technically two words, but it's San Francisco.
Lou: San Francisco.
Lou: Great place.
Sab: There is no emotional attachment. I have been there, but there's no emotional attachment. There's no LGBTQ rights attachment either, even though that is, or was deemed, the gay capital of the United States. The only reason why I like San Francisco as a word is because it's fun to say. It's one of those words, it's San Francisco.
Lou: Brilliant! Actually, you're right, a great word. It's funny when you say things like that, when you think about how we say words, there's a lot of fun in that word. I am definitely going to think about that differently now. Okay, brilliant. So, first things first, we want to know a little bit more about you. This is not about your alter ego, this is about you as a person and the knowledge that you have and what you can do to inspire the library community. So, what is the best thing that you have discovered in the last year?
Lou: Yes! Love it. And who inspires you?
Sab: Ooh, I think there's different parts of me, of what I do, say for a living. Different parts of me, of who I am as a person that inspires me. So, there's different people that are attributed to who I am as a person. Who inspires me in terms of literary and rhyming and poetry is Dr. Seuss. Who inspires me as a performer on stage as a drag act, who I think is now retired, based in Brighton, called The Drag With No Name. A very, very, great performer, a great performer. A person who inspires me when it comes to queer rights, someone called Marsha P. Johnson, who was kind of one of the first activists when it comes to, and probably the reason, along with a couple of other people, why we have rights today and was part of the first Pride protests and Pride riot in 1969. So, I think there's a bunch of people that inspire me, for me as a person.
Lou: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes it's never just one person, because like you said, they touch so many different parts of your life. So when you were young, Sab, what did you want to be? Did you want to be a drag queen telling stories?
Sab: I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be accepted, maybe? Accepted was a different word for me back then. It wasn't I want to be accepted as a kid. To want to be accepted is quite a big thing, so it wasn't that I wanted to be accepted because you're still kind of finding yourself anyway, but I wanted to be allowed to venture into different parts of being me. I hadn't found myself, so I couldn't be accepted for what I hadn't found myself to be, but I wanted to be allowed to go into that kind of pathway of maybe, you know, I remember walking down a hallway at school, realising, oh, I'm quite camp, but I didn't feel like I was allowed to go down that pathway of going I love that, you know? I wasn't allowed, so if I wanted to be anything when I was young, I wanted to be allowed to be myself. I'm already aware that you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Lou: No, but I think that's the point, isn't it? Because everyone has different perspectives when they're asked different questions. I was reading about you earlier that you went to an all-boys school, so there's a huge amount of--
Sab: Where are you reading this? You are definitely somebody who works within literary and libraries and things like that because you are finding things I didn't know you could find out!
Lou: BBC News, it's got everything. The researcher did all the good stuff, so I just read it in there just before we chatted. But I think that's really interesting and Sab, what you say is really powerful and while you were talking there, it just makes me think that I want to ensure that my two little girls, one that's four and the other that's about three months old, that they grow up in a world where people are accepted, and they won't ever have to feel like you felt. It breaks my heart, but it's people doing what you are doing that are enabling this to happen for my children and that's what's really important, though you have to go through all of the, I could swear, but I won't because it's about storytelling and someone might get offended because I do have a terrible potty mouth, but all the crap. Yes, gosh. So, okay. I'm going to ask you one more question about you and then I'm going to ask you another question, which I think is really important that I really struggle with. So, if you were to have dinner tonight with anybody alive or dead, who would it be, or would they be?
Sab: Five-year-old me. I'd want to sit down with five-year-old me.
Lou: Because you'd want to, I guess feel loved and...
Sab: I'd want to sit down with five-year-old me because there have been so many trials and tribulations of being a queer person. So many trials and tribulations of being me that I have spent many, many hours and sleepless nights over. I wouldn't want to tell myself not to worry because it's that very concern that I've had for my own safety sometimes, or that very concern of how do I go about my life from this point on, after what might have happened. That concern is what's driven me to safety. However, I'd want to warn myself. I've seen videos of me when I was quite young, dancing about having a good old grand time and I've wanted to go back. I'm watching these videos, I've cried watching these videos as a kid. Looking at me as a child, without a care in the world, I've just wanted to sit down with myself and say, look out, buddy, you've got quite a bit of a journey ahead of you, to be honest. Yes. In fact, I remember the first time I wanted to sit down with myself and that was wow, 10 years ago, I remember. I know exactly when it was. 10 years ago, I sat down and watched a video of me. I was five years old and when I watched the video I just cried and wanted to tell myself, wanted to warn myself, go back in time and say, look out, buddy. I suppose the answer to your question, who would I want to have dinner with would be myself when I was five.
Lou: I wonder if you had dinner with yourself when you were five and now, and then a couple of other ages, what kind conversations you'd having. Because you'd obviously be--
Sab: It'd be wild! I mean, I know me. It'd be wild. Absolutely wild. Bonkers, if not.
Lou: Exactly. Well, at least you know you'd have fun with yourself. You've all got the same sense of humour.
Sab: I do actually say that if we're going quite seriously, but five-year-old me, maybe.
Lou: No, I don’t mean five-year-old you, I mean maybe five years ago.
Sab: (speech distorted) I went into kind a recession on my own personality, and I lost all my personality that I would've had. Potentially the personality I still should be having now was all lost by the time I was 10 years old, by the time I was 15. I was completely in on myself, and it wasn't until I was able to be myself that I started regressing back into who I was. But that's a completely different question.
Lou: Well, five-year-old you would take a lot of inspiration from you now so you would be the better person, the better part of yourself to talk to that five-year-old.
Sab: The thing that gets me through the kind of trials and tribulations of being me now and what I do for a job and what for a living is the fact that I am actually an inspiration to five-year-olds. You know, I am an inspiration and it's weird to think now, it's really weird. I've been stopped in the street in a city I've never actually been to before in my life by people who've gone, "Oh my god, it's you!" The weirdest, most surreal thing I've ever had happen to me when people actually stop me and recognize me in and out of drag. I've had people ask, people saying, they're completely... What was the word this lady used once? She was flabbergasted or whatever it was, so she was like, oh my god! I was like, this is really surreal and in the moment you're like, oh, it's so sweet, but you go back and look back on those situations and go, oh, this is really weird! It's not weird, they're not, they're just being really sweet, it's really lovely.
Lou: Yes. Yes, exactly.
Sab: It's very validating, of course, but it's, um yes, it's very lovely. It's very lovely. But the fact that I am a role model for five-year-olds now, I think that says a lot, personally. I have gained a lot of little fans very quickly, which I want to say is, obviously it's a compliment to me and what I do, but I also want to say I think it's more, it's just very, very, very clear that a role model for queer children, a role model for young queer people are so few and far between that all it takes is just even one person to do something that they become so incredibly loved by these people. So, I'm just evidence that there needs to be more of me, you know?
Lou: Yes. And, do you know, I was saying to a Mum the other day, I bought your, because your other book at the moment is out of stock, but I bought your book about the two lesbian hedgehogs and I haven't got it yet because I only just bought it the other day, but my daughter has a friend in school who has two Mummies and so I was thinking to myself, why have I not got any of these books anyway, because I'll talk to her about two Mummies or two Daddies or a Mummy on their own or a Daddy on their own or whatever and it's, you know, it's all, you know, there is no normal, but you know, that's just how it is. You know, it can be whatever. But I was thinking, why have none of our books covered anything like that? So, I'm really excited to be reading her your book when it turns up.
Sab: You'll be surprised. I think it was 1989 Thatcher put into place Section 28 and it was ordered that all kind of queer, or LGBT, or homosexual characters or any kind of mentions of it in schools needed to be removed, all the books that could have them. And people were ordered to go into the children's library, go into the library and go and grab all these books and take them out. And there weren't any books there in the first place because queer people, you know, they've already been eradicated and forgotten within literature, that's already been happening. All you've done is written it in law, that's all that's happened. There were barely any books there anyway. And especially when you've got really well-known novels that have been made into films, for example, it becomes even more apparent because they're starting to, they write these really great books, which the storytelling’s might be really lovely, but then when you put them into films, becomes very apparent that there was actually very little diversity in these books to start off with because once it's black and white on paper, it's kind of written down. Once it goes onto screen, you've got colour, video, sound, music, all of that... With the book, the book goes into film and gets colour, it gets all of this, you get a really clear picture on how very little diversity was in that book in the first place. And sometimes you get a clear picture of how maybe the book is actually swayed against diversity. I can think of a book I can think of right now off the top of my head, that is a universe of books as well, so there's multiple books about this storyline that had been made into films, it's got its own theme park and one of the first characters that are to be deemed diverse was an Asian called Cho Chang.
Sab: So, I think to kind of sit there and go, oh, you know, why don't I have any books with these characters, because it's only a recent thing that it's been allowed to happen. People are starting to realize that for a very long time, I and plenty of other people who were already grown up and gone had no single fairy tale character or real-life character to relate to and as I've said many times to many different people, a role model is like oxygen. When you don't have any oxygen, you die.
Sab: And I'm not even exaggerating. Role models are so key. If you don't have anyone you relate to you end up being one of the many, many, many young children and actually young adults and even older adults who decide to call it a day, as a nice way of saying it, because of the amount of stress and inner hatred they've garnered over themselves for not having a single person they can look out and go that is somebody I relate to. So yes, you might not have any books that have queer characters in, that's not your fault. That is the history of this planet completely hiding who I and many other people are within any type of media, not just books and this doesn't just apply to LGBTQ people, this applies to culture and race, it applies to disability. I mean, this has been going on for so long and it's only just really now that people are standing up and saying no.
Lou: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, I could talk to you for hours! Just lost in the moment then, apart from when we had that technical moment, I wasn't lost in that moment, but I was lost in that moment. So that leads me on to ask you a question. So, what advice would you give to people like myself and others that I speak to who are scared about insulting someone, but we are inquisitive to know the answer. So, for example, specifically, like I don't have any friends that I'm aware of, because I could do, but I'm not aware, I don't have any friends who dress in drag, who are drag queens. I have friends from all different backgrounds, so I don't know how to talk to you without insulting you or to how to relate to you apart from us being individual human beings.
Sab: So, your name’s Lou, isn’t it?
Lou: And also, I would just say that hopefully if I ask a question that is not the right way of asking it, Sab is going to rephrase it for me and teach us all how we should be asking certain questions.
Sab: I very much will. Your name's Lou, isn't it, right?
Sab: Let's treat you asking me a question that you think might be sensitive with me asking you your name. I'm going to ask you your name, what's your name. You will say...
Sab: Okay, cool. Let's say I'm scared to ask your name, so I might rephrase what's your name to so what do I call you? How do I, and I obviously trust that asking your name, that you will still answer me with your name is...
Sab: Lou. Are you insulted that I asked you your name in a slightly roundabout way? No. I'm going to call you Dave.
Lou: That's my husband, quite randomly.
Sab: I didn't actually know that. I'm going to call you Dave and you're going to come back to me and say...
Lou: My name's not Dave, I'm Lou.
Sab: I'll say I'm so sorry. That was my mistake, actually. I don't know why, I just, I'm sorry. And are you going to get offended if I called you Dave by accident?
Sab: Okay. I'm going to call you Dave again though.
Lou: I don't know, depends on the person. I might ignore it and just let you carry on or I might go, mmm, it's Lou. Of course, for you, I would say carry on.
Sab: And then I'm going to call you Dave again.
Lou: I'm not bothered.
Sab: And then I'm going to call you Dave again. And then you go to the shop next door and you say, "Oh, hi, my name's Lou, can I please buy some eggs?" And they go, "Alright, Dave", and then the next person walks down the street and looks at you because they think you look like a Dave, but you're going to be calling yourself Lou.
Lou: I'm going to lose my identity soon.
Sab: You go over that whole process and it turns out that exact feeling you've just come across, you've just come to the conclusion that you were losing your identity, you've come to the conclusion of having a frustration to the fact that I've asked you a question but haven't listened to that question. Okay. Now let's imagine that every time someone asks you, "So what's your name?" You're having to go through now the process of thinking, well, my name's Lou, but half expecting them to completely ignore that in the first place.
Sab: There's like a trauma in some way to being asked those questions. That's the first thing, okay? There's a second thing, is that some of these questions aren't actually personal questions, they're more broad questions, which I would personally respond back to with why don't Google that one? But let's assume that most of these questions are personal. There is nothing wrong with asking these questions. These people do not owe you a response, but if they give you a response, then you have to really kind of take that on board. There is nothing wrong with accidentally calling you Dave once because I don't know, I'm so sorry, you know? I apologize, it's fine. It's like, yes, fine, absolutely. Bringing it back, queer people are humans, we know people make mistakes. There are people out there who have pronouns that might not represent what some people might think those pronouns would align to and they accidentally give them the wrong pronouns and then the person would go, oh no, it's not that, it's that, actually. And if the person then goes, well I'm going to still call you what I want to call you, of course those people are going to get upset. So, my advice is don't be scared to insult in the first place. Don't sit there and go oh, I'm scared, I'm scared, because if you have the intention to insult, that's where it comes from. If you are accidentally insulting, trust me, me and everyone else knows you're not doing it on purpose. It's very quite obvious. However, keep in mind there is that trauma, that thing of how many people I've actually had to go through and sit there and correct constantly. How many people I've had to go back to and say, actually, can you please listen to me, what I'm telling you. That trauma comes up when I get asked these questions or any other queer person gets asked these questions and so I think lots of queer people are very dismissive. They're very, they're very honest. I just can't be bothered with you right now. I mean, I don't know you, why are you asking me this question? This is the answer, but whatever, you know. That happens a lot and I don't blame some people. Who's the woman in the relationship? gets asked to two gay men. What, do I want to educate every person who asks me that question? No. Google, go Google that one. But I, as a patient and educative person would respond, I think, nearly to every single person with, I think the whole point of a gay relationship is that there are only two men, there are no women. So that question is asked--
Lou: Oh, that is so true!
Sab: And it's similar--
Lou: Who's the woman in the relationship? What woman?
Sab: Also, asking two gay men who's the woman in the relationship is like asking two chopsticks which one's the fork.
Lou: I love that!
Sab: So, the answer to your question is there's nothing that you go about in preventing insult. If you ask a question that someone takes aback to and feel they have to educate you on, be glad because you've got somebody who's willing to educate you on it. The moment somebody refuses to educate you, so let's say I called you Dave, and you go, as you said, you went "I just don't think I can be bothered to correct you", that's when you need to be worried because that's when the person who's being called Dave is absolutely apathetic to you and really can't be bothered and when you've got someone who's apathetic to your own education, to your own wellbeing, then that's when you've lost as a person. My advice is don't be scared to insult, be prepared to be educated.
Lou: And listen, and you know, what an amazing exercise to make someone do, because you really made me feel, even though I'm tolerant to a point, you really made me feel okay, who is Lou anymore? Where is Lou? Like, I really felt like I'd lost Lou. So, I think that's really, really powerful what you did. And also, just to, so we had a very quick chat before we started doing this podcast and something I thought that was really interesting that you said, is that you call your alter ego, sorry, Aida H Dee, terrible throat at the moment, a third person. That's how you talk about that character or that person, so I thought that was really interesting why you do that.
Sab: That's actually more for the sake of the people I'm talking to, rather than myself. It's more for their sake than me. Aida is like I am, a character, not in the sense that, you know, Percy Jackson is a character in a book, more that Aida is a character within her own personality. I think you'll find that Aida and Sab Samuel, are kind of both in the same person, to be honest. I chose the name Aida H Dee because I found myself with a decision to create a character from scratch or to expand on who I am as a person when it comes to my decision for doing drag and I chose to do an expansion on who I am. I gave Aida all of my traits and then a boatload more confidence if I'm honest. And when you give yourself the opportunity to have more confidence within that kind of setting, drag, what you find is, well, what you find is somebody who gives you the exact same answer when you asked me what have I discovered in last year? And that is myself, you know? So, I talk about myself in third person when it comes to Aida, more so, because if I keep talking about myself as myself, then how do you know if I'm talking about what I do in front of children when I perform stories or what I want to talk about as Sab Samuel the activist? So, to kind of prevent a conflation between conversation about these two characters, I will call Aida a third person. And the vast majority of my life, I'm Sab, but when I'm dressed as Aida and I'm talking, I will talk about Sab! I'll talk about Sab Samuel in third person as well. I'm not delusional in any way, I'm aware they're the same person. But I very much think it's just for the sake of the people I'm talking to, otherwise it gets confusing.
Lou: So then, my last question to you on this then, this is for my own, umm, I'm being selfish here asking this question. So, when I talk to you as Sab Samuel, and I haven't yet asked you what your pronouns are, but let's say if you're he, and then if I talk about, and I was talking to you and you were actually at the time Aida H Dee, would I talk about Aida H Dee as she? So, if I'm talking about you as Sab Samuel, you're he, but then when I talk about Aida H Dee I'm saying she, but not mixing them up because...
Sab: I'd say as a side point, as I say, within the kind of the context of the conversation, I think prior to, you know, you just said, you know, let's just say that I am him, I think it would be better just to simply just say, what are your pronouns at that point, of which I would stick to he and I kind of go for he/they, I'm not going to lie, I'm really apathetic when it comes to, as long as you, if you want to call me she, and you're talking nicely to me, then you can call me she all you like. In fact, it's very agender, apparently, when it comes how I kind of allow other people to talk to me. But no, I'd probably say Aida is she, she is Aida, and I am him, but then I think that's different for everyone because I'm still definitely myself when I'm as Aida. It's very much a trans conversation here because this is more to do about how you are yourself. So, there's this whole idea that to be trans say male to female, you aren't female unless you dress female enough, but then a female trans person doesn't owe femininity to CIS people as well. I don't need to look feminine for you to then call me she. I don't really care (speech distorted) pronouns, however, I do have this thing where when I am dressed in drag, I do want Sab Samuel to have this kind of anonymity, to be honest. Just more for the sake of professionalism in some ways and so a way to kind of put a barrier between Sab Samuel and Aida is because obviously as Aida, when I'm presenting more feminine than I am masculine and obviously vice versa, so again, a bit more for the sake of the people I'm talking to rather than for myself, I would tell people to call me she when I'm Aida and he when I'm Sab. If you want to talk about me as general, just say they because that's much easier as well.
Lou: Yes, very true.
Sab: That's a complex question you've asked there, and I wish I could go into a bit more detail, but--
Lou: Yes, I know, yes. It's just one that I've always wondered, but I think like you said, it's different for different people and so just find out from that person what they like and listen to them.
Lou: If you can listen. So, tell me about storytelling and how you decided to set up Drag Queen Story Hour UK.
Sab: So, I suppose drag queens reading stories to children or drag artists doing storytelling, it's actually been happening for a very long time, like a very long time. I think there was this, I want to say it's 300BC, which means that drag is older than Jesus, just letting you know, but 300BC, Telestes was historically a mime storytelling, vivid, gender non-conforming performer, written within history down as probably one of the first examples of drag. I also want to highlight, this is the first examples of drag written in history, which is quite clear considering that the beginning of this conversation, we've already spoken about how many queer, gender non-conforming people have just been written out of history in the first place. So, the first mention that's written and has been kept there was Telestes in 300BC. You've got Kabuki theatre, it's written in drag king history down as something that was attempted to be banned. I think it was successfully banned at first as well, because it was deemed too sexual for the CIS straight men of Japan. Kabuki theatre done predominantly by masculine women and effeminate men. You've got Shakespearean theatre, that's been going on for a very long time, of course, 16th, 17th century, 1700, isn't it? Women's empowerment is written within theatre and drag itself is written within women empowerment, so you've got all of this kind of storytelling-ness, that's all been written down in history before the Bible. Now, when it comes to Drag Queen Story Hour, in 2015 there was a drag queen that read a story in San Francisco in a library. There is an organization which is a charity in the United States, which call themselves Drag Queen Story Hour as well. I mean, I'm not actually technically affiliated with them, I'm not really linked to them at all other than by name, but my inspiration to kind of take this somewhere I would say is predominantly from my own love for literature and poetry. I've always written poems as a kid and it was bound by the fact that when I was young, I sat there and went and said to myself, I could do anything, to be honest. I once said to myself, I love marketing. Said no one, but I love marketing.
Lou: Oi, oi! I love marketing! I’ve got a marketing agency. This is not my creative artwork, that is my daughter's by the way.
Sab: I think that's great creative artwork, to be honest. If you don't want it, I'll buy it off you.
Lou: And that's her doing the middle one's dogs, dog paw prints.
Sab: I once said to myself, oh, I love marketing, but I'm going to be doing a degree in mathematics. And then I said, oh wait, why don't I just do a degree in marketing and mathematics? I could do that! And I did, I found it and that’s what I went to go and do.
Lou: Hello, amazing!
Sab: I remember that moment going, but I can do that though, I can! And so of course I sat down and went, well, I could make a career in writing children's books and doing it in drag so...
Lou: You can do anything.
Sab: Yes. Do you know what I mean? So that was kind of what it was bound by. If you want to say, why did I choose the name Drag Queen Story Hour, I mean yes, the name was inspired by Drag Queen Story Hour over in the United States, but I think what they do in United States is very much bound by you sit there and read a story, whereas Story Hour UK is bound by we want to embed LGBTQ and our five other sections, we have six different sections that we read about, all based off the 2010 Equalities Act and inspired by Greenpeace as well, where in these children's stories, we want to embed LGBTQ people, we want to embed brown people and people of colour and all different kinds of, we want to get culture in there, different cultures. We want to embed disabled people, ADHD, autistic people, deaf people. We want to throw in people who have differences, which aren't necessarily maybe a protected characteristic, but you know. I'm very much aware that people hate their own hair colour sometimes because they are bullied about it, so there's all of that I want to just embed into there, whilst also ensuring that I'm not just sitting there reading a story. I want to ensure that it's also embedded into the actual theatrics of it and make it really fun. Cabaret, drag cabaret, the cabaret culture, as it were, is very entertaining. It's always been entertaining. Why can't I portray a book in the way that a drag queen in a nightclub might portray a simple, stupid joke? So of course, I take children's books and I make them very entertaining. Is it? Oh no, it isn't! Oh, yes, it is! And I would say it's very similar to pantomime. One of the things we don't do when it comes to pantomimes, pantomimes have loads of 18 plus jokes that--
Lou: Yes, hidden jokes.
Sab: That are created to go over the heads of children. There are none of those in--
Lou: You don't do that. You don't do that for the parents that are there with the children.
Sab: No, you don't need to, you don't need to.
Lou: You're not there for the parents, you're there for the children.
Sab: Well, actually you'd be surprised. I'm there for both, but I make sure that material is actually for the children and at the same time, it's still very entertaining for the adults. It's very difficult to explain. It's going to be one of those things that you have to attend to realize.
Lou: I'm definitely booking to come and see you. Just behind me, here is your website and as you go on there at the moment, it pops up and it shows you the official summer tour. So, if you're watching this in 2023, forget it, just go to the website and then you'll be able to find out where you can see Aida and enjoy having a story read to you. One of the things that actually, when I came across you and I can't remember how I came across you, it might have been, you were doing something, the news featured in Wales, or it was because I work in the library community, it really sparked my interest and I think it was just because I just thought you were absolutely brilliant, and I love the fact, because my daughter loves mermaids, it was the fact that you were wearing a mermaid tail. So, what's your best memory of storytelling in libraries or in a library?
Sab: I know this is not the question you've asked but I want to take away the word library and just put anywhere that I've read a story.
Sab: Because there's some great stories I could tell you about, things I've read and things I've had people comment about in a library, but it's top trumped by one story that I've had, where I've performed at a kids club. I want to say it's 20... 2020, I want to say this was. I read stories at this kids club and there was these two young people watching. Now, they were a little bit older than my usual age range, I want to say they're 11, which is at the top end of where I say my age range lies and they watched and they had fun, it was great. And they both came up to me and they said to me, "We think we're bisexual, and we want to know when you think it'd be best for us to tell our family". And I would say this to everybody. I say this to everybody, just, you know, come out. It gets better, okay? We are still in a world where you might feel you need to be closeted, we're still in that world. Don't feel like we're not, because we are. We are. However, in that position, when you are speaking to minors, people who are 11 years old, you can't tell them to come out because you don't know the situation they're in. I can't give them advice on when to or when not to come out, really, because the last thing I want is for them to be in a position that they are not safe in. I don't want to tell them to only come out when they feel safe because the word safe insinuates danger and I don't want them to be scared of coming out either, so I have to be very clear and very concise and very specific with my words. And so, my response to them at this very moment in time was I think you should come out when you feel ready to come out. And that is specifically something that I have taught every other performer that I have trained for story hour, that is something that I've told them. You should tell a young person they should only come out when they're ready to. It's not the full advice I'd want to give. I want to give more but there's only so much you can really advise on that and it's quite scary. And I went away from this, this evening, I remember this very, very, very clearly, it was raining, I left, I got on a coach because it was in London, I got a coach from London to Cardiff because trains were way too expensive.
Lou: I thought you were going to say weren't working.
Sab: Probably as well, but I got a coach and I remember it was raining, I was outside, I had my head on the glass of the coach and I thought about these two kids, about what could happen because once I told them, "I think you should come out when you're ready", they said to me, "Okay, we're going to tell our parents tonight, then". And I just thought, "Oh my god". These kids' lives might be changing drastically. There'll be memories created here that could affect the rest of their life. And it was scary for me, and they went away so full of confidence and for nearly two years, it's been what? It's 2022 now and this was in 2020. I thought to myself, what happened? And I cried, I cried on the coach home thinking what on earth is going to happen? I remember when I went through the kind of whole process of this and they're about to go through it. And again, just like I wish I could go back to when I was five years old, I kind of wish I was able to go home with them maybe and ensure what happens is great and oh, there's so many mixed views and problems. About three months ago, I went back to the very same venue. One of the kids were there and they came up to me and I went, "Oh my goodness, it's you?" I went, "What happened?" Their family loves them. They completely accepted them. They went through a whole process of nothing more than just, "Oh yes, that's great!" I think they're both in a relationship still as well. So I was like
Lou: That's amazing. What an amazing positive outcome.
Sab: I didn't cry, but I'm kind of crying now, there's the tears for that moment, but like I was like I was so excited, I was like, "Yeah!" I was in drag as well and that's also why I say me in drag and me out of drag are the exact same person.
Lou: You didn't want to cry in drag, did you, to be fair, because you would just ruin the makeup.
Sab: No, I spent too long on that.
Lou: Exactly! Exactly!
Sab: And I don't buy sneezing powder for no reason. So, I, um, yes, so I was, oh, it was such a great moment. Such a great moment. And that is the best moment I think I've had when it comes to the fact that I have read stories, had them ask me a question about when to come out. They've gone away, come out, come back two years later, they're in a relationship and they're having the best time of their lives.
Lou: Long may that continue. Life has a funny old way of throwing you curve balls and ups and downs, but that's how we get to be the people we are today. So I know that we've both got a hard stop and so we've got 10 minutes left, so I think this conversation might lead me on to another question, but what have you found most challenging when you're storytelling? And obviously because this is for the library community, it's helpful when it's in libraries, but actually when you give examples like your kids club or it give like any kind of example, it can be put into a library perspective anyway, so please don't do it just because it happened in a library, but what's been the most challenging for you storytelling?
Sab: It's not when I'm storytelling. When I'm actually there doing the storytelling, it comes quite naturally to me, to be honest. I write the books, I remember the books, I know them by heart. Other people's books that I do, I read other people's books, not just my own, and I know them off by heart. I've recreated those books in a kind of like slightly more theatrical version to the point where some of the texts I haven't read and some extra texts I've added in myself. Quite easy, quite simple. The most difficult bit is things like coming between when I have to handle stupid people who claim that they think that I am something quite sinister. And I feel for these people. They think I've got some sort of insidious agenda and I hope they realize that if they are unable to tell the difference between actual... paedophilia, and a drag queen reading stories, then the person who's got an insidious thought process is definitely not me. I also, I wonder, I mean like, come on, these people must be so scared of the world. I mean, seriously, everything must be so scary. Like I'm reading children's books and one's about poo and one's about snot and they're like thinking I'm trying to somehow groom, which is another word I'm absolutely sick and tired of seeing, they think I'm grooming these kids. Into what? I mean, in one of the books, I have to tell them to shout the word poo as loud as possible. What am I teaching them to do? I mean if anything, one of the things I've taught them to do is to maybe take into account that some set rules in life can be broken. For example, you think the set rule that you are bound to a box of gender can, ah, that's definitely a broken rule along with the idea that you have to be quiet in the library, because I can tell you now it's never quiet.
Lou: Yes, that's true. I’m sure many librarians will say that.
Sab: The most challenging thing in doing my job is, the most challenging thing in my job is definitely the people who, if anything, are the reason why I do it in the first place.
Lou: So that leads me onto another question then. How do you deal with the trolling? Because like when we talk about the situation that happened in Leeds with the library there and the library actually ends up, you didn't end up doing your storytelling there. How do you deal with that? Because I don't think you could ever get used to it. I think it's something that you have to deal with, which you shouldn't have to, but you do because that's just, like you said, there's some stupid people out there, but obviously from a library's perspective, they're going to want to make sure that there's safeguarding in place for not just the people that are attending, but also the diverse acts there, not acts, sorry, the diverse events that they're holding. Yes, how do you deal with it?
Sab: So, it's kind of like, I call, it sounds bit of like a five step process, to be honest, when it comes to all this kind of. Trolling is the first one, trolling is when you get stupid people commenting stupid things. And if you get enough of those people, you might get one person who might start writing an article about this stupid stuff. Once you've got article being written about it, then you start getting people who get a bit more confident and then they start hurling abuse at you, whether that's physical abuse, I say physical abuse, I mean abuse where they shout at you in the streets or you get it online. You might get phone calls, I've had phone calls threatening to come kill me. I've had people send pictures of guns to me. I've had people threaten to call the police on me. I genuinely had to evacuate my building because somebody has said my address over the phone and that they're coming to get me now. I've moved house after some of this as well. Once you've got all of that abuse, then you start getting what I have got now at the moment, it's fear of attack. I've written down a policy set in place, which is for my own sake to be fair, but also for any other performer, such as, say for example, let's say somebody runs into a library and throws a liquid on my face. First thing I want to do is ensure that there is somewhere I know exactly how to run to where there's water so I can throw water on my face just in case I've had an acid attack. I've had to write physically down to do that process. I'm currently on fear of attack. The fifth part is where I actually get attacked. Haven't had that technically happen yet. You could argue that I have, considering the amount of people who have attacked me online, but I'm talking about physical harm at this moment in time. Yes, so how do I handle this? By creating that five-step process, understanding where I am in that five-step process. I want to reduce my mental health damage as well, so I've obviously got people who I have looking out for these kind of trolling in these articles and if they find something of significance, I tell them they're going to have to tell me, otherwise I don't have to scroll through constantly to try and find something that might be important. One of the things I've had to do is come to terms with the fact that this is going to affect my mental health and that actually I'm not just an unbeatable shield, you know, I am a human being. I will cry, it will affect me. And I need people to know this as well at the same time as also allowing myself to know it because the people out there who have not told how much someone was hurting them, other people who aren't with us anymore. So, what's the point in me coming to the point where it ruins me as a person? I can't help anymore if that happens to me. So, I need to look after myself to ensure that I can look after other people as well.
Lou: Gosh, it's really frightening. Sorry about the noise, I've got this ridiculous little puppy. It really is frightening, some of the things that you have to go through and I know that when we had a chat last week, you said that you have resources that you give to libraries to help to educate them and if you are happy to share those resources or we can maybe just pop them into a blog post or something, because I think it would be really interesting for people to have a reference to go to, to help to have some safeguarding in place. Because I think, you know, it's not something I would've thought about, an acid attack, but you know, you just don't know with these people, that's the thing.
Sab: The thing is that you do know these people, that's the problem. The problem is that I can sit here and absolutely know that these people exist. I sit here and I know the fact that these people think they are in the right as well. They're only doing what they think is right in that moment in time, which is the dangerous bit because they think that they would be doing... God's bidding. By throwing acid in my face, they validate that, and... Only just two months ago where I live down the road, someone got murdered for being gay. So like, you know... It's a reality, it's a reality. But at the end of the day, rather me than a young kid, so I'll be their force field for sure, any day.
Lou: I see. Well, listen, I know that we are at time now and we both need to get off to other things, but do you know, it has been an absolute pleasure and delight speaking with you and I want to thank you so much for talking to me. I knew I'd love this. You are, and I don't know if you like this or not, I don't really care because you are an absolute inspiration and I absolutely cannot wait for my daughters; I mean, one is like, she can't even like focus halfway across the room, so forget her, but I cannot wait for my daughters to meet you and to come and listen to your stories because I know they'll absolutely love them and you are absolutely brilliant. Thank you so, so much, and you continue doing what you are doing.
Sab: Thank you, Lou, I appreciate that. Got me all going red now.