As I entered the vast interior of the Hudson Area Library, I could already see the altitudinous Ella Ghent rising above the other figures in the children’s area. She was conservatively dressed for the occasion, wearing an apron, thick stockings and flats. Besides her was a ukulele.
Ella spends most of her time as Michael Hoy, a 44-year-old Hudsonite who works in a managerial role at a center for people for special needs. Today, however, she was made up to entertain children as part of the Drag Queen Story Hour.
After getting the youngsters to gather around her on the library carpet, she whipped out her ukulele and led the them in a rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” before delving into the first book, “Every Day Dress-Up.”
The library regularly holds story hour at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, but this is the first time it was hosted by a drag queen. Kara Desiderio, who helped set up the event, said she thought of Ella “adding her own ukulele flair” to the event.
“It shows the beauty of humanity…and shows we’re not all the same, which would be boring,” she said.
The story hour was a way of “feeling out gender,” but the purpose of the event was not to push any sort of social agenda.
“It’s more for fun…even dressing up and being someone different,” she said. “Opening up the box a little.”
About 50 parents and children showed up for the story hour, with some of the kids leaning forward intently to hear each word, some fussing with the grab-bag of books and toys cluttering the floor.
“How many of you know Sesame Street?” Ella asked the circle.
All of the children stuck their hands into the air.
“Sesame Street was around since I was your age, so that’s great,” Ella beamed.
“You know who this is?” Ella raised the book and pointed to a red creature on its pages.
“Elmo!” The children discordantly squealed.
“I have an Elmo doll!” one of them yawped.
“I have an Elmo guy!” another cried, ebullient at the coincidence.
“Well!” Ella said, “I’m going to have to get one of those!”
Kara formerly lived in San Francisco, where she said you couldn’t throw a gemstone without hitting a drag queen, but found less of this culture in her current county. However, “I figured Hudson was ready for this,” she said.
The last activity on the roster was “dress-up,” where the kids plunged into a chest of wonky clothing, pulling on hats and festooning themselves with red boas.
The story hour was first conceived in March, Ella told me when the children had packed up, but was delayed several times due to unforeseen circumstances, like Ella breaking her foot in a unicycle accident.
She had seen blurbs on Facebook announcing drag queen story hours in Brooklyn and was instantly intrigued by the idea. She received a call two days later asking if she was interested in holding one at the library.
The story hour was a great opportunity to dress as Ella, she said.
“It’s really nice to do something besides going to a bar — not to say that isn’t great also, but [it’s good] to have a broader audience.”
Ella’s origins go back farther, but Michael started dressing up about three years ago. The name was originally a pun he made up for a classmate named Ella who was from the town of Ghent. Though Michael technically lives two towns over from Ghent in Hudson, the name is so outstanding it works.
With national politics threatening LGBTQ rights, these kinds of events were important, Ella said.
“We now have to be the bearers of the light — we can look to the national level, but we have to do it in our communities,” she said.
On a lighter note, kids just enjoy playing characters and putting on costumes.
“It doesn’t just have to be on Halloween,” Ella said.
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