I was plagiarized twice in the same year by the same community. It was hard to wrap my brain around at first. After all, this is a community I felt some connection to. These were people I imagine to be well-intentioned parents and professionals. But now there are two kid’s books that have stolen and misused my work without credit or attribution.
After more than a year of dealing with the consequences I felt it was time to speak up.
Nearly all of the main concepts of my Gender Now Coloring and Activity Books were lifted, somewhat modified and put in The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids (Kelly Storck, New Harbinger Publications) and both the author and the editor were aware of it. Kelly Storck accidentally shared emails with me between her and her editor that outlined what was going on and what they were doing including the style in which the author should contact me.
It was through reading these emails that I began to understand another related experience of plagiarism that happened earlier in the year. In this case, the children’s book Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity (Brook Pessin-Whedbee, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) plagiarized the name and concentric circle concept of The Gender Wheel from my Gender Now books.
In my nearly 25 years in the children’s book industry, I have never experienced anything like this. I’m a queer, Chicanx author/illustrator and I’m also a parent and educator/activist. I’ve authored and/or illustrated over 20 multicultural children’s books with publishers that include Children’s Book Press, Lee & Low, Barefoot Books and more. 9 years ago, I also co-founded my own small Indie press, Reflection Press, with my partner Matthew where we first published Gender Now.
Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity(Brook Pessin-Whedbee, Jessica Kingsley Publishers) and The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids(Kelly Storck, New Harbinger Publications) are connected in multiple ways, but I only recently found that the first testimonial in Kelly Stork’s book is by Brook Pessin-Whedbee. Although I don’t completely know what all of these connections mean, I do know that context means everything, so they’re noteworthy.
Both books are authored by straight, white, cisgender women who are parents and work with gender professionally.
Both authors are tied to the Gender Spectrum conference/community in the SF Bay Area during the same time period that I was presenting my Gender Now curriculum.
Both plagiarized my Gender Now work.
Neither author nor publisher properly cites, credits, or acknowledges the source work from which their books are drawn.
My Gender Work and Presentations/More Context
My gender work for kids began with my Gender Now Coloring Book (2010) and School Edition Activity Book (2011) both published by Reflection Press. In them I gathered queer and indigenous scholarship from multiple disciplines —nature, global cultures and history with lots of games and coloring— all in support of The Gender Wheel, a holistic tool to understand gender for kids. The main premise of my Gender Now curriculum is “play to learn.”
My work rises from an inclusive perspective and provides tools to understand gender rooted in nature outside of a Western cultural framework. This is important to me as a queer Chicanx. You can see the breadth and depth of this work and its connection to both me and The Gender Wheel in my Gender Blog Series.
I have always taught this three tiered, nested perspective of Nature, Global Cultures and History when presenting my work. You can see my slideshow and view my notes from my Gender Spectrum presentations on Reflection Press’ Gender Now Teacher Resources page. I presented my Gender Now curriculum at Gender Spectrum’s Family Conference from 2010-12, and at their professional symposium from 2015-16 using my children’s book Call Me Tree and my Gender Now curriculum. Matthew and I also worked with Gender Spectrum on their school curriculum from 2011-2012 which included activities from Gender Now. We came to understand that we had different philosophical perspectives and teaching styles around gender, however we were appreciative of the work Gender Spectrum was doing to support parents and schools.
Plagiarism, Distortion, and Erasure
The plagiarism is unacceptable. But after having a chance to look through these books Matthew and I discovered that it wasn’t just a matter of plagiarism. In the case of Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity (Brook Pessin-Whedbee, Jessica Kingsley Publishers), the text on and describing The Gender Wheel is written in a particularly white and Western way. As Chicanx drawing from my experience and studies outside of a Western frame, this not only distorts and damages The Gender Wheel’s origins and core meaning, it fully erases me as the creator.
In the case of The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids (Kelly Storck, New Harbinger Publications), the bulk of my Gender Now curriculum was taken and embedded in another book and distorted through a white and Western lens. All of my work and existence again erased.
The plagiarism and erasure have been disorienting and sobering about power dynamics in social justice work and the children’s book industry; and the distortion now associated with The Gender Wheel has simply broken my heart and taken up more time and energy than I thought possible.
If you want to learn more about the details of plagiarism in both of these books, you can go here.
The Authors and Their Publishers
Our experience was not limited to the books alone. Matthew and I engaged both authors and their publishers with hopes of resolution.
After a disheartening and difficult interaction with Brook Pessin-Whedbee and her press (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) in London, an editor accidentally sent us this email:
They obviously enjoy this how can we put a stop to it.
The idea that we were enjoying any part of this theft, or the exhausting process of trying to get the author and publisher to take responsibility for their actions, was as eye-opening as it was frustrating.
After much back and forth and confronting Brook in person, they acquiesced to change the name to “The Interactive Wheel” at their next reprinting. They maintain they did nothing wrong and would not take action to address the plagiarism or the damage done. It seems beyond them to simply acknowledge that a person of color created The Gender Wheel that they have now distorted and are promoting and profiting from.
Instant Help Books/imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc. By their own admission, a significant portion of Kelly Storck’s book was not original work that just happened to be similar. Despite what the press would like to imagine, it cannot be treated the same as original work. The fundamental frame and format was consciously plagiarized. The most disconcerting piece is that it was not in part, but all of the fundamentals of my gender work while never offering to acknowledge or uplift Gender Now as the source in any way.
The only acknowledgement is to Diane Ehrensaft who wrote the introduction, and is given credit for her “Apples and Oranges” Exercise.
Being ‘columbused’ hurts. More than I thought it would. It ricochets and vibrates through my system and experience and speaks through my ancestors. My body, my work, my schedule, my family, my friends, my attitude, have all been impacted. It’s changed me. It is only after walking through and around this wicked little time and hearing from nearly every corner other experiences of plagiarism, especially for Indigenous, POC and Queer/Trans people, that I see how this fits into my larger body of work. And why it’s important to come forward with clarity.
It takes conscious, active awareness to not participate in privilege and power-over, but instead create real and effective change and equity for our children, our society and each other. We know this to be true with regards to racism in a country built on colonization and white supremacy. The same criteria must be applied to gender and sexuality for the same reasons.
I’ll be honest, it’s hard that these books are still
on the market,
in libraries (San Francisco Public Library alone has 29 copies of Who Are You?),
getting on the same book lists as my books in the industry (Bank Street) and in the LGBTQ community. (Bank Street has been made aware of the situation, but without public pressure has currently chosen not to take action)
These books are still supporting the authors and their presses as they erase me and my work.
A friend asked what I wanted as restitution. I laughed. I knew when I began this journey, but I’ve lost track of it through having to stay keenly focused on the truth and keeping my head above water. I find myself more concerned with the big picture and the big conversations. Is it a survival response knowing that any immediate restitution for myself is highly unlikely in a situation like this? Absolutely.
I have to keep moving forward. I have to find what motivates me. Community and a vision of a more equitable, humane world are my drive.
I’m sharing so others like me can prepare for plagiarism and intellectual theft. It’s that common. And if we can get out in front of this kind of thing as a community hopefully more of us can retain ownership of our work.
A Call to Action
This is about a shift in thinking and doing. LGBTQI+ children’s books have the most severe power imbalance for first/own voice, and lack a clear social justice frame as criteria. This is historically and socially relevant and impacts what is considered respectable/acceptable, and profitable in the industry and society.
It is the same song I’ve been singing for 25 years in the industry about race and ethnicity, which after countless voices in the field for decades upon decades, is finally finding more traction. But add to that song LGBTQI+ and I find there are fewer and fewer voices willing to come forward and sing OUT.
So it is that right now, I’m asking everyone within the range of my voice to share this. We can do better. We must do better.
Now is the time to make deep change.
Who’s writing our stories and how?
Are equitable numbers of Indigenous and POC queer/trans/intersex first voices included in the social justice conversation in children’s books?
Are queer/trans/intersex kids able to see genuine reflection, experience, culture and wisdom in their books?
What stories are most prevalent?
What stories are most rare?
Are Indigenous and POC queer/trans/intersex children’s book authors, stories and perspectives being uplifted and receiving love and respect?
These are the questions we must ask over and over and over again until change is real.
And if you’d like to make your voice heard in relation to these two books,
Note: The Storify website, where the detailed research was posted about this plagiarist, recently closed. This is a PDF of what was still accessible from that website. Hopefully it will be recreated on another website in the future.
Maya Gonzalez is a Chicanx, queer femme artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Her work focuses on art and story as powerful tools of reclamation and transformation both personally and culturally. Her primary tool of activism is creating and publishing radical children’s books that tell the truth of who we are and what we can be. She has been a close ally of the trans community for over 30 years and her partner is trans. Together they co-founded their own indie press in 2009, Reflection Press. The Gender Now Coloring Book was one of the first books they published.
I have been involved in the children’s book industry for over 20 years. I joke that they accidentally let me in. Indeed, something must have been going on…stars momentarily aligned, portals briefly opened… because not only did I get “in,” but my first book, Prietita and the Ghost Woman was written, translated and illustrated by all queer Chicanx people. Gloria Anzaldúa, Francisco Alarcón and myself.
AND not just that, it’s a decolonized retelling of a traditional folktale, La Llorona; AND Prietita, the main character is a young genderqueer person; AND they’re apprenticing with a curendera. I mean, oh my gawd, what?! This is amazing! Truly.
I was ushered in on the wings of a multicolored Alebrije singing the song of Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal on the wind, right? YES!
And, not so much.
It was 1996. None of us were closeted, but I know for myself, queerness was not what I talked about when I went on school visits. And on the rare occasion I presented with Francisco I never heard him broach the subject either, with anybody, not once.
Back in the day it was radical enough to be in a school talking about race and ethnicity, belonging and reflection, even equity with kids of color.
Back in the day it was radical enough to be in a school talking about race and ethnicity, belonging and reflection, even equity with kids of color. So the character Prietita and I, put one foot in the proverbial closet. I stayed silent about their gender queerness to the kids, and when asked if I was married I never denied that I was partnered, but if possible I avoided talking about the truth of who my partner was.
A sage queer, I knew how to measure and sense; sidestep, to keep myself safe and solid. I usually had a day’s work to get through and I needed to keep things moving.
Incidental homophobia would slow me down.
I’m tattooed, pierced, my hair is dyed and I dress fabulously! To the kids I was an edgy oddity that wanted to PLAY! But at every turn, I could see how my queerness might erase the work I was doing, work that I loved and was committed to. I had a part of myself that would go on autopilot with the kids, the teachers and principals. I was aware of what I was doing, but it was beyond my control.
I was teaching about First Voice and equitable reflection, but honestly, I only felt safe with a part of myself being heard and seen. I was protecting my heart, my livelihood and my life’s work.
I was teaching about First Voice and equitable reflection, but honestly, I only felt safe with a part of myself being heard and seen. I was protecting my heart, my livelihood and my life’s work. Gentle avoidance and partial acknowledgments became a part of the game. It helped soften the edges as I skittered through situations that would clearly have been inaccessible to me or greatly altered as the BIG QUEER that I actually am.
I comforted myself with the fact that queerness was deeply embedded, coded, into the understory of all my books, whether illustrated or both illustrated and written by me. I knew as queers, we always search for ourselves and each other, between the lines.
First Voice, is the idea that a community should speak for itself.
Children's Book Press - YouTube
Working with Children’s Book Press changed me. I used the opportunities provided by the press to heal myself, and my own silence and invisibility and still do. Simultaneously, it was CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) that provided a sane-making, touchstone along the way to reference with their statistics on children’s books by and about People of Color and First/Native Nations. I have been sharing them for as long as I’ve been making books. The journey has been long. Children’s Book Press began moving toward First Voice in 1975. It would be another ten years until CCBC would begin keeping stats for books by and about African American authors, and another 9 years before Native Americans, Latino and Asian Pacific Americans were included. Now another 24 years later, LGBTQ Americans are included in the numbers. 43 years.
Healing takes time that’s why I always call out the heart and the bones of it. We get sick, have kids, dear ones pass. Presidents, politics, social movements. We have to bring our bodies and spirits and emotions through. We must negotiate safety and fury and find peace. It takes time for a paradigm to shift. It has to happen inside and outside. But it is occurring.
I have learned. Voice is a revolution.
The Background Story
VOICE: within a patriarchal, Western society those who can be heard is based on how close one adheres to social standards either by birth or behavior. As a consequence, many queer/trans/intersex authors and artists who create children’s books remain silent about their private lives, especially if they’re Indigenous or POC.
Across communities, the LGBTQI community has been severely marginalized through deep judgment about who we are. Historically, this has been used to create separation between queer/trans/intersex people and kids in society, even our own. Despite recent progress in marriage, parenthood, adoption, civil rights, social justice, California education initiatives and more, judgment and aggression still happen in both big and small ways. It can be social, political, legal, personal, professional, even physical and can weigh heavily on queer/trans/intersex people, often adding to the silence already experienced as Indigenous or POC.
There is a growing trend. Just like with Indigenous and POC communities, many of the people writing about the LGBTQI community are not from the community.
As a result there is a growing trend. Just like with Indigenous and POC communities, many of the people writing about the LGBTQI community are not from the community, and consequently do not have to negotiate the same kind of structural and personal silence. Instead they are parents of queer/trans/intersex kids, as well as related professionals. They lack lived experience and often any connection to the actual LGBTQI community.
However well-intentioned, their work tends to perpetuate implicit bias and power structures that contribute to the very oppression they hope to mediate. (speaking specifically to children’s books)
Not only do those writing from outside the community generally perpetuate the binary and erase its historical context;
– they often prioritize and give greater value to all things cisgender and heterosexual;
– fix emotions and related gender and queer experience as complicated, sad, scary and overwhelming;
– affirm frames that require queer/trans/intersex children to be exceptional, saviors or self-sacrificing;
– focus nearly exclusively on males, especially ones wearing dresses;
– and consistently include bullying narratives.
They also tend to be almost exclusively white.
When we look at the newly documented LGBTQI statistics, we can clearly see that the vast majority of children’s books are by non-community members. And while authors could stay in First Voice or #ownVoice as parents and professionals, they rarely do. Instead they step in and speak as authorities and/or use their voice as the voice of the LGBTQI community.
It only makes sense that the same Social Justice frameworks developing for equity in children’s books regarding race and ethnicity include the LGBTQI community.
This is problematic on numerous levels. And with great thanks to CCBC for providing yet another touchstone to move forward, the time to heal this must be now. It only makes sense that the same Social Justice frameworks developing for equity in children’s books regarding race and ethnicity include the LGBTQI community, especially since queer/trans/intersex people are a part of every indigenous and community of color. It’s time to bring this next level of the conversation forward and unite Indigenous, POC and LGBTQI equity in children’s books. And beyond. These oppressions are intimately tied together.
Within a social justice frame it must also be noted that the next to be heard in LGBTQI children’s books are almost exclusively white, cisgender voices of gay or lesbian people. While necessary and important, they tend to perpetuate uneven power dynamics, including implicit bias around race, ethnicity and sometimes gender. It goes without saying that when white voices are the only ones heard, it gives the impression that only white people are queer and trans.
Who’s Controlling the Narrative
It’s fascinating to look at the CCBC stats and literally see who’s telling stories. Except for the Native American community (which I believe is in large part due to the amazing work of Debbie Reese) ALL MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES have the majority of their stories told by authors OUTSIDE OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.
There are countless, amazing stories about Indigenous and POC and queer/trans/intersex people that ALL NEED TO BE TOLD, but it matters who is telling them. Not just because there will be greater meaning and veracity for a first voice/own voice author, but because our presence is needed.
There are countless, amazing stories about Indigenous and POC and queer/trans/intersex people that ALL NEED TO BE TOLD, but it matters who is telling them. Not just because there will be greater meaning and veracity for a first voice/own voice author, but because our presence is needed. This is not a trend. This is not about ‘diversity sells.’ This is about real people and communities. The heart and the bones of it. We are here and we need to have our actual body, spirit and heart included for the change to be both real within and without, and final.
We speak differently, see differently, even feel and think differently and we can and should affect the world. This is our gift and power. Our stories and ideas cannot be co-opted then sifted through white, cis, straight authors and publishers and remain real. Beyond actual plagiarism, the very act of others telling our stories takes our power away, contributing to both real and systemic silence.
These stories about us are not actually about us. Ultimately, they can only ever be frames that show how white, cis, straight authors and society feel about, and see us. Even if they value us, it is still ultimately about them.
What does this communicate and at what level? That our lives are a publishing trend? That we are not adequate to tell our own stories? Or simply that our lives continue to be a source of income for the dominant culture, but not for ourselves?
I have heard amazing tales of workshops at large conferences specifically designed to teach white authors how to write stories about POC. Is that why in the last 3 years stories about and not by have dramatically jumped for communities of color? What does this communicate and at what level–to Indigenous, POC, LGBTQI people? And what about to white, cis, straight authors and artists? That our lives are a publishing trend? That we are not adequate to tell our own stories? We cannot be trusted to speak our own truth? Or simply that our lives continue to be a source of income for the dominant culture, but not for ourselves?
Sitting at a table of librarians recently, I asked if they thought it was better to have a book that was deeply flawed, or not have a book at all. I thought we might have a lively discussion, and being librarians I thought they’d go for the books, but everyone agreed. It is better to have no books at all than books that are fundamentally flawed. A book out in the world stands as an independent authority. It generally doesn’t come with an informed librarian, parent or teacher to point out where to apply critical thinking to see beyond the limitations of the author or how that author fits into a larger dynamic in society. It is what it is.
Books are power.
Children’s books are raw power.
First Voice/Own Voice and Healing
I’m haunted by my first book. In my imagination, the spirits of Gloria and Francisco have entered the pages and are walking down the road with Prietita. A self-described dyke, a gay man and a genderqueer youth. Prietita is holding a drawing of Ruda. This is the herb that the curendera needs to help heal their mother. They’re committed to finding it even though they must cross into forbidden territory to do so.
Published over 20 years ago, the queerness of this book has become more and more obvious to me recently. It was always there. But healing takes time.
First voice/own voice is an essential turn toward equity. Just like Indigenous and Children of Color, LGBTQIA2S+ kids should have access to stories by and about authors and artists just like them and not have to read between the lines. This open reflection, relevance and empathy contribute to a sense of well being, value and belonging in the world, making it doubly essential for queer/trans/intersex kids from those same communities. The ongoing stigma that separates and silences our community in relation to kids and family is changing, but MUCH more change is necessary.
Has that time come? Now that we’re included in the count?
The final post in my blog series was done in two sections, if you missed the first part on THE BINARY & THE HOLISTIC SELF, find that here. And, if you missed any of the last four weeks on NATURE, MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS, INDIGENOUS HISTORY, & EARLY US HISTORY check those posts out here.
WELCOME TO the second part for this WEEK – THE HOLISTIC SELF & THE GENDER WHEEL!
As we close this gender series with the second section of PART FIVE, we open our eyes to a whole new way. Firmly embedded in the truth that queer/trans/intersex people and experience are everywhere throughout nature, we move into new, truthfull ways of perceiving ourselves and the world around us. Using holistic thinking to keep the truth alive, we turn now toward the holistic self and gender, and ultimately land on The Gender Wheel.
With The Gender Wheel as a resource to navigate the world, more truth and ways to include every body open up! A tool to find yourself and understand our community in holistic ways.
As parents, educators and activists we have the power to expand beyond the gender binary, learn about and use more gender neutral pronouns and create lasting change. Now is the time for a whole, true world for us and our kids!
Step into the circle, where we ALL belong!
In the first section we explored the holistic self including exercises to call in more of your own holistic self. Now we continue on.
Here is a reminder of what the holistic self includes, as well as an image of those elements in concentric circles. Both images are the holistic self.
The HOLISTIC SELF includes: BODY, SPIRIT, MIND, HEART and the UNKNOWN.
a holistic perspective of gender can be seen by including the truth of the WHOLE SELF.
BODY: the body you have – intersex, trans, cis and more
SPIRIT: that inside sense of who you are of which gender is a part
MIND: how you interpret your sense of self to the world, pronouns are a way to communicate who you are within the current culture or reality
HEART: your self in relationship, including partner, family, friends and community
UNKNOWN: all that is yet to be discovered about yourself
By truthfully including all of the kinds of bodies present, you can take a significant step away from the false binary. In the most basic sense there are at least 3 kinds of bodies: Intersex, Transgender and Cisgender. In order to create familiar landmarks, and because they are still so widely used, I add the markers of boy and girl to these three. This expands people to a minimum of 6 kinds of body: intersex girl/boy, transgender girl/boy, cisgender girl/boy. Within these 6 body types, there are countless variations, some of which reach far beyond these limited words. Body variation is a fact in all species. It’s prevalence in relation to sexual organs, inside and outside, marks it as an important and necessary trait of biodiversity within a species.
Truth clears the path of false debris. There were never only two kinds of bodies.
Spirit: Life Force, Personality, including Gender.
In the last 120 years there have been numerous attempts at trying to locate, define, explain gender. But a full understanding of gender remains elusive in Western culture. Considering the binary and the systems of oppression, is there room for gender to be fully understood in this context? Or is that the point? Erasure.
Here are two points of reference. One is from 154 years ago, another from 29 years ago, both are moments of naming self in relation to queer/trans identity in relation to Western culture.
“Male Body with a Female Spirit”
The first person within Western culture to publicly define and defend what would later be called homosexuality was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.
“Already in 1864 and 1865 Ulrichs had published a series of five booklets presenting a new scientific theory of homosexuality, the so-called third sex theory, which, by asserting that the condition is inborn and natural, formed a basis for his demand that the contemporary antihomosexual laws be abolished.” “The essential point in his theory of homosexuality is the doctrine that the male homosexual has a female psyche…” Psyche is defined as human soul, mind or spirit.
“… to the point of his theory, he recalled that as a child of three and four years he wore girls’ clothes and found it painful when he first had to put on boys’ clothes. He protested, “No, I want to be a girl.”
Note: This was the same time that Darwin began publishing his theories about nature in 1859 through 1881.
“Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders” Indigenous North America
“At the point of contact, all Native American societies acknowledged three to five gender roles: Female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgendered. LGBT Native Americans wanting to be identified within their respective tribes and not grouped with other races officially adopted the term “Two Spirit” from the Ojibwe language in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1989. Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand.”
The term Two Spirit cannot be directly translated into LGBTQI definitions. As Will Roscoe notes, it includes specialized roles, gender variation, spiritual sanction as well as same-sex love. It is rooted in tribal tradition and is unavailable to people without tribal affiliations.
How do we understand gender? Instead ask, how do we understand the full breadth of nature and its mystery?
Despite the fact that these are two very different times and experiences, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in Germany and the Two Spirit people of North America, both used spirit and included more than 2 genders to express who they are.
Some people in Western culture ask if gender is necessary and can it be eliminated? But what we call gender is part of nature. Elimination rings of erasure. Nature is a vast dance that holds grand diversity, meaning and mystery beyond human comprehension.
How do we understand gender? Instead ask, how do we understand the full breadth of nature and its mystery?
Nature holds the energy that infuses matter with life. It is the power of growth and healing. It bursts forth and rises up and never ends. It is the mystery of death, birth and eternity, even infinity. Poetry, song and art have been the traditional tools to express the power of nature for time immemorial. It holds the mystery of love, attraction, family, community.
Only so much can be contained, dissected, examined before even nature flattens out and perishes under Western culture’s restrictive systems and binary gaze. Nature cannot ultimately be controlled, much like love. It is larger than us. We are a part of its great and powerful dance and what we call gender is integral.
What I know from my own experience is that gender is how spirit moves through matter, much like the life force or how a person’s unique personality animates their form. Gender enlivens the body, the same way spirit brings the body to life. It is as unique as someone’s personality, it is the dance of nature, it is mystery and love. Gender is not isolated. It is an expression that permeates every aspect of self, BODY, MIND, SPIRIT, HEART. Gender is self as spirit alive and part of the natural world. It moves through the whole self animating, dancing, reaching out to connect.
Mind: Pronouns – They, She, He, Me, We, Ze, Free.
Within the context of patriarchal oppression it is challenging to think or speak of gender without flattening it out, stripping the spirit, the mystery and profundity of the deeper value. Ideas of gender expand and deepen when seen within the context of the whole self. The real truth of gender is meant to begin within, where you can just BE, without the need to define and box yourself in. Alone, in your own mind, gender can be pronoun-free and perfectly nonbinary as “I, me, myself.”
Pronouns then become the way of extending your gender out into the world, beyond yourself. Again, the power is yours, sourced within your own knowing, your own BEing. Your knowing includes yourself and the world you’re navigating because pronouns can be used to bring your true self into greater focus, or maintain fluidity. They can also be used to maintain safety and privacy.
Love is one of the foundations of life. It is vital. And in most ways, it is a mystery much like gender, best navigated by poetry, song and art. Expressions of mystery, emotion and depth.
Love is necessary and valuable. Can you explain why you love who you love? More importantly, why should you have to? Who can separate their heart, their love from their true self? In fact, who we love often makes sense out of who we are and vice versa.
Here again, LGBTQI2S+ people are so prevalent in nature, that our numbers signify we are not random aberrations, but instead our presence serves an important and necessary purpose within our species.
Unknown: room to expand and grow into our larger SELF.
It is nearly impossible to know what we don’t know or have forgotten, but leaving room to grow is a way to invite those parts of our self back into awareness.
But in order to fully understand queer/trans/intersex experience and presence, it is necessary to step outside of Western culture to explore systems and perspectives that center nature, indigenous thought, our whole selves, and our whole lives.
The separations that have developed between identities and experience of LGBTQIA+ people in Western culture over the last 120 years have been useful in acknowledging difference, unique contribution and the vast diversity in our community.
But in order to fully understand queer/trans/intersex experience and presence, it is necessary to step outside of Western culture to explore systems and perspectives that center nature, indigenous thought, our whole selves, and our whole lives. Doing this often shows more connections and interweaving between us as queer/trans/intersex people than Western culture has room for. More often than not, it is in having this larger perspective including knowing the past that we can more fully know ourselves in the present.
Look again at this image to see gender in relation to the Holistic Self.
Ironically, although I knew it was there, I only recently drew the singular Self in relation to gender. I did it in response to a parent activist I met whose work I wanted to support with an image. It wasn’t until I did this that I understood that my notions of gender have always been in relation to my whole community, every body together, connected, similar to a communal system. Perhaps because I am a queer femme or because I am Xicanx that I’ve always focused on the dance. It was through the dance of gender between people that I better understood my own gender and those fabulous queer/trans/intersex people in my community with whom I wanted to dance.
In my world, gender is rooted in love, community, connection, relationship. It is when we see ourselves together that we understand ourselves and each other more.
THE GENDER WHEEL
These four aspects of the self, BODY, GENDER, RELATIONSHIP and PRONOUN aren’t necessarily fixed. For many they are fluid, either all the time or for periods of time. In order to accommodate the holistic self and the infinite possible bodies, hearts, minds and spirits in combination and potentially in motion, I needed a symbol that was natural, dynamic, infinite and inclusive to portray gender in truth.
One organically rose from my heart.
I began developing The Gender Wheel and published its original incarnation in 2010 in The Gender Now Coloring Book, one of the first books to address transgender and intersex topics with kids. It conveyed how I saw the world around me and was rooted in my personal experience as a queer, femme, Xicanx artist/activist/parent having healed from the effects of profound homophobia in my family of origin. I initially created it for my then 5 year old child, Zai to share about the people in our community. I was committed to passing on a queer/trans/intersex-centric perspective in my family rooted in mamiearth.
The Gender Wheel rose from:
Cultural significance – infinity, eternity, calendars – Mayan and Aztec
Nature – shapes and patterns of growth, my Mexican American father conveyed a deep love of nature and respect for the cycles of life and death
Circles/Concentric/Movement/inclusive, nonlinear – holds infinite positions around its circumference and moves forward and backward
The Gender Wheel includes 4 concentric circles:
The first 3 circles are the SELF: Body, Inside or Gender, Pronouns
and the 4th circle is the SELF in Relationship
In the beginning, The Wheel had 3 circles and primarily focused on Body and Inside or Gender. When first published in The Gender Now Coloring/Activity Books, my intention was to exponentially expand ideas about bodies and gender and begin blowing the binary apart. For reference and confirmation, The Wheel is then seen in context with nature, global cultures and history to see how it rolls and understand its reach.
The center circle meant to designate self later became the Pronoun Circle.
The 4th circle, Relationship, is COMING OUT this year along with The Rainbow Alphabet, a book for young ones about LGBTQIA2S+.
All circles hold infinite potential. Familiar markers are placed around each circle to show connection and flow, but words are in constant flux and the truth is WE NEED A LOT MORE WORDS to truthfully express who we are. Because the binary is so deeply embedded and because I’m focused on kids, I use the dominant boy and girl in our culture and try to play, rearrange, reconnect, expand and steadily dismantle them to support new ways of thinking about old patterns. Beyond 2 boxes or a spectrum with two ends, The Wheel is a place to find yourself, see your community and know you belong in the circle.
Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed any of the last four weeks on NATURE, MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS, INDIGENOUS HISTORY, & EARLY US HISTORY check those posts out here.
This final week will be done in two sections allowing a pause in the middle to call in your full holistic self.
WELCOME TO the first part for this WEEK – THE BINARY & THE HOLISTIC SELF!
In the first section of PART FIVE of the gender series we open our eyes to the bigger reasons why. Why is the truth of queer/trans/intersex people and experience suppressed in so many areas? Nature? Across global cultures? Indigenous North America? Early US history, and so much more? Digging deep to understand the core development of Western culture helps us see how all of these areas are connected.
We begin by reviewing the cultural shift from matrifocal to patrilineal and how this has profoundly affected our current culture and created a false binary. We then look at how calling in our full holistic selves is a powerful antidote to the binary and the patriarchy and its effects. All this prepares us for the second section where we begin shifting our current perspectives to create a new, true world that includes queer/trans/intersex fabulousness, embrace holistic perspectives of gender and learn about The Gender Wheel.
WHY A WORLD OF FALSEHOODS?
As we review the last 4 posts from this series, a new world begins to form in our imaginations: a queer/trans/intersex INCLUSIVE world reflected in nature, global cultures, indigenous America, even early US history. This includes 3, 4 and more genders with multiple sexual identities and family formations. Perspectives that are fluid and inclusive to accommodate the breadth of nature have always existed, throughout the world, including North America. Perspectives like these are often associated with matrilineal or matrifocal, communal or nature/land based communities, common among many indigenous cultures. These communities once existed across the entire world. They certainly existed in large parts of Europe and the Americas pre-colonization.
In fact, today the patriarchy can seem so firmly embedded in reality that it appears as TRUTH, as if it is THE WAY THINGS ARE, even if it means that upon closer examination, there is a universal lie going on.
All this changed with the introduction of patrilineal and patriarchal systems. The shift toward patriarchy began a very long time ago and evolved as it spread over time. Although some matrifocal societies still exist today, the patriarchy of Western culture continues to dominate experience and thinking throughout the majority of the world and public sphere. In fact, today the patriarchy can seem so firmly embedded in reality that it appears as TRUTH, as if it is THE WAY THINGS ARE, even if it means that upon closer examination, there is a universal lie going on.
Why would a shift away from a matrilineal, communal, nature/land based perspective entail such a drastic measure as to recreate reality into a false one? One that denies the reality of what is and always has been?
Power and economics.
It took a very long time for the patriarchy to develop and there were numerous contributing factors along the way, but many significant philosophers and researchers believe it was rooted in war, violence, conquest and the domination of land and women as property. Like queer scholarship, study focusing on women in more and more truthfull ways is growing exponentially and providing greater understanding to our current culture. Here is a significant example of the shifting landscape long ago.
“As class divisions deepened in ancient Roman society, the sexes were assigned an increasingly unequal status. Once property-owning males ascended to a superior social position, those categories could not be bridged or blurred without threatening those who owned and controlled the new wealth. Ownership of property and its inheritance, paternity, legitimacy, and titles became vital legal questions for the new ruling elite. The heterosexual family, headed by the father, became a state dictate because it was the economic vehicle that ensured wealth would be passed on to sons.
Everyone who was not born a male heir to property bore the wrath of the new social system. Just as the status of women was degraded, so was everything that was ‘not male’—transgender, gender-bending, sex-change, and intersexuality. A woman could not become a man, any more than a slave could become a ruling patrician. Males who were viewed as ‘womanly’ were an affront to the men in power.”
This system evolved and firmed itself over centuries as it spread far and wide.
“The very fact that… rulers were still trying to ban any form of trans expression demonstrates deep beliefs still persisted from communalism. But the repressive laws aimed at further oppressing trans people, gay and lesbian love, and women formed part of the Corpus juris civilis—Roman body of law that was later used as the foundation for religious and secular law in Europe, England, and the United States.”
Indigenous European culture was decimated by the Romans and later by their law. Eventually, colonized Europeans went on to spread patriarchy across the globe through colonizing other indigenous communities. In order to maintain power and control, they used the same systems that had been effective in controlling them by manipulating ideas about women, nature, gender, sexuality and indigeneity.
Looking at the indigenous Americas and the European colonizers’ actions within this context makes it clear why our community was specifically targeted. It is documented that queer/trans/intersex people often held positions of more power on multiple levels in their communities, had greater resources, be it economic, spiritual, social, healing, etc… Third and fourth gender people, or what is currently called Two Spirit by indigenous, Native American people were consulted and valued. They greatly impacted their communities. Targeting queer/trans/intersex people is integral to patriarchy, to Western culture and to colonizing.
With many centuries in the making, combined with system upon system created to firm and confirm Westernization across the globe, it can be challenging to step away from Western thinking and its patriarchal perspectives. That’s why uncovering and calling OUT the truth is so important. It has a way of clearing the path of false debris and clearing the mind and heart to feel more free.
Remember the queer/trans/intersex truth about nature—documented in over 1500+ animals so far
and global, multicultural awareness—to varying degrees, legal third gender already in Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States-Oregon, California, DC
and indigenous history in North America—2 Spirits documented in over 150 tribes in United States
and early US history—countless records of queer/trans/intersex ancestors including the possible queering of 3 US presidents.
This larger, more complete perspective of reality brings into view the truth. Queer/trans/intersex people and experience are everywhere, all the time because we are a part of nature. It is toward this direction that we now turn.
Through the series we’ve looked at the world from:
We are already beginning to create a holistic perspective of gender.
Each area of learning nested within the last. It goes without saying that each area is a brief introduction meant to hint at larger realities that warrant further study. This establishes a pattern of learning and awareness that is expansive and connected. Learning like this and drawing our awareness to it are ways that we can begin understanding how Western thinking has affected us and how we can gain perspective on it.
The patriarchy is by its very nature and necessity, predicated on division and not just any kind of division, but binary division in particular.
“Binary opposition is the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. It is the contrast between two mutually exclusive terms, such as on and off, up and down, left and right. Binary opposition is an important concept of structuralism, which sees such distinctions as fundamental to all language and thought. In structuralism, a binary opposition is seen as a fundamental organizer of human philosophy, culture, and language.”
“Typically, one of the two opposites assumes a role of dominance over the other. The categorization of binary oppositions is “often value-laden and ethnocentric”, with an illusory order and superficial meaning. Furthermore, Pieter Fourie discovered that binary oppositions have a deeper or second level of binaries that help to reinforce meaning. As an example, the concepts hero and villain involve secondary binaries: good/bad, handsome/ugly, liked/disliked, and so on.”
we can see a pattern of power-over and can imagine the imperative for binary thinking to develop and become firmed. Eventually this extends into every area of experience, through its relation to gender and sexuality, as well as race and ethnicity. This is the foundation of Western thinking. Individualistic. Patrilineal. Eurocentric. Dominating. And it’s deep.
Being able to see through Western culture and fully see through patriarchy must by necessity happen in steps. It is an evolving process or maybe an un-processing, as we become raw and natural again, healed from the effects of a system designed specifically to oppress queer/trans/intersex people, nature, indigenous people and women. It may be for sanity’s sake that it comes in steps. As one belief falls, it makes room for another to fall and another. Once the large lies are exposed, all the small lies unravel leaving everything exposed for what it is.
It’s not about one huge change, but a series of steps, a daily practice even, because what we need to change is quite literally how we think, because now, the patriarchy lives within.
Once the larger truths are told, all the small ones fall into place and reorganize. Everything. Truth this extensive and far reaching instigates a progressive and profound shift, but how do we begin and where?
Every step counts in a dance like this. It’s not about one huge change, but a series of steps, a daily practice even, because what we need to change is quite literally how we think, because now, the patriarchy lives within.
What helps with something like this? What makes sense out of madness? One of the most powerful antidotes to Western culture and the patriarchy and the impact it’s had on our thinking is a holistic perspective. This begins to change everything. Fundamentally. While giving you something to hold onto. Truth. Nature. Your whole self.
TOWARD A HOLISTIC PERSPECTIVE OF THE SELF
How do you come to know your whole self when judgment, conformity and performance are culturally embedded and valued? How do you find truth about yourself when rational, empirical, logical thinking are your primary options for thought within a Western frame of reference? How can you understand your own unique dance when linear, rigid, externally approved formation is generally required for physical survival?
We live in a box within a box within a box.
what can you hold onto as you learn your way through Western thinking back to your fully fabulous queer/trans/intersex self?
I’ve learned that honing a holistic perspective means beginning as large as possible, with the intent of full inclusion. And then slowly and thoughtfully, you create the path inward, imagining as whole of a perspective at each step as possible.
To this end, I teach what I’ve learned about myself.
The HOLISTIC SELF includes: BODY, SPIRIT, MIND, HEART and the UNKNOWN.
CALLING IN the WHOLE self helps make sense out of our experiences. Many of us have had to separate or silence parts of our true self because of Western, patriarchal thought and society. In fact, a split between body and spirit, body and mind, even body and heart are as imperative as a split between humans and nature, males and females, queer/trans/intersex people and cis, straight people.
To become more aware of what the whole self is consider the following questions and perspectives. The more whole, the more present and embodied queer/trans/intersex people are in the world, the more true our world will be.
How to make it real? You can gauge the personal impact our Western culture has had on you by asking how free do you feel to be your true self? In your heart of hearts, are there places that you suppress and silence yourself to feel/be safe and supported in the world? Never judge. Just see. And feel.
Body: the physical body.
How comfortable are you with your body in public? In private? Is your comfort level related to safety? In what way?
Do you judge your body and by what standards? Do you judge other people’s bodies?
Have you experienced trauma? Health issues? How has it impacted your body?
When do you feel your most strong? Your most gorgeous? Your most free and like yourself?
Spirit: the power and mystery of nature that animates the physical body, perpetuates and connects all life on Earth. Spirit brings the body alive!
Power. Have you ever been struck by the beauty or sheer force of nature? When was the last time you were in a powerful storm and felt the winds whip your hair? Or been to the river to feel the eternal flow on your feet? Or the sea to see infinity? Or simply witnessed a child grow?
Mystery. Everyone has moments that transcend daily experience but are a normal part of human experience: birth, death, heightened creative expression, dreams, intuitions, visits from loved ones who have crossed over, near death experiences and more. What experiences have humbled you and left you speechless?
This power and mystery resides within us and makes us who we are.
Mind: the thinking, believing, communicating aspect of the self. The mind interprets reality and interacts with the world.
Western culture prefers and perpetuates a kind of thinking called binary opposition and it starts as soon as we’re born. This affects how we think, what we believe and even how we talk. It is inherently stressful because it doesn’t reflect real life or support figuring things out. It’s polarizing. On purpose.
How often do you see things as black and white? Right or wrong? Good or bad?
Do you have time to fully understand your self, your life, what’s going on in the world, etc…? Or do you need quick reads, easy answers and step by step directions because you’re already dealing with so much in your life?
Does your thinking affect how you feel? Or does how you feel affect your thinking?
Heart: the feeling, loving, connecting aspect of the self. The pull between parent and child; between partners, extended family- chosen or natal; the feeling for friends and coworkers, pets, mamiearth and all of humanity.
Can you express love freely in your life? Hold hands, kiss, embrace romantically in public, in front of family? Do you have to explain your love or attractions to anyone in your life? Or to any institutions in your life? Especially ones connected to your child or family? Church? University? Work? School?
What about other feelings? Do you feel free to have anger, sorrow, fear, or joy flow through your body and heart? What feelings do you have the majority of the time? What feelings set the overall tone of your life?
Unknown: the part of the self that we do not currently know or understand, but may sense and experience in different ways.
It is nearly impossible to fully determine what parts of the self have been suppressed that flourished pre-patriarchy. Some past and current accounts suggest that dreams, intuition, precognition, astral dream travel, energetic healing, and more, were/are practiced and used as personal and community support systems.
What mystery lies within you? What powers? Are you intuitive? Creative? Do your dreams teach you? Have you ever had a turn in your health and healed unexpectedly? Have your prayers ever been answered? How could your great unknown support you even now?
There are disconnects between all of these aspects of self in Western culture. Research in multiple disciplines show the importance of reestablishing these connections, for example body/mind medicine, social/emotional learning in schools and more. Expanding and calling in the whole self makes a huge difference in our ability to heal ourselves inside and out and negotiate the world. It locates agency and authority about who we are within ourselves, but there’s more.
The self, however whole, does not exist in isolation. The self is not WHOLE until seen in CONTEXT.
Context includes: FAMILY, COMMUNITY, SOCIETY, HISTORY, ANCESTRY and the UNKNOWN.
Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed any of the last three weeks on NATURE, MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS, & INDIGENOUS HISTORY, check those posts out here.
WELCOME TO U.S. HISTORY WEEK!
In PART FOUR of the gender series we open our eyes to the history of the United States. While often invisible, suppressed, even illegal for being who we are, trans/queer/intersex people have been pushing American society forward and influencing it in surprising and often profound ways. This is a look back to the early days and development of our country.
This part focuses on early American history until the close of the 1800s. The contemporary queer/trans/intersex movement through the 1900s and up until our current time will be a separate section added later.
A PURITANICAL NEW WORLD BEGINS
What we call the United States of America began in the 1620s when separatist Puritans left England and began to colonize what they perceived to be ‘available land.’
Of those original settlers,
“…Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage.”
In a fairly unusual act, when put on trial for his behaviors he was not executed, but instead sent back to England. The standard homo/transphobia embedded in Puritanical/patriarchal thought were at play but there was more to his expulsion than that.
“It was Morton’s social egalitarianism, his openness to treating the Algonquians as relative equals, and his theological liberality that set him decisively apart from the Puritans.” – from A Queer History of the United States
British historian, R.I. Moore on England’s society, “argues that a series of fundamental social changes—including the rapid growth of town and cities, broad changes in agricultural distribution networks, and a radical shift in how hierarchical power was distributed—created this new set of social classifications. Its purpose was to create clear social and cultural boundaries that would stabilize society by safely containing groups designated as dangerous pollutants. This fear of pollution was less about sex or death than about power and social standing.”
What Moore names the persecuting society seems to be at the heart of what Thomas Morton wrote about his experience with the Puritan community,
“Pollution fear…is the fear that the privileged feel of those at whose expense their privilege is enjoyed.”
“Despite the progressive inclination of some colonies, the persecuting society persisted. Colonists continued their sexualized treatment of native people, sodomy laws proliferated, and the legal, economic, and cultural institution of slavery was introduced into the colonies. It is impossible to understand American history—including the position of LGBT people—without acknowledging the overwhelming, debilitating effect that slavery has had on this country. From the mid-seventeenth century, organized, profit-driven slavery influenced all aspects of American life. Slavery struck at the heart of the ideals of individualism, personal liberty, and equality that were present, in sophisticated and rudimentary forms, at the birth of the colonies. Slavery was integral to how the colonies, and later the Republic, continued to reconceptualize individual freedom, race, property, and the rights and responsibilities of the individual.” – from A Queer History of the United States
And still queer/trans/intersex people persisted.
Homo/transphobia, intolerance for actions that lead to inclusion or equity, racism, severe social control of sexuality, presentation and personal expression, these are the hallmarks of the separatist Puritans that colonized the people and land of the future US. And still queer/trans/intersex people persisted.
Frontis portrait of Frederick Douglass from his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom
“To shed light on same-sex experiences of American slaves, author Charles Clifton suggests re-reading narratives written by former slaves. For instance, in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, former slave Equiano discloses that, on his passage from Africa, a white co-voyager named Queen ‘messed with me on board’ and ‘became very attached to me, [saying that] he and I never should part.’ Equiano ‘grew very fond of’ another white companion. On many nights they laid ‘in each other’s bosoms.’
About his fellow slaves, Frederick Douglass writes in My Bondage and My Freedom, ‘No band of brothers could have been more loving.’ He leaves un-detailed his ‘long and intimate, though by no means friendly, relation’ with a former slave master. And he alludes to the ‘out-of-the-way places . . . where slavery . . . can, and does, develop all its malign and shocking characteristics . . . without apprehension or fear of exposure.’”
“In the European mind, the non-gender-normative and non-sexually-normative body—however defined in each period and circumstance—was the dangerous body, the less-than-human body, even the disposable body. This wedding of draconian moral judgment to the need to separate and punish led to violence, particularly sexual violence, that was to shape attitudes in future centuries…In this view, the founding of modern society was predicated on the creation of minority groups whose only purpose was to be vilified as unclean and prosecuted for the illusion of a comprehensive sense of societal safety.”
Documentation clearly shows that we have always existed, even amongst the Puritans, and invisibility is relative to the time. Who is able to see us and how they frame us, dictates our ability to be seen by the larger society and how. Many queer/trans/intersex people and experiences were known in their lifetime, but attempts are often made to wash off any hint of queerness through the documentation process or the passage of time. There were also many queer/trans/intersex people who found it necessary to remain hidden and/or underground during their day for reasons of safety, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t known by at least some or someone.
America’s history is layered and to hone a queer eye it must be looked at from multiple angles to understand.
To better understand our history we must also bring in the shifting perspectives regarding gender and sexuality. Lines that separate transgender from homosexual experience were not as firmly defined in the past as they seem to be today. Some, especially privileged, effeminate men and masculine women could adhere to enough overall social standards of gender stereotypes to remain public. Often accused of being the ‘opposite sex,’ they still moved through society semi-openly. Lines of affection were also drawn differently in some periods, specifically the concept of romantic friendship in the 1800s, which often held in it queer/trans/intersex experience.
Judgment against queer/trans/intersex people often compels people to snap history back to a more controlled version where we magically disappear.
In painstakingly sifting for reference in old documents while understanding the nuance of the era and the current vernacular, a faint vision of a queer past comes into view. Legal documents, public records, news, journals, diaries, travel documents, etc… All this can validate our presence to some degree. But what can seem like cold, clear facts to us can easily be twisted and distorted to erase our presence. Judgment against queer/trans/intersex people often compels people to snap history back to a more controlled version where we magically disappear.
aka Publick Universal Friend, queer American preacher, woke from a near-death experience in 1776 with the sense of being neither male nor female.
Occasionally a treasure is found when a person from the past wrote down and expressed their experience clearly. The vast majority of queer/trans/intersex Americans traditionally led their ‘real’ lives outside of the publicly documented sphere. Just like today, life was made up of friends and lovers, home gatherings and holidays, work and play. Finding love songs between cowboys far from society’s eyes, or private letters between women never meant to be seen by anyone else, these are the documents that sing our song throughout time, but they are the hardest to find. Photographs that hold ‘the look’ or even boldly show affection are even better, but even more rare.
“Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a queer American preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 with the sense of being neither male nor female. Adopting the name “Publick Universal Friend,” the preacher fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community.” “Wilkinson is recognized as the first American-born woman to found a religious group, but is also called a “transgender evangelist.” The breakaway Quaker preacher spoke against slavery and gave medical care to both sides in the Revolutionary War.”
1800s ROMANTIC FRIENDSHIP AND THE ARTS
Statue of Deborah Sampson at the Sharon Massachusetts Public Library.
Becoming aware of the expression of same-sex attraction and/or gender expansion beyond societal expectations in dominant literature is one of the most important ways that we can track our presence through the history of the US.
Queering our eye as we look back, we can sift through the voices that are undeniably queer. These are not just a few names, but many of the most influential names of the 1800s literati. Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Stein, and more. Besides this queering of lit, women having male experiences in real life and popular literature held the public entranced and was in high demand during this time.
“Deborah Sampson is best known for disguising herself as a man to serve in the Continental Army from May 1782 to October 1783. She was also one of the first women to receive a pension for her military service and the first woman to go on a national lecture tour of the United States.”
“This is the first complete modern edition of The Female Marine, a fictional cross-dressing trilogy originally published between 1815 and 1818. Enormously popular among New England readers, the tale in various versions appeared in no fewer than nineteen editions over that brief four-year span.”
WARS AND ECONOMIC BOOMS CHANGE EVERYTHING
Huge shifts in society, specifically wars and economic booms, create huge shifts in social structures, especially for marginalized communities. In a patriarchy like the US, this proved especially true for women, POC and queer/trans/intersex people.
The Civil War, expansion into the West, the Gold Rush all created possibilities for people to have different experiences, including passing as the other sex. While some frame it as a complicated, humorous, even unpleasant experience necessary for women to have access to greater freedom, a queer eye sees access to greater freedom of queer/trans/intersex expression.
This is one of the areas where erasure is easy and at times confusing to decipher especially when you read definitives like this from Wikipedia, “Women used cross-dressing to pass as men in order to live adventurous lives outside of the home, which were unlikely to occur while living as women. Women who engaged in cross-dressing in earlier centuries were lower class women who would gain access to economic independence as well as freedom to travel risking little of what they had. Cross-dressing that consisted of women dressing as men had more positive attitudes than vice versa; Altenburger states that female to male cross-dressing depicted a movement forward in terms of social status, power, and freedom. Men who cross-dressed were looked down upon because they automatically lost status when dressed as a woman. It was also said that men would cross-dress to gain access around women for their own sexual desire.”
We can’t know how some people would identify if magically transported to our current time and given the options of LGBTQIA2S+. A personal measure I used to use, but no longer, is whether someone retains their trans identity beyond the time that seems necessary for an experience. We cannot know from this time and perspective what circumstances people were living under that may have influenced their identity and presentation.
Here’s Albert Cashier. They began dressing male as a young person and continued as long as they had the power to do so.
Albert Cashier - YouTube
“Reactions to Cashier himself were actually fairly positive. For the majority of his life, no one actually knew of his secret and those that found out were very supportive. When Cashier was under investigation for committing fraud, “His comrades from the 95th Illinois rallied and testified that this was not Jenny Hodgers but Albert Cashier, a small but brave soldier”. They also defended him when he was forced to wear a dress at the very end of his life. The senator who ran into him with his car agreed to keep his identity a secret, as did the physician. Interestingly, one soldier claimed that when they were in the army, they called Cashier “half and half.” At this point the meaning they intended is lost, but it certainly suggests that they knew something was different about him.”
“Returning back to civilian life, he chose to remain living as ‘Albert Cashier’ and performed civilian jobs such as street lamplighter and farmhand. While performing a job for Illinois State Senator Ira Lish, Cashier was hit by a car driven by the Senator. His leg was broken. The doctor who examined Cashier’s leg then discovered his secret, but “moved by Albert’s pleas, the doctor agreed to maintain his confidence”. At this point, it was decided that Cashier should move to the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers and Sailors Home. In 1913, due to dementia, Cashier was moved to a state hospital for the insane. It was there that his sex was again discovered and he was forced to wear a dress. This was ultimately what led to his demise as he, wanting to remain comfortable, pinned his skirt in order to attempt to make pants, that he was accustomed to wearing. He tripped and fell, breaking his hip, which led to an infection that ultimately took his life. Albert Cashier passed away on October 10, 1915, and was buried in his full military uniform.”
Once in winter, when the rain was coming down in sheets, as it had been for three days past, and the coach was laboring along through mud almost to hubs, Parkhurst was hailed by a stray wayfarer and told that the bridge across the Tuolumne river was in a shaky condition, and that it would not be wise to risk driving over it. Parkhurst answered never a word, but gathering up the lines with one hand, he cut the swings and wheelers across the haunches with the other, and pushed on. Soon the swollen stream came in sight. It was swashing and roaring like a mill-race. The bridge was next seen, and Parkhurst, clearing the rain from his eyes, perceived that in a very short time there would no longer be any bridge, for it was already shaking on its foundation. The solitary passenger begged of Parkhurst not to venture on the creaking structure, but Charley, setting his teeth together, and gathering the reins in a firm grip, sent the long whip-lash curling about the leaders ears and eyes, with so vicious a swing that giving a wild leap, they plunged forward on to the bridge. The planks trembled under the horses’ hoofs and rocked beneath the wheels. But with a final effort, a cheering cry from Parkhurst and a flying lash, the opposite shore was gained in safety; gained only just in time, though, for looking back at the turn of the road the further end of the bridge was seen to sway in the stream.
This account from The Wisconsin State Register gives a clear example of the reputation Charley carried. But, even more than being fearless of the journey’s difficulties, Charley is also attributed to being fearless of road-agents (bandits).
One danger for stage coach drivers was the possibility of robbery or murder. Similar to pirates taking over cargo ships, there were always road-agents willing to shoot and kill for money or loot the coach carried. After being robbed once in California, Charley is said to have invited a second attempt. It eventually came on a trip between Stockton and Mariposa where he shot an infamous road-agent named nicknamed Sugar Foot after he attempted to loot Charley’s coach at gunpoint. Due to incidents like this he gained a reputation of being a reliable carriage driver. He would even take on double duty; this meant not only would Charley drive the carriage but also keep his eye on the “treasure box” (the valuable material of the coach) night and day and receiving double the compensation. His roughness was further expressed by his nickname, “One Eyed Charley”, which came later, due to being kicked in the face by a horse and losing vision in the left eye. His career in stage-driving lasted twelve years ending around 1864. This is a highly laborious and skilled job for anyone to take on for twelve years.
HERE ARE MORE LGBTQI2A+ PIONEERS FROM EARLY US HISTORY:
Mary Walker, “commonly referred to as Dr. Mary Walker, was an American abolitionist, prohibitionist, prisoner of war and Civil War surgeon. She was the first and only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.”
Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed last week’s post on MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS, check that out here and the previous week’s post on NATURE can be found here.
WELCOME TO INDIGENOUS HISTORY WEEK!
In PART THREE of the gender series we open our eyes to our ancestors in North America, the lives they lived and the echoes of that time that still sing through to this day. Beginning again with Leslie Feinberg and their book Transgender Warriors, we position ourselves here, on the land we live on and the people who’ve lived in North America for thousands of years.
There is an undeniable strength and power that queer/trans/intersex people hold. Opening up to multicultural awareness about gender showed that the history and presence of our community is global and stretches through the expanse of time with great variation. As we look at queer/trans/intersex history here in North America we find a similar story.
We see courage, persistence and endurance. Frequently in matrilineal/matrifocal communities, we can see an inability to deny the power of nature within the self, and instead a commitment to give it expression, fluidity and freedom. Like many global cultures that acknowledge 3rd and 4th genders, multiple gender expression permeates a vast number of indigenous cultures in ancient North America.
3rd and 4th genders provide a more nature-based embodiment within a culture that supports and celebrates roles for queer/trans/intersex people. These are the kinds of roles that create connections and bridges, synthesize information and experience, and maintain expansion for their communities. Valuable roles that serve their people and time, but can also serve as a lifeline to another person at another time.
The National Museum of the American Indian when it was located in the Bronx. You can now visit the museum here.
In this short video, Feinberg speaks about the moment they first found 3rd/4th gender representation. The truth in our ancestors was so clear and undeniable, it could reach through time and open Feinberg’s eyes to their own self. It was at The National Museum of the American Indian.
Outlaw - Leslie Feinberg on Discovering Transgender History - YouTube
Although numerous tribes never forgot and remember to this day the presence of 3rd and 4th genders from their traditions, most knowledge about gender went underground during the time of aggressive colonization and rightly so. But when knowledge goes underground for safety and survival reasons, it is easily lost or temporarily misplaced. The fact that this knowledge was not lost and in fact could not be denied and is rising with greater strength even now, is a testament to the enduring power of queer/trans/intersex people and the positions they played in North America’s historical past.
In contemporary times, it can be challenging to step outside of the Western framework and into a more indigenous one. Western messages have become deeply embedded, even internalized, until it seems they are reality itself. And sadly much of the documentation that reflects pre-colonized perspectives are filtered through heavily biased individuals and systems. However, by putting them in context and looking with a queer eye, we can gain a valuable window back in time that can help re-frame and potentially heal the present.
From Transgender Warriors, “ ‘Strange country this,’ a white man wrote in 1850 about the Crow nation of North American, ‘where males assume the dress and perform the duties of females, while women turn men and mate with their own sex!’
I found hundreds and hundreds of similar references, such as those in Jonathan Ned Katz’s ground breaking Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA, published in 1976, which provided me with valuable research. The quotes were anything but objective. Some were statements by murderously hostile colonial generals, others by the anthropologists and missionaries who followed in their bloody wake.
Some only referred to what today might be called male-to-female expression. ‘In nearly every part of the continent,’ Westermarck concluded in 1917, ‘there seems to have been, since ancient times, men dressing themselves in the clothes and performing the functions of women…’
But I also found many references to female-to-male expression. Writing about his expedition into northeastern Brazil in 1576, Pedro de Magalhaes noted females among the Tupinamba who lived as men and were accepted by other men, and who hunted and went to war. His team of explorers, recalling the Greek Amazons, renamed the river that flowed through that area the River of the Amazons.”
Feinberg’s book fascinated me because of its range. It is a sweeping testament and holds the freedom and the beauty of containing their own personal experience and exploration as part of their documentation.
“I began to hear more clearly the voices of Native peoples who not only reclaimed their traditional heritage, but carried the resistance into the present…Two historic developments helped me to hear the voices of modern Native warriors who lived the sacred Two-Spirit tradition: the founding of the Gay American Indians in 1975 by Randy Burns (Northern Paiute) and Barbara Cameron (Lakota Sioux), and the publication in 1988 of Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Randy Burns noted that the History Project of Gay American Indians ‘has documented these alternative gender roles in over 135 North American tribes.’
“I knew that Native struggles against colonization and genocide—both physical and cultural were tenacious. But I learned that the colonizers’ efforts to outlaw, punish, and slaughter the Two-Spirits within those nations had also met with fierce resistance. Conquistador Nuno de Guzman recorded in 1530 that the last person taken prisoner after a batter, who had “fought most courageously was a man in the habit of a woman….”
These books are joined by one that drops more specifically into the life and times of We’Wha. Will Roscoe’s The Zuni Man Woman was published in 1991. It won the prestigious Margaret Mead Award, as well as the Lamda Literary Award. We’Wha was the most famous lhamana, a traditional Zuni gender role, now described as mixed-gender or Two-Spirit.
“In truth, the ground American society occupies once may have been the queerest continent on the planet. The original peoples of North America, whose principles are just as ancient as those of Judeo-Christian culture, saw no threat in homosexuality or gender variance. Indeed, they believed individuals with these traits made unique contributions to their communities.”
“The evidence of multiple genders in North America offers support for the theory of social constructionism, which maintains that gender roles, sexualities, and identities are not natural, essential, or universal, but constructed by social processes and discourses…”
It may not be possible to fully understand indigenous perspectives on gender and sexuality after centuries of colonization, but by turning in this direction we can begin to learn. In listening more closely and opening our minds and perspectives, we can help root a present and a future where queer/trans/intersex and indigenous people are once more treated with deep honor and respect. Our ancestors are still alive in us and on this land.
This makes it valuable to more fully understand the history of indigenous North America. Numerous stereotypes persist because of deeply biased scholarship.
One book I recommend to expand perspectives is 1491/New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. It helps with envisioning what indigenous North America must have been like. Very different than what most of us were taught, it helps give some framework to the economic, spiritual and healing/health systems functioning at that time.
Here are videos that share some of the inclusive, indigenous genders still singing through from the ancient past into the present time in North America.
Although in ancient time as today there has always been a 4th gender, what is sometimes called female-to-male, it appears within a patriarchy these representations are more actively suppressed. What is sometimes called male-to-female is more frequently represented.
The Middle Road/Kane Wahini, Wahini Kane in Hawaii
PBS HAWAII PRESENTS: A Place in the Middle - YouTube
Man, Woman, Muxe/3rd Gender in Mexico
Muxes - YouTube
Two Spirit/Native American Tribes
Two Spirits in Native American Culture - YouTube
Two Spirits, One Dance For Native American Artist - YouTube
A closer look at WORDS and Native American experience
Two Spirit People - YouTube
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
You are surrounded by a vibrant, beautiful group of queer/trans/intersex folks. It may be a small group or even a very large group. A strong underlying feeling of mutual respect and a sense of service and belonging permeates everyone’s actions and reactions within this group and extends to everyone beyond this group. In fact, you’ve experienced a deep feeling of being fortunate and lucky ever since you were a small child.
You were always seen as a gift, and encouraged to blossom freely. As you developed into your queer/trans/intersex self you were cherished and your family invested in you to develop your natural skills.
Creativity, spirit, service, mediation, intuition, home, family. Strength, insight, endurance, freedom, independence, passion. These strengths are valued within you and allowed to flourish for the benefit of yourself and the community.
You know that everything in nature includes your reflection. Rest down into yourself.
In a Eurocentric, colonized environment complete suppression is the name of the game. Genocide, slavery, aggressive interruption of culture, stealing and destroying land… The true history of the US and the indigenous people of the Americas has and is suppressed if not completely distorted either intentionally or through ignorance by the dominating culture.
While minor change has occurred to bring greater truth, it has been extremely slow and education remains severely lacking on multiple levels. One of the primary problems is that the majority of people are taught through the public school system where perspectives that do not include indigenous history or people in a truthfull manner are passed on by positions of authority. These perspectives are then firmed by larger social, political and cultural systems.
The colonization of North America was at all times an economic venture. Anything and everything that could be used to disrupt and overtake the perceived resources was employed. 3rd and 4th gender roles in indigenous cultures were people who generally held more economic, spiritual, sexual, health and social power than most in their community. It is not surprising that there are stories about specifically targeting and shaming these individuals. This would diminish their role as well as fundamentally impact their community.
Racism against indigenous peoples of the Americas can be personal but it is always systemic in the US. A country that evolves from aggressive colonization holds at its core the same principles that created it. Unless these foundations are consciously addressed fully, they continue without interruption and permeate all aspects of society.
Over centuries of developing justification for aggressive colonization, numerous theories were provided that falsely position indigenous and POC as inferior to Europeans. Although proven wrong, the emotional impact of this kind of promotion has lasting effects on the mentality of the population at large. Again, if not consciously addressed these sentiments have a life of their own across a society that systemically oppresses indigenous people.
“Alternative gender roles were one of the most widespread and distinctive features of native societies throughout the continent, yet they are barely mentioned in ethnographies and, until the 1980s, no anthropologist or historian comprehensively studied them. A conspiracy of silence has kept the subject obscured and hidden. In the eight volumes published to date of the Smithsonian Institution’s state-of-the-art Handbook of North American Indians, berdaches* are mentioned in entries for only sixteen tribes—an accuracy rate of barely ten percent based on the number of tribes with alternative gender roles listed in the index here.”
*Note: ‘Berdache’ is an outdated Persian term no longer in current use, brought over by the French to designate 3rd and 4th gender roles in indigenous North America. Two Spirit is the term adopted in the 1990’s by native people to reflect an alternative to Western labels like “gay, lesbian, transgender, as well as berdache.”
The indigenous and POC LGBTQI2S+ communities continue to be some of the most invisible, silenced and marginalized people, even within the LGBTQ movement, which has historically maintained a predominantly Eurocentric bias.
BACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
By creating a truthfull foundation that includes nature, multicultural global awareness, as well as the reclamation of the suppressed history of North America, we literally begin to reconstruct the world we live in.
By creating a truthfull foundation that includes nature, multicultural global awareness, as well as the reclamation of the suppressed history of North America, we literally begin to reconstruct the world we live in. This is not isolated to one area of thought or theory. This quite literally touches everything. And as we bring this information into more common awareness, it changes everything it touches. The world is queer and always has been.
Making this world view accessible to our kids, not only makes their lives better, more sane, it resonates OUT, changing the present. And from there, it changes the future in ways that we can only guess.
Quite literally, truth heals. We may not know the specifics of where we’re going, but we can clear the path and open up to the highest good available. By acknowledging what’s happened and what is, we can heal through to the present.
What supports this kind of knowing and healing? We need our queer/trans/intersex, LGBTQI2S+ elders to connect with our kids. We need our queer families to hold these truths and pass them on to their kids at home, and when possible get them shared in the schools.
We need to pursue whole stories that address not just LGBTQI2S+ oppression, but the systems that were brought to this country through colonization and the impact they’ve had and continue to have to this day. Together we are stronger.
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
1.Think differently. Imagine different ways to consciously engage with kids that includes expansive gender expression beyond the binary.
From The Zuni Man Woman:“Before the ages of four to six, gender was not emphasized as an attribute of the child, and parents and other relatives referred to the children of both sexes with the same term, cha’le’, or child. In fact, cha’le’ was applied to the offspring of any animal. Only later were children distinguished with such terms as ‘aktsek’i, young boy, and katsik’i, little girl.
change the nouns you use to refer to kids and people in general to include the possibility of 3rd and 4th genders: kids, child, people, folks, y’all, peeps…
Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed last week’s post on NATURE, check that out here.
WELCOME TO MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS WEEK!
In PART TWO of the gender series we open our eyes to the whole world through greater multicultural awareness, beyond the US borders, remembering that many people in the US are immigrants historically, and currently.
This week begins with perhaps one of the most influential books I’ve read. Transgender Warriors/Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Leslie Feinberg. I knew of their work because of an earlier book, Stone Butch Blues published in 1993. Both of these books made sense out of my experience in the world as a queer femme and gave voice to something many of us were experiencing at that time but not completely understanding.
I can still sit and read Transgender Warriors for hours. There is so much queer/trans/intersex history from throughout time, and across the globe, gathered in one place all being digested in real time by a real life trans/queer. It’s like entering an alternate universe where people I love exist and where I make sense. Each story feels like a precious secret uncovered, another truth revealed. Even now, over 20 years from my first reading.
We have always been here. Queereternal.
That’s why we’re here now, and forever. Gendernow.
Despite geographic and historical distance of many of Leslie’s stories, they didn’t feel far away. And they included contemporary stories. These informed and contextualized my present. My ex had begun transitioning in 1994 and I was one of his main supports. And when I traveled to India in 1996, the same year Transgender Warriors came out, I witnessed a community of Hijras board our train and lovingly harass the passengers with song and dance until they were tipped appropriately. I also saw a singular Hijra out at a restaurant in the evening in a district where Indian women were prohibited to be out alone. This woman was not only alone, she was quite nearly holding court in the back of the small eatery as man after man waited on her.
Even though I lived a very queer life, I felt Feinberg’s work initiate a reorientation, perhaps because of its scope. Slowly but surely history and culture queer’d in all directions at once. No corner was left untouched. Nothing could be seen from the same angle again, ever. And the world felt more like home. I had been researching bits and pieces since I came out in 1984, but having one resource where I could immerse myself in so much information coupled with queer perspective was significant. It led me deeper into my self and my work.
I don’t pretend to understand how folks in other eras, cultures and locales felt or feel, especially about their sexuality and gender or how it fit/s into their social structure. But by learning as much as I can about as many different kinds of experience as possible, I’ve at least confirmed that there are countless ways to feel about sexuality and gender.
I don’t pretend to understand how folks in other eras, cultures and locales felt or feel, especially about their sexuality and gender or how it fit/s into their social structure. But by learning as much as I can about as many different kinds of experience as possible, I’ve at least confirmed that there are countless ways to feel about sexuality and gender. Focus, context and meaning can all shift and radically alter experience, sometimes to the point that all my reference points dissolve, even queer or gender expansive ones. This is massively humbling and reminds me to always be curious and not project my experience into seemingly open spaces.
“When I try to discuss sex and gender, people can only imagine woman or man, feminine or masculine. We’ve been taught that nothing else exists in nature. Yet, as I’ve shown, this has not been true in all cultures or in all historical periods. In fact, Western law took centuries to neatly partition the sexes into only two categories and mandate two corresponding gender expressions.”
“The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century,” historian Randolph Trumbach notes in his essay, ‘London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Gender in the Making of Modern Culture.’
When a patriarchal system using violent aggression to colonize and eradicate a culture is present, physical safety, economic survival, and emotional trauma contribute to cultural shifts that otherwise might not have happened.
The more and the longer a culture has contact with Western culture, especially through economic ties and/or colonization, the more judgmental some indigenous and nature based culture’s seem to become regarding gender and sexuality. Queer/trans/intersex people held a particular kind of power in many pre-contact, matrifocal cultures. When a patriarchal system using violent aggression to colonize and eradicate a culture is present, physical safety, economic survival, and emotional trauma contribute to cultural shifts that otherwise might not have happened.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces I felt Feinberg retrieved through their scholarship was the spiritual aspect of queer/trans/intersex people in multiple cultures. In fact, the very act of transitioning was often seen as a spiritual act.
“In ancient China, the shih-niang wore a combination of female, male, and religious garb. In Okinawa, some shamans took part in an ancient male-to-female ceremony known as winagu nati, which means, “becoming female.” And trans shamans were still reported practicing in the Vietnamese countryside in the mid-1970s.
Female-to-male priests also exist—and most importantly even co-exist with male to female shamans. Among the Lugbara in Africa, for example, male-to-females are called okule and female-to-males are named agule. The Zulu initiated both male-to-female and female-to-male isangoma. While male-to-female shamans have been part of the traditional life of the Chukchee, Kamchadal, Koryak, and Inuit—all Native peoples of the Arctic Basin—Inuit female-to-males serve White Whale Woman, who was believed to have been transformed into a man or a woman-man. And female-to-male expression is part of rituals and popular festivals with deep matrilineal roots in every corner of the world-including societies on the European continent.”
Legal third gender status is currently available in 11 countries: Austria, Australia, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom and parts of the United States.
Although people who would be assigned female are also present everywhere that people who would be assigned male are, the vast majority of documentation focuses on queer/trans/intersex people who would be assigned male. This may be in part the effects of patriarchy.
Here are three reflections from Samoa, India and Pakistan, and Indonesia.
Fa'afafine Documentary - YouTube
Queen of Lahore - A documentary about Hijra community - YouTube
India's Third Gender Movement | The Zainab Salbi Project Ep. 2 - YouTube
Five Genders? | National Geographic - YouTube
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine a world of 3, 4, or more genders. Not an isolated case, but a universal concept that included everyone. Everywhere that you could travel across the globe, everyone acknowledged the basic truth of nature, that there are numerous genders.
It’s easy to imagine all the small and large aspects of life that this would affect. Bathrooms, of course. Fashion. Travel. But don’t go there yet. Stay with yourself. Remember, in whatever way you can, your own birth. Imagine that there were more than 2 boxes to choose from, including a gender free option that allows an individual to acknowledge for their selves what gender is theirs, when the time is right. Imagine guiding your parent’s hand, choose this one!
What would it be?
And if you guided them to choose the same that you were assigned at birth, does it feel any different knowing that you and everyone has more choice?
Are you a parent? What if you had more than 2 boxes to choose for your child? What if you could give them time to figure their gender out for their selves? What would change if you had a 3rd or 4th box to assign them?
Now imagine for another moment, that the spiritual leaders in your community are queer/trans/intersex people. Perhaps it’s even you. What wisdom do you have to share? What stories would you tell to help others like you grow strong, especially our youth. Perhaps you’re already doing this. (thank you!!!xoxoxox) Many queer/trans/intersex people choose lives of community service. Spirit keeps us strong.
WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
the expanding DSM
Homo/transphobia is an international issue. Change toward greater acceptance is seen as a landmark shift toward human rights, but remains a hot topic. Queer/trans/intersex people are traditionally used as scapegoats in Western culture, and those impacted by colonization directly or indirectly, to release social pressure. Homosexuality is currently illegal in over 75 countries. Change is slow, but steady. This number is down from 92 countries in 2006. (you can go here for a full list and to learn more)
Another marker is the classification of homosexuality and transgender experience as a mental illness across the globe.
“First published in 1968, DSM-II (the American classification of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, transformed it from sin to mental disorder.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.
The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with “sexual orientation disturbance” for people “in conflict with” their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its ICD classification with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carries the construct of “ego-dystonic sexual orientation”. In this condition, the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual preference, but “wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders”.
The evolution of the status of homosexuality in the classifications of mental disorders highlights that concepts of mental disorder can be rapidly evolving social constructs that change as society changes. Today, the standard of psychotherapy in the U.S. and Europe is gay affirmative psychotherapy, which encourages gay people to accept their sexual orientation.”
Buzz Feed News published an overview in 2016 of a survey covering 23 countries across the world. There was a faint trend toward supporting transgender people. In Brazil 50% of the people surveyed said that they knew a transgender person, in Russia it was 16%. Spain and Argentina consistently showed more overall support in comparison to the other countries.
The spread of Western culture across the globe has fundamentally modified thought and practice in most indigenous cultures it has colonized. Gender and sexuality oppression seem to specifically appear in relation to Euro Western countries exploiting and colonizing indigenous, usually nature based cultures across the globe. This has a lasting impact and is firmed through a long standing international focus on Western culture and its academia, including Darwin. I’m reminded of what Trumbach said, “The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century.” Darwin’s influence cannot to be diminished, despite the fact that many of his theories remain unproven.
Many indigenous cultures retain positive traditions of homo/trans identity acceptance despite deeply rooted homo/transphobia introduced by and perpetuated through violent contact with Western culture.
On LGBTQI2S+ Community:
Oppression of our community can often feel explosive and violent as well as less significant in relation to other communities, even marginalized ones. It is connected to multiple layers of silence and suppression, misinformation and aggressive lies used to oppress the people at large by separating them from their core beliefs and truths. This is usually rooted in a past of violent colonization of indigenous people, usually most violent against queer/trans/intersex people of the community.
image from the children’s book, The Boy and the Bindi, read the HuffPost articleBACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
Look at queer/trans/intersex experience throughout the entire world pre-colonization. Then look at post-colonization perspectives and how and why a culture may have changed. Place this beside our more complete and current understanding from the last week of nature. The more we look at global experiences of what I’m calling queer/trans/intersex and how it’s talked about, especially through time, the more we can see the underlying indigenous culture still present alongside the impact of colonization. I believe Transgender Warriors would be wonderful required reading for queer/trans/intersex folks.
Including global perspectives in home and educational settings helps bring greater awareness to the diverse fabulousness and eternity of our community while highlighting some of the ongoing awareness that’s needed about international oppression.
Stepping away from exclusively Western/Euro/US LGBTQI2S+ frameworks expands the possibilities available from which to perceive gender and sexuality. Including global perspectives in home and educational settings helps bring greater awareness to the diverse fabulousness and eternity of our community while highlighting some of the ongoing awareness that’s needed about international oppression. This is an opportunity to engage larger and necessary conversations with our kids about racism, colonization and how it’s tied to homo/transphobia in our own country and abroad.
Bringing this kind of critical awareness and making connections at a kid’s level may seem daunting at first, but understanding our world and their position in it is empowering. And when we teach from a place of powerful self- and community-love first, that is the strongest message communicated and that will help keep all of us strong. The details and lessons are like seeds. They’ll grow over time.
It’s also valuable to understand nuance, make connections and further conversations. 10 countries where homo/trans expression may be punishable by death: Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates are Muslim. That doesn’t mean there aren’t queer/trans/intersex Muslim people. Like with Christianity it is a hot topic. Having been raised Catholic and then disowned by my family because of their faith and homophobia, understanding the history of the Bible and queer reality was my first step into historical activism. Looking at the different translations within context and how they changed over time was enlightening indeed and began a more expanded perspective of myself and helped me negotiate the intense homophobia in my family and the faith I was raised in. Islam is similar.
Books like these while explicit at times and inappropriate for kids, are a great resource for grownups to educate ourselves about the prevalence of queerness across all lines even when current narratives deny it.
Queer Theory and Queer Studies. Developed in the 1990’s queer scholarship and understanding is on the rise. There is power in truth, but again it’s important to retain critical awareness especially about context and history. There are many contributing factors and being able to see through the global influence of Western culture is imperative. I’m always excited to see new generations coming into voice, especially IPOC queer/trans/intersex folks.
Here is an interesting pair I found who freshly posted this video:
The International World of Queer Identity and Colonialism:
The International World of Queer Identity and Colonialism (ft. Political Personal) - YouTube
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
1.Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of LGBTQI2S+ Western frames in relation to gender and even sexuality. Again, this includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about thinking queer/trans/intersex indigenous people are exactly the same as our contemporary community. What is different? What is there to learn?
2.Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded..
5 weeks of expanding the mind and beautifying the world with Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness!
I’ve been studying and living my queer culture for over 30 years. There is much wisdom and beauty within it, great artistic expression and brilliant scholarship, small intimate stories and large sweeping narratives. This series is rooted in my community and meant to bring into greater light some of the basic truths of queerness in the world around us.
Since the 1990’s there’s been a noticeable uptick in queer scholarship in the areas of history, science and more. Not surprisingly, holding an outsider perspective lends itself to seeing through the dominant culture’s deeply held prejudices in numerous fields. Queer scholars have the tendency to expose what is and always has been in nature, in society, in history, in humans, with less filter and a queer lens. This leads us to what is truthfull, while teaching us more about LGBTQI2S+ falsehoods and how and why they’ve been perpetuated in our current culture. Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.
Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.
By stating what is, the need to defend, prove or convince others eventually becomes moot. We simply are. We can all stand in the truth of what is and grow from there. This has an enormous impact on our hearts and minds and bodies as queers/trans/intersex, and changes the ways that we move through the world inside and outside. Instilling confidence, belonging, respect and value are not something we have to work on or prove that we deserve any longer, we simply are. Allowing an internal shift to take place in view of this kind of information is key. The truth of what is will set us freee! We are and always will be, Queereternal, Gendernow!
The foundations of my gender work are the same ones that reverberate through all of my work, whether it explicitly addresses gender or not. Holistic, nature-based, rooted in self and community love, truth speaking, IPOC/LGBTQI2S+ centered, fully inclusive and meant for practical daily application.
Gender Now Coloring Book published in 2010
I began gathering resources and sharing my gender work for kids and families in 2010 with my Gender Now Coloring Book. I wanted a solid go-to resource that I could use with my kids that would also be valuable for other families. It’s loaded with information. TONS of information! (There are a lot of games and play too!)
I’ll be teasing out some of the resources and details of Gender Now as we move through this series. I just have to say, everything is jammed with love! I hope this serves as a call to more and more truth and love centering and listening to the LGBTQI2S+ community, especially Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC). Our gorgeousness abounds! We must share OUT!
What’s in store each Week
Each of the next 5 weeks will focus on a different theme: Nature, Multicultural Awareness, Indigenous, and US history, and finally the Gender Wheel. The series is appropriate for grownups and young adults, but is ultimately about bringing greater awareness and support to our kids and families.
Each week begins with an introduction to books by queer scholars and goes on to include the following sections: Imagine for a moment, What is commonly taught and thought, Back to the truth and Practical daily application with 4 areas where you can put truth to action. There’s also coloring pages, children’s books, scholarly books, videos and more.
A Holistic frame is used throughout the series. Mind is not separate from body, and sexuality is not separated from gender. This perspective is developed through the course of the series culminating in the Gender Wheel. Consequently, gender is seen relative to the LGBTQI2S+ community.
This series is just a beginning and is not meant to be a sole resource. It is a glimpse into a fraction of the research I’ve done. It is explicitly meant as a doorway to further study and play. The more we lift up and use the brilliant scholarship from our own community, the sooner truth will support us in creating a more equitable world of love and respect.
WELCOME TO NATURE WEEK!
In PART ONE of the series we open our eyes to the natural world all around us, remembering that we too are a part of nature.
We begin by looking at two highly praised books that represent a slow and growing trend. They document the reality of animals. As a consequence they also highlight how Western culture has suppressed the truth of queer/trans/intersex expression and presence in nature. While it will take years, perhaps even decades for the professional field to create overarching academic frameworks to accommodate this shift in thinking, the information is out there now and its strength is growing.
As parents, educators and activists we can support a shift toward this kind of truth telling by keeping ourselves abreast of this developing scholarship and exploring how to put it to practical daily use, especially in the classroom and home.
After 10 years of research, Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance/Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was published in 1999. Nature/International Journal of Science said, “This book should surely become the standard reference work for research on the topics covered.” It gathers in once place a staggering array of over 300 mammals and birds, documenting same-sex partnering and extensive gender diversity.
“The animal world—right now, here on Earth—is brimming with countless gender variations and shimmering sexual possibilities: entire lizard species that consist only of females who reproduce by virgin birth and also have sex with each other; or the multigendered society of the Ruff, with four distinct categories of male birds, some of whom court and mate with one another; or female Spotted Hyenas and Bears who copulate and give birth through their ‘penile’ clitorides, and male Greater Rheas who possess ‘vaginal’ phalluses (like females of their species) and raise young in two-father families; or the vibrant transsexualities of coral reef fish, and the dazzling intersexualities of gynandromorphs and chimeras. In their quest for ‘post-modern’ patterns of gender and sexuality, human beings are simply catching up with the species that have preceded us in evolving sexual and gender diversity—and the aboriginal cultures that have recognized this.”
In 2004, Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow/Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People was published. Nature/International Journal of Science weighed in again saying, “As a compendium of information on sex and gender diversity in the natural world, Roughgarden’s is the richest and most authoritative book available,” making it a perfect companion to Bagemihl’s book.
“Roughgarden’s compilation shows wide variations of gender expression among vertebrates, demonstrating that several stereotypes about gender are simply incorrect, she maintains. For example animals aren’t just male or female; individuals can be both male and female at the same time or be one or the other at different times. Males are not necessarily bigger than females, and in many species, it’s not the females who give birth but rather males that incubate eggs in a pouch. And like the Bluegill Sunfish, many species have three or more genders.”
Sex-Changing Clownfish (4-min) - YouTube
And the scholarship continues. These two books don’t reflect the work of one person, but literally hundreds of people working in their field.
A 2009 study says, “Same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds, concludes a new review of existing research.”(1)
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine that everything you see around you in the natural world is queer/trans/intersex, similar to humans. Every plant, every animal, every insect and bird, flora and fauna alike.
Imagine the natural, exuberant expression of everything, visible everywhere you look. Feel yourself as an integral part of all of this. Couple this with the idea that all of this diversity and expression is appreciated and valued as important and necessary. Nature and all that it is, is seen as perfectly natural.
‘Queer’ is no longer other. Queer! is everything.
Finally, imagine growing up and being taught this in school. Imagine your parents, family and friends speaking casually about the queer/trans/intersex-ness of all nature as if it’s normal and necessary and encouraging you to learn about it too.
WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)
At this time and for a long time, Darwinism is the name of the game. Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) is considered the father of evolution and described as one of the most influential figures in human history. The impact of his work cannot be denied or diminished, despite the fact that there is a lack of evidence for most of his theories.
Beyond his basic thoughts about evolution, he included that nature is inherently competitive, the purpose of sex is procreation, females of a species are small and coy, while males of a species are large and aggressive. Anything and everything falling outside of these parameters is aberrant according to Darwin. And coupled with his belief that man evolved from apes was the belief that the white race was the most evolved thus superior, with all other races falling in graduated ranks below. (This last one continues to be knocked down through genetics that state there is only one race. All humans are equal.)
Now I don’t pretend to know everything. In fact, what I’m sure of is that there is still much to learn and synthesize in ways that I cannot know, possibly ever. But I do believe there is much that can be known. For example, it is always valuable to look at what is, especially when it comes to that kind of influence attributed to one person. Looking at Darwin’s context, what his theories explicitly and implicitly foster and/or promote and how they’ve impacted our LGBTQI2S+ community can be known and can shed light on a larger perspective of how Darwin’s theories still function in our society and why.
Here are some extremely general sweeps to place Darwin in context. He predominantly lived and worked during what is called the Victorian age in England, 1837-1901. This era is known for hypocrisy and repression, sexual restraint and a strict and limiting moral code. It is also a time of great transformation, including a shift from a highly religious social frame to a more secular one. Until 1861 homosexuality was an offence punishable by death. Slavery was legal until 1833.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was seen by some as a threat to traditional creationist beliefs. Still it was widely accepted by the 1870’s by the scientific community and a majority of the educated public, marking a secular shift in consciousness at the time.
Queen Victoria reigned and is the namesake for the era, however the British Empire was a patriarchy and sought to expand across the globe using violence, particularly in Asia and Africa.
Some of the fundamentals of Darwin’s theories will sound familiar as they’ve either been subsumed into Western culture or rise from it. These beliefs can become invisible, creating an implicit back drop that constantly promotes and supports the patriarchal Western Culture from the inside out.
These include but are not limited to, man over nature. Women are inferior. Man over woman. Nature is competitive, not cooperative. Survival of the fittest. White supremacy. Sex is for procreation and the survival of the species. There is only male and female. Everything always partners in heterosexual pairs.
On LGBTQI2S+ Community:
The impact on our community begins with the erasure of queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies from nature through the exclusive focus on heterosexual males and females. Our invisibility makes it easier to control the dominant narrative about us, maintain judgment, as well as avoid talking about bodies and sex. When queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies do come to light they are positioned outside of what is considered normal and positive, because sex without the possibility of procreation is considered fundamentally wrong, even unnatural.
BACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
The more we look at nature and how it’s talked about the more we can see the layers of impact Darwinism has had on science, Western society, and our community in particular. In contrast, Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.
Her perspectives and those of many more like her, propose that there is another, more authentic way to include all expressions of gender and sexuality throughout the natural world in ways that do not encourage dominance and prejudice.
Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.
You can learn more through her TED talk:
Sexual diversity in nature: Joan Roughgarden at TEDxAmazonia - YouTube
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
1.Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of Darwinism. This includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about ‘understanding or explaining gender.’ It’s about looking at everything and seeing how gender is naturally expressed everywhere all the time around us.
2.Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded understanding of nature and gender. For example, stop saying ‘boys and girls’ and instead say people or kids. Become aware of more and more gender assumptions. For example, excusing boys for physically rough behavior while assuming or encouraging girls to be less physical or physically smaller. And so on.
3.Interrupt falsehoods. Speaking truth is awesome, but it has to be coupled with interrupting untruths or it has no power. We must also take the time to say what is not true and acknowledge that almost everything around us is saying these untrue things about nature and gender, but that doesn’t make them anymore true. If we don’t model this for our kids, no one will. We can embrace the truth about nature now. Some simple examples are kid movies. Speaking the truth about Clown Fish, bears, snails, whales, and so on. Snails are not girls or boys. Some lizards are lesbians. Some animals are both girl and boy.
4.Educate toward truth/children’s books and adult resources. These are what I consider my absolute basics to date.
These days, these days, these days. Everything changing. So much discomfort. Everywhere hope and courage. So much waking up as the children take to the streets speaking truth OUT loud.
So much more waiting in the wings.
These days, I close much of my correspondence with “take good care through these bumpy times.” I can’t not acknowledge the world shaking around us, within us, reality shift, shift, shifting about. I personally feel compelled, driven, but always looking to soften and slow down to stay strong for the long dance and the ever moving earth.
Last year feels like a blur. It was a deep and challenging year and I’m damn happy it’s over, although there were some pretty fantastic times too. This year feels different. I feel strangely seasoned, knees bent, head up. Blowing in the wind like a tree.
It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths.
It was a phenomenal journey that began in 2015. As I look at the three books and the 58 artistauthors who shared their work over this time, I’m humbled and perfectly blown away. They prove to me what I know in my heart. Everyone has a story. Everyone is an artist and it changes us when we express.
It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths. I love indigenous, POC, LGBTQI2S+ narratives unbridled by limitation, valued from the heart, and not just included, but centered. I love creativity allowed to flow in service first to ourselves, and then overflowing out from there into our communities, changing the world.
Voice Is a Revolution mini-course in School of the Free Mind
This last year I dropped deeply again into the practice of children’s books. I wanted to share through posting a few videos to the school, but much to my surprise it resulted in a mini course just added to School of the Free Mind called, Voice is a Revolution: Writing Children’s Books from the Holistic Self.
It validates that it can be personally challenging to come more powerfully into voice, which leads to sharing what practices supported me most during this last year and finally a series of guided worksheets to support coming into a more holistic voice. This last piece is connected to a workshop I got to do during my Fresno residency. I’m excited because this holistic piece resonates throughout my work and one of my goals is to make it as accessible as possible to folks. It expands who we are! Of course I’ve got a picture book in mind.
For me personally, a strong voice and a holistic self are fundamental to staying strong while having my own indie press. Everything I do in some way points to folks starting their own presses and expanding beyond the traditional systems. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to turn the tides of our culture, but the time is clearly NOW. Make Books Now!
I’ve got a number of more books in the makes this year. I don’t want to say what, when, where, how–too much until the time comes, but there are some fabulously marvelous bits!!!! And this Fall I’ll be sharing something I’ve never done before and it is moving me toward one of my secret dreams.
I’ve also begun a partnership with two fabulous activists, Laurin Mayeno and Mauro Sifuentes. Already deep in the mix, we’ll be doing a private presentation soon, and then present again this summer at Gender Odyssey in Seattle. Aligning our work and standing together feels revolutionary and comforting. I am beyond excited to push beyond the binary with these two.
Counteracting Bias with Action
The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI children’s books by non-LGBTQI authors communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth.
I’ve also begun sharing my new worksheet, Vetting LGBTQI Children’s Books with Love at the North Bay LGBTQ Family Symposium last month. After two rounds of plagiarism this last year and seeing firsthand the kind of distortion and damage that can be done by non-LGBTQI people speaking about our lives and realities, I felt I had to do something.
I consolidated the framework I use to review LGBTQI children’s books with a queer-centric perspective into a worksheet to open the conversation (you can see this in practice at our School of the Free Mind/The Heart of It LGBTQI book reviews). The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI books by non-LGBTQI authors I’ve come into contact with communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth. I’ll be sharing this worksheet next month as part of my Gender Month (read more below).
There are an abysmal amount of children’s books for our community. We need MORE QUEER VOICES and stories rising from QUEER WISDOM and LIVED EXPERIENCE. WE need to lead the narratives that are connected to our lives and families and LGBTQI2S kids.
Book Festivals, Interviews and Reviews
March I’ll be at the Tuscon Book Festival. Feel free to come make art with me at one of the workshops if you get a chance. I’ll also be on a number of panels with other amazing artists and authors who have received the honor of a Pura Belpré Award. And I get to share the stage with Peter Reynolds in one panel, another favorite of mine.
Ok, like I say in my workshops, I’m going to shut up now. I have literally a thousand or more things to bring in but there’s more serious play to attend to, like next month. March is Gender Month on my blog. Every Friday I’ll be sharing a big chunk of my research here and how it ties to The Gender Wheel and much, much more. There will be articles and videos and reviews, as well as coloring pages, curriculum and play!
There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work.
Lots of information for grownups and kids. Just like with children’s books where I share everything I know from 20+ years in the biz, I’m going to share all the extra fabulously nerdy research that lies within my gender books for kids that I’ve accumulated over 30+ years of queerdom. This is an inside story. There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work. I can’t wait!
Alright darlings, love. Love and love and love and more love.
Make it strong, make it aggressive and sure footed, aim for your own heart, your own spirit. Dive into loving your truly valuable self. We need you. We need your voice, or we are not a whole people. Together, we are the revolution. The world is changing right now. It’s going to be a long dance, but with deep self love spreading out to community love, WE ARE THE WAY. Voice is a Revolution.
Take good care through these bumpy times my love, xomaya