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Pronouns are one of the first ways that small children are taught to gender themselves and others.

As a child grows within the womb, they are introduced to our language and how we communicate in our world, including how they are spoken about. At first glance this can seem simple and straightforward. But if we want to understand what we’re actually teaching our kids, we have to take a closer look at our language.

Language is a cultural carrier. It evolves through multiple layers of our larger history, and ultimately speaks for those who control that history.

Sometimes what language conveys culturally is explicit, sometimes it’s more subtle. But generally it conveys in one way or another, what the dominant culture values and wants the common populous to believe.

Here are two examples from our culture. The first is the use of he and man for third person neutral, especially in academic and professional writing. Although this has fallen out of favor in the last two decades, it is still considered correct.

A more subtle and common example is the standard use of the phrase boys and girls, when referring to all children.

What values are embedded in these examples?

In the first one, it is obvious that we live in a patriarchy. Everything is seen and defined through the lens of man. This serves to center, focus and prioritize everything male. Simultaneously, this serves to erase, devalue, even make subservient anything that is not man or man-related.

An important step toward equity for all people has been seeing through this particular legacy of language control.

huMAN – woMAN – huMANity – perSONHIStory

Connected to this, but more subtle is the second example. It basically conveys that small children are required to align and define themselves with one of two genders assigned to them at birth. This erases the reality that there are more than two kinds of bodies, and that there is more than one way to feel and behave within those bodies.

Sometimes these kinds of value judgments can be hard to see until someone points them out. But they have very real intentions and effects.

We have only to look to the long struggle of women coming out of the shadow of MAN, in relation to education, voting, health care, economic opportunity, physical security, political presence and so on. Although there is still far to go, our language reflects this ongoing evolution of independence with the shifting use of Miss and Mrs. to Ms. and the fact that he and man are no longer favored for 3rd person.

With this in mind, a closer look at language acquisition can show what we may be unconsciously passing on to our kids, especially about gender.

Here are some of the general trends in learning environments.

  • Educators are encouraged to correct 3-5 year olds to use pronouns in culturally standard ways. This entails the use of gender assumptions to make guesses about what pronouns to use for who.
  • Through 1st and 2nd grade, lesson plans that reflect gender stereotypes are used to teach pronouns.
  • And by 3rd grade, both gender assumptions and stereotypes have been formalized to the point of normalcy in language use and education.

For kids, parents and family who can’t perform in accordance with cultural stereotypes, there are literally no words. In terms of standard language use, they do not exist. It should come as no surprise that these are the kids and adults who are the most marginalized and outright bullied in a patriarchal culture. This is profoundly compounded by racism.

It does more than use language to erase people, it conveys on a deep cultural level a complete lack of value. And herein lies the rub. Everything we say to, or in front of our children is teaching them not only about who they can be, but what we value about who they can be.

Language is power. It can be used to define, affirm, even create, or erase value.

What do we want to pass on to our kids? How can we use our language in a way that values and includes everyone?

The more we become aware of the words that have been put into our mouths and what they’re really saying, the more we can consciously create change from our own hearts and minds. This assures that the power of our voice is ours and serves us, and our kids.

Here are 5 important things you can do with your voice right now:

  • 1. No more “boys and girls” – Preempt Exclusion
    • Many don’t intend to be unwelcoming. It’s more often than not an unexamined habit. Take a moment to consider how often you use phrases like: boys and girls, moms and dads, men and women, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, etc… Consider what other words are possible that include everyone. Kids, parents, people, siblings, etc… committing to a seemingly small shift like this is BIG. You’re making room for all bodies while countering homophobic, transphobic and cissexist judgment built into our language. You’re also supporting more ways to be ourselves in the world and building respect for those who are undeniably their selves.
  • 2. There’s always been more than he and she – Pronoun Expansion
    • Become aware of more pronouns, even more than he, she, they.
    • In the last 150 years there have been over 100 words created to express a gender neutral third person. Thon (short for ‘that one’) was even in the dictionary from 1934-1961. With so much effort, it’s interesting to note that none of these words came into common use. There may be a two part reason for that. One, a word like that already existed. And two, timing is everything.
    • Currently, the ongoing need for a nonbinary personal pronoun has brought the singular pronoun they into standard use. (THEY, 2016 word of the year) The gender neutral singular they is not new. It became part of our language in the 1300’s. It is considered grammatically correct as a gender neutral personal and third person pronoun, in addition to being used as a plural pronoun.
  • 3. If you don’t know, don’t guess – Inclusive Practices
    • There’s no need to make assumptions based on stereotypes when we have both gender-neutral words and pronouns at our disposal. We can use language to lay a foundation in our culture of respect and inclusion of all people.
    • Not making assumptions means making room for everybody all the time. To create a welcoming environment, use words like people, parents, kids, friends, family and so on.
    • If you don’t personally know someone’s pronoun, don’t make assumptions. If you find you need to use a pronoun, you could use they as an inclusive pronoun until you hear from that person what pronoun or pronouns they use.
    • Some people like to be asked their pronoun. Some don’t. Unless you’re asking everybody’s pronouns all the time, only asking when you can’t assume based on stereotypes can feel like “othering” to folks and even “outing” to some.
    • Offering your own pronoun first can seem like an opening, but for some folks it can also feel like an obligation to respond in kind. Depending on a million factors, this may or may not feel safe. Pay attention to see if it’s absolutely necessary for you to know somebody’s pronoun.
    • Leaving space for freedom and the unknown can be a positive thing, especially in relation to something as rigid as gender in our current culture.
    • Take a moment to pay attention to how your own pronoun/s impact your life. Is this something you have to think about all the time? Never?
    • Times are changing! Now there’s a name prefix that is inclusive. Mx!
  • 4. Making visible what has been erased – A Shift Toward Equity
    • Changing the words that we use personally is HUGE! But there’s more! Everything that’s been written can also be updated to be inclusive, making visible all who were once erased. Playing with pronouns in books is a great way to talk to kids about language and why it’s important to make changes to be inclusive.
    • Here are two ways to do it. Both are valuable for different reasons.
    • First, change pronouns in books to they. This one takes practice because there is a cascading effect you have to keep track of. It slows me down sometimes and takes some creativity, but I’ve done it so much now, I’m nearly seamless. (I read A LOT of books to our young one)
    • This interrupts the girl/boy assumption and makes room for not knowing a person’s gender, which interrupts stereotypes. But just using they, even consistently, isn’t enough. This makes more room for gender, but stereotypes are by nature rigid and superficial. If we don’t actually challenge them in some way, they remain intact, just renamed. In order to call in and acknowledge a more nuanced and truthful perspective of gender, we need to include another step.
    • Second, change a character’s pronouns from she to he, or from he to she. Reading-wise, this is easier to do. This interrupts the rigidity of stereotypes and uses beloved characters (with stories that center them) as vehicles to learn more about inclusion.
    • Reframing like this explicitly expands ideas about who people can be, and provides a counter narrative to the dominant culture.
    • Currently racism and sexism are more and more unacceptable in children’s media, but cissexism remains rampant. Particularly in children’s movies where gender nonconformity is often specifically set up, so it can be ridiculed.
    • When kids witness and practice respect for all bodies and ways of being in the world, this form of bullying is easier to see and interrupt.
    • Here’s a short video modeling how to play with pronouns in picture books and you can download this handout for ways to keep the persepctives alive:
  • 5. Making space – New Ideas, New Words, New Connections
    • Old ideas and beliefs that support oppression are coming apart more and more. Even language is changing to reflect that. But in order for this good work to be rooted in true respect and systemic change, we must acknowledge the community who paved the way. We must call in, lift up, listen to and support all the gorgeous, courageous LGBTQI2S+ people who changed the world by being their true self… and often without meaning to, making room for us to be here, now. We are living in the light they cast. It’s time for LGBTQI2S+ voices and faces, history and wisdom to be familiar to our kids. This is a powerful step toward completing one circle of cultural healing. #FirstVoice #OwnVoice

READ PART TWO for ways to instill skills to help kids negotiate oppressive systems and learn about The Gender Wheel Curricululm.

About Maya:

Maya Gonzalez is a Chicanx, queer femme artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Her work addresses systemic inequity in relation to race/ethnicity, sexism and cissexism using children’s books as radical agents of change and healing, both personally and culturally. With her partner Matthew, she co-founded Reflection Press, a POC, queer and trans owned independent publishing house that uses holistic, nature-based, and anti-oppression frameworks in their books and materials for kids and grown-ups. She is also the creator of the Gender Wheel, a tool to express the dynamic, infinite and inclusive reality of gender, and provides lectures and workshops to educators, parents and caregivers. www.mayagonzalez.com | www.genderwheel.com | www.reflectionpress.com

The post PART 1: What are we really saying to our children? – Language Acquisition & Gender appeared first on Maya Gonzalez Blog.

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In PART 1 OF THIS SERIES, I explored how pronouns are one of the first ways children gender themselves and others.

From an early age, many LGBTQI2S+ people understand the power of language and the impact it can have.

This is why in my gender work, the Pronoun Circle is at the center of the Gender Wheel, and why addressing language acquisition is Level One of the Curriculum.

In order to continue fully addressing gender in our current culture, we must establish more and more respectful and inclusive ways of speaking to one another. This means more than saying “the right thing.” It means becoming critically aware of the messages inside of what we’re saying.

Using language as a tool to control behavior cannot be underestimated, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series.

Language is power. Fundamental change is key.

Without change here, well-intentioned people unconsciously contribute to the very oppression they’re often trying to dismantle. Lifting out of this cultural fog means taking the time to do some structural work.

This includes looking at the big picture and seeing what’s been erased by patriarchal culture through language. For example, many indigenous tribes of the Americas had words for LGBTQI2S+ people and their roles. There were also myths and origin stories, songs and art. Instead of retaining or translating anything, they were intentionally erased and/or replaced with derogatory terms.

What preferences and value judgments were maintained by this erasure. Who did it benefit? Who does it limit and/or control? And most importantly, how does this continue to influence our current culture?

Being able to see like this usually requires stepping outside of the dominant culture and language, and engaging with perspectives and histories that are nonWestern, nonwhite, and/or LGBTQI2S+.

What does all this have to do with our kids?

Changing how we speak to each other and how we engage with media is an important step to support our kids. We can create a more welcoming, inclusive environment and communicate volumes about power and our kids’ ability to speak for themselves.

But if we want to instill the skills our kids need to negotiate an oppressive system, we must also tell them WHY we’re changing the way we speak and changing the words in their books.

For example,

“Our country has a history of bullying. It includes bullying black and brown people. Bullying girls, women and femmes and disabled people. And bullying LGBTQI2S+ people. This bullying pretends some people are better than others, even pretends there is a right or wrong way to be who you are. That’s wrong. Everybody belongs and we want everybody to feel welcome. So we’re changing how we talk, even how we read. Everybody needs to feel free to grow into exactly who they are, like a tree. I want this for you. I want it for all kids!”

Talking like this demonstrates to kids how to continue dismantling the many areas that support gender-based bullying dynamics in our culture.

Children’s books are one of the first places that kids come into contact with the dominant culture, making them a perfect place to seed change and support.

These three books rise from the foundations of the Gender Wheel. There’s no room for assumptions and stereotypes in the imagery or the language because The Gender Wheel Curriculum is rooted in a nature-based, holistic frame.

Nature, history and indigenous cultures show the indomitable presence and value, even the need for inclusion of LGBTQI2S+ people.

Reestablishing that gender diversity is a necessary and intrinsic part of nature is the heart of the matter. This provides an immediate foundation of truth and support, allowing the true self to relax, step forward and feel welcomed.

Everyone wants that. To feel free. To just be.

This is what I want for all children, but particularly for our most marginalized, LGBTQI2S+/IPOC kids. By addressing change here, we impact everybody else.

To understand more about the fundamentals behind these books and how to keep building on them, I’ve begun providing trainings in the SF Bay Area. The first one, Teaching for Gender Inclusivity: Reorienting toward a Holistic Nature-Based Perspective on Gender looks at the basic building blocks of the curriculum, and includes guided hands-on exploration of educational materials, along with reading practice and lots of resources. This helps reorient, inspire and provide initial tools to create inclusive gender practices across multiple disciplines.

I gave a version of this introduction lecture at the NCTE Conference (National Council of Teachers of English) in the Fall of 2018. I was beyond pleased when participants told me their minds were quite literally blown (in a good way!), and one participant told me that it was the most informative session they’d been to in 10 years of conferences. This blew me away! Change is in the air.

The next training on Language Acquisition and Inclusive Practices dives more into Level One of the Curriculum and should be available locally in Fall 2019. This training will focus on a deeper understanding of language and greater proficiency in inclusive practices, and includes longer engagement with hands-on, interactive materials, and exercises for participants to personalize and embody, as well as practice. The materials and focus are on the first 10 years of language acquisition, but the materials are relevant to all ages.

In every gender lecture and workshop I say, “this is not a small thing.” There are small changes that we can make, like pronoun expansion and gender-neutral language. But the truth is, what we’re talking about here, “…is a very large thing.”

Gender oppression is the foundation of the patriarchy. It effects everybody as it stretches across race, ethnicity, even class. Everything is built on it. Science, economics, healthcare, education, and so on.

That’s why it’s so revolutionary to begin by changing the way that we communicate with each other and express who we are in the world. This opens doors of respect within ourselves and between each other that have been aggressively and intentionally sealed shut. This opens up the possibility of creating greater and greater unity among the marginalized.

Children’s books supply a doable step in a long dance of change, especially when it comes to inclusive language.

As a parent, I know we need tools that we can lean on. Not having to change pronouns and chase verbs when I read books to my kid, is a much appreciated break! I am so grateful for all the books we’ve used with our kid that our friends and community have created. They make all the difference in the world.

But of course we need MORE! And we need to continue learning more about what we’re really saying to our kids.

IN PART THREE, I give a real-life example of why it’s so important to pay attention to language in children’s books.

(Missed the first part? View the full 3 part series here)

About Maya:

Maya Gonzalez is a Chicanx, queer femme artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Her work addresses systemic inequity in relation to race/ethnicity, sexism and cissexism using children’s books as radical agents of change and healing, both personally and culturally. With her partner Matthew, she co-founded Reflection Press, a POC, queer and trans owned independent publishing house that uses holistic, nature-based, and anti-oppression frameworks in their books and materials for kids and grown-ups. She is also the creator of the Gender Wheel, a tool to express the dynamic, infinite and inclusive reality of gender, and provides lectures and workshops to educators, parents and caregivers. www.mayagonzalez.com | www.genderwheel.com | www.reflectionpress.com

The post PART 2: What are we really saying to our children? – Language Acquisition & Gender appeared first on Maya Gonzalez Blog.

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An example of why it’s so important to understand the power of language and how we use it, especially in books for children.

For context, see the previous two posts, Part 1 and Part 2.

Prior to this blog series on language acquisition and gender, I haven’t written a blog for a whole year. The last one was titled My Gender Work Was Stolen in the Children’s Book Industry. In it I primarily focused on the facts related to two books: one was a workbook that consciously lifted my gender work, and another was a children’s book that co-opted and distorted my Gender Wheel.

Matthew and I recently saw that the name of the co-opted wheel has been changed to the Interactive Wheel as the publisher said it would be. But it is still the same shape.  It also has the same language that we told both the author and her press was problematic, and why. We were ignored.

I’m glad this book and its language are no longer directly connected to The Gender Wheel, but it’s message continues to haunt me.

Especially, since this book is sometimes paired with our pronoun book and it’s been on lists in the children’s book industry, validating and uplifting its message.

I generally don’t speak to the problematic content in the workbook that columbused my work, but because I work in the children’s book industry, I have referenced issues in the children’s book in my gender presentations (usually without title).

But in February of this year I did something I hadn’t done before. I shared a brief post on a public media platform about what I consider to be one of the most damaging messages in Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity.

Sadly it’s on the co—opted Wheel in the back of the book. Far more than the plagiarism, this is what broke me and Matthew’s hearts and enraged us. It can still be emotional to talk about, but I was told the information was helpful so I’m providing it for easier reference.

Matthew and I did a full documentation of the cissexism embedded in the language of both books. This gave us a greater understanding of what was going on and the ability to speak about it. It’s been a lot to digest, but I want to take a moment to make something clear.

This is not about books having to be perfect. Everyone is learning all the time. I know I am. And it’s not about just this book, or the two of them. It’s much, much bigger than that. Certainly bigger than me and my feelings.

This is about patterns and dynamics of power embedded in everything, particularly how we speak, the actions we take and how this contributes to maintaining oppressive systems.

I’m only going to address the pull out ‘Interactive Wheel’ in the back of

Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity,

and only one sentence on one of the three concentric circles.

This problematic sentence is reflective of the rest of the book. The center circle that is referring to the body says, “I have…” with three choices, “a body that made adults guess ‘girl’ ; “a body that made adults guess ‘boy’ ; or “a body that made adults say ‘not sure.'”

Since we’ve explored the importance of language in the last 2 posts, I want to slow this down to really look at what is being communicated.

“I have a body that made adults…” Here a child claims for their self that their body made adults act, taking all the responsibility and placing it on their body for action upon it.

From a child’s perspective, there’s a tone of compassion for parents (or other adults) doing the best they can, my body made them do it. But this comes at the expense of the child.

The sole responsibility for action on their body is their body. This leaves no option to question or consent to action on their body, especially in relation to someone with greater power, like an adult.

This dynamic is impacted by the fact that gender assignments are attached to sex assignments. There is now a message that says everything happening to them is their own fault, because of their body. This is how oppression becomes internalized.

This is a common set up for women, femmes, trans, nonbinary, genderfluid, and queer people to be harmed. “You’re body made me do it.” This is profoundly compounded by racism.

The other part of the phrase,

guess ‘boy’ or ‘girl'” This can further isolate and disorient the child by removing responsibility or context of the oppressive system and the reality of how sex and gender are assigned, not assumed, in our current culture.

A guess or an assumption is very different than an assignment. Using the word guess erases the reality of how bodies are currently assigned the labels of “male” or “female” at birth and the rigid gender requirements attached to those labels. It also erases responsibility from the system that enforces these sex and gender requirements.

By extension, it erases the history of gender oppression and the colonization of the indigenous Americas and Two Spirit people.

So with this one sentence that a child is encouraged to say, “I have a body that made adults guess…”, all responsiblity is placed on their body and any other responsibility and context is removed. This effectively puts the full onus on the child for their own oppression.

Internalized oppression like body shame and blame must be negotiated by many adults from LBTQI2S+ communities, privately and out in the world, especially for those who are Indigenous or POC. That’s why our annual celebrations are called PRIDE! It takes a simple word to cut through a dense, oppressive cultural fog.

Even for those of us who are a part of the community, it can be challenging to understand the extent by which the dominant systems oppress us, especially with something as common and necessary as language. It takes work to say what you mean with a language shaped by the oppression of women, femmes and LGBTQI2S+ people.

I find it difficult to understand what the author of Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity was consciously trying to teach with her Interactive Wheel and children’s book when these messages are embedded in her work.

For me, my experience with this book has stressed the power of language, the importance of lived experience and why it’s where we must begin to create real change and equity.

This is our opportunity to finally take the onus off our kids & the larger LGBTQI2S+ community and put in on the system where it belongs.

Language is where we can create real change and equity.

There’s no time to waste.

We must heal the song we sing to our children.

(Missed the first two parts? View the full 3 part series here)

About Maya:

Maya Gonzalez is a Chicanx, queer femme artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. Her work addresses systemic inequity in relation to race/ethnicity, sexism and cissexism using children’s books as radical agents of change and healing, both personally and culturally. With her partner Matthew, she co-founded Reflection Press, a POC, queer and trans owned independent publishing house that uses holistic, nature-based, and anti-oppression frameworks in their books and materials for kids and grown-ups. She is also the creator of the Gender Wheel, a tool to express the dynamic, infinite and inclusive reality of gender, and provides lectures and workshops to educators, parents and caregivers. www.mayagonzalez.com | www.genderwheel.com | www.reflectionpress.com

The post PART 3: What are we really saying to our children? – Language Acquisition & Gender appeared first on Maya Gonzalez Blog.

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Context is Everything

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.

  1. Both books are authored by straight, white, cisgender women who are parents and work with gender professionally.
  2. 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.
  3. Both plagiarized my Gender Now work.
  4. 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.”

In 2017 I further developed my gender work with the picture books, They, She, He, Me: Free to Be coauthored with Matthew and The Gender Wheel: a Story about Bodies and Gender for Every Body.

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.
Thanks Frank.”

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.

The Impact

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,

You can contact the publishers: New Harbinger Publications and Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Or download bookmarks to slip between the pages of either book at the public library, bookstores, conferences, schools, etc.

You can also contact Bank Street about including plagiarized work on their book list.

Maya Gonzalez created The Gender Wheel and brought a holistic, nature-based vision of gender to kids. That is the truth.

We must always remember we are QueerEternal/GenderNow!

Forever darling,


We cannot be silenced.

Power OUT,


More Resources: About Maya:

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.

The post My Gender Work was Stolen in the Children’s Book Industry appeared first on Maya Gonzalez Blog.

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My Story

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.

Likewise, with 20 years of social justice work in the industry, it wasn’t until 2015 after 31 years as an OUT QUEER, that I “formally came out” as an LGBTQI children’s book author and artist.

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?

I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m finally ready.




More Links:

The post My Story, Your Story, Their Story, Who Gets to Tell It? appeared first on Maya Gonzalez Blog.

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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.


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.



Just like a holistic perspective of gender can be seen in the world by including the truth about nature, global cultural awareness, indigenous North America and early US history;

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

Body: Intersex/Trans/Cis.

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.”

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement, Peremptory Publications

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.”

Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders, Indian Country Today

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.

Pronouns are power.

Heart: Relationship – Partner, Family, Community/Queer, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Heterosexual, Pansexual, Asexual.

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.


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:

  1. Cultural significance – infinity, eternity, calendars – Mayan and Aztec
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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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.


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.


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.”

– Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors

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.”

– Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors

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.

You can learn more about the patriarchy’s early development here.

Still queer/trans/intersex people persisted.


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:

the most basic: nature,

to the next biggest: global cultures,

then closer to home: indigenous North America,

and focusing in: early US history.

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.”


When we place the cultural shift into perspective

From matrilineal to patrilineal,

From communal to individualistic,

From indigenous to Western,

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.


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.

Now imagine,

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.


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.


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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.


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.


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.’

– from Same-Sex Desire and the American Slave Narrative

“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.”

– from A Queer History of the United States

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.


One well known person in their time was Publick Universal Friend.

“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.”


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.

Real life:

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.


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.”

– from OutHistory.org, Challenging Gender Boundaries

There’s also Charlie Parkhurst a notorious stagecoach driver in the Old West.

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.

– from OutHistory.org, Challenging Gender Boundaries


Mary Walker

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.”

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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.

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….”

– Leslie Feinberg, from Transgender Warriors

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.

Changing Ones/Third and Fourth Genders In Native North America, was published in 1998. This book contains an extensive overview documenting multiple cultures and individuals.

Roscoe says,

“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

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.

WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT from When a Bully is President

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.

False accusations of cannibalism, harsh judgment against sodomy, and fabricated ‘proof of being irrational’ were used as justifications to enslave and slaughter huge swaths of indigenous people across North America from Mesoamerica to Canada.


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.

On LGBTQI2S+ Community:

1998, from Changing Ones/Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America:

“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.

In November 2017, the National Center for Transgender Equality released “a detailed report about the specific experiences of transgender American Indians and Alaska Natives in many areas of life.”


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…
          • expand your use of pronouns,
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