Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed last week’s post on NATURE, check that out here.
WELCOME TO MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS WEEK!
In PART TWO of the gender series we open our eyes to the whole world through greater multicultural awareness, beyond the US borders, remembering that many people in the US are immigrants historically, and currently.
This week begins with perhaps one of the most influential books I’ve read. Transgender Warriors/Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Leslie Feinberg. I knew of their work because of an earlier book, Stone Butch Blues published in 1993. Both of these books made sense out of my experience in the world as a queer femme and gave voice to something many of us were experiencing at that time but not completely understanding.
I can still sit and read Transgender Warriors for hours. There is so much queer/trans/intersex history from throughout time, and across the globe, gathered in one place all being digested in real time by a real life trans/queer. It’s like entering an alternate universe where people I love exist and where I make sense. Each story feels like a precious secret uncovered, another truth revealed. Even now, over 20 years from my first reading.
We have always been here. Queereternal.
That’s why we’re here now, and forever. Gendernow.
Despite geographic and historical distance of many of Leslie’s stories, they didn’t feel far away. And they included contemporary stories. These informed and contextualized my present. My ex had begun transitioning in 1994 and I was one of his main supports. And when I traveled to India in 1996, the same year Transgender Warriors came out, I witnessed a community of Hijras board our train and lovingly harass the passengers with song and dance until they were tipped appropriately. I also saw a singular Hijra out at a restaurant in the evening in a district where Indian women were prohibited to be out alone. This woman was not only alone, she was quite nearly holding court in the back of the small eatery as man after man waited on her.
Even though I lived a very queer life, I felt Feinberg’s work initiate a reorientation, perhaps because of its scope. Slowly but surely history and culture queer’d in all directions at once. No corner was left untouched. Nothing could be seen from the same angle again, ever. And the world felt more like home. I had been researching bits and pieces since I came out in 1984, but having one resource where I could immerse myself in so much information coupled with queer perspective was significant. It led me deeper into my self and my work.
I don’t pretend to understand how folks in other eras, cultures and locales felt or feel, especially about their sexuality and gender or how it fit/s into their social structure. But by learning as much as I can about as many different kinds of experience as possible, I’ve at least confirmed that there are countless ways to feel about sexuality and gender.
I don’t pretend to understand how folks in other eras, cultures and locales felt or feel, especially about their sexuality and gender or how it fit/s into their social structure. But by learning as much as I can about as many different kinds of experience as possible, I’ve at least confirmed that there are countless ways to feel about sexuality and gender. Focus, context and meaning can all shift and radically alter experience, sometimes to the point that all my reference points dissolve, even queer or gender expansive ones. This is massively humbling and reminds me to always be curious and not project my experience into seemingly open spaces.
“When I try to discuss sex and gender, people can only imagine woman or man, feminine or masculine. We’ve been taught that nothing else exists in nature. Yet, as I’ve shown, this has not been true in all cultures or in all historical periods. In fact, Western law took centuries to neatly partition the sexes into only two categories and mandate two corresponding gender expressions.”
“The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century,” historian Randolph Trumbach notes in his essay, ‘London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Gender in the Making of Modern Culture.’
When a patriarchal system using violent aggression to colonize and eradicate a culture is present, physical safety, economic survival, and emotional trauma contribute to cultural shifts that otherwise might not have happened.
The more and the longer a culture has contact with Western culture, especially through economic ties and/or colonization, the more judgmental some indigenous and nature based culture’s seem to become regarding gender and sexuality. Queer/trans/intersex people held a particular kind of power in many pre-contact, matrifocal cultures. When a patriarchal system using violent aggression to colonize and eradicate a culture is present, physical safety, economic survival, and emotional trauma contribute to cultural shifts that otherwise might not have happened.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces I felt Feinberg retrieved through their scholarship was the spiritual aspect of queer/trans/intersex people in multiple cultures. In fact, the very act of transitioning was often seen as a spiritual act.
“In ancient China, the shih-niang wore a combination of female, male, and religious garb. In Okinawa, some shamans took part in an ancient male-to-female ceremony known as winagu nati, which means, “becoming female.” And trans shamans were still reported practicing in the Vietnamese countryside in the mid-1970s.
Female-to-male priests also exist—and most importantly even co-exist with male to female shamans. Among the Lugbara in Africa, for example, male-to-females are called okule and female-to-males are named agule. The Zulu initiated both male-to-female and female-to-male isangoma. While male-to-female shamans have been part of the traditional life of the Chukchee, Kamchadal, Koryak, and Inuit—all Native peoples of the Arctic Basin—Inuit female-to-males serve White Whale Woman, who was believed to have been transformed into a man or a woman-man. And female-to-male expression is part of rituals and popular festivals with deep matrilineal roots in every corner of the world-including societies on the European continent.”
Legal third gender status is currently available in 11 countries: Austria, Australia, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom and parts of the United States.
Although people who would be assigned female are also present everywhere that people who would be assigned male are, the vast majority of documentation focuses on queer/trans/intersex people who would be assigned male. This may be in part the effects of patriarchy.
Here are three reflections from Samoa, India and Pakistan, and Indonesia.
Fa'afafine Documentary - YouTube
Queen of Lahore - A documentary about Hijra community - YouTube
India's Third Gender Movement | The Zainab Salbi Project Ep. 2 - YouTube
Five Genders? | National Geographic - YouTube
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine a world of 3, 4, or more genders. Not an isolated case, but a universal concept that included everyone. Everywhere that you could travel across the globe, everyone acknowledged the basic truth of nature, that there are numerous genders.
It’s easy to imagine all the small and large aspects of life that this would affect. Bathrooms, of course. Fashion. Travel. But don’t go there yet. Stay with yourself. Remember, in whatever way you can, your own birth. Imagine that there were more than 2 boxes to choose from, including a gender free option that allows an individual to acknowledge for their selves what gender is theirs, when the time is right. Imagine guiding your parent’s hand, choose this one!
What would it be?
And if you guided them to choose the same that you were assigned at birth, does it feel any different knowing that you and everyone has more choice?
Are you a parent? What if you had more than 2 boxes to choose for your child? What if you could give them time to figure their gender out for their selves? What would change if you had a 3rd or 4th box to assign them?
Now imagine for another moment, that the spiritual leaders in your community are queer/trans/intersex people. Perhaps it’s even you. What wisdom do you have to share? What stories would you tell to help others like you grow strong, especially our youth. Perhaps you’re already doing this. (thank you!!!xoxoxox) Many queer/trans/intersex people choose lives of community service. Spirit keeps us strong.
WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
the expanding DSM
Homo/transphobia is an international issue. Change toward greater acceptance is seen as a landmark shift toward human rights, but remains a hot topic. Queer/trans/intersex people are traditionally used as scapegoats in Western culture, and those impacted by colonization directly or indirectly, to release social pressure. Homosexuality is currently illegal in over 75 countries. Change is slow, but steady. This number is down from 92 countries in 2006. (you can go here for a full list and to learn more)
Another marker is the classification of homosexuality and transgender experience as a mental illness across the globe.
“First published in 1968, DSM-II (the American classification of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, transformed it from sin to mental disorder.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.
The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with “sexual orientation disturbance” for people “in conflict with” their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its ICD classification with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carries the construct of “ego-dystonic sexual orientation”. In this condition, the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual preference, but “wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders”.
The evolution of the status of homosexuality in the classifications of mental disorders highlights that concepts of mental disorder can be rapidly evolving social constructs that change as society changes. Today, the standard of psychotherapy in the U.S. and Europe is gay affirmative psychotherapy, which encourages gay people to accept their sexual orientation.”
Buzz Feed News published an overview in 2016 of a survey covering 23 countries across the world. There was a faint trend toward supporting transgender people. In Brazil 50% of the people surveyed said that they knew a transgender person, in Russia it was 16%. Spain and Argentina consistently showed more overall support in comparison to the other countries.
The spread of Western culture across the globe has fundamentally modified thought and practice in most indigenous cultures it has colonized. Gender and sexuality oppression seem to specifically appear in relation to Euro Western countries exploiting and colonizing indigenous, usually nature based cultures across the globe. This has a lasting impact and is firmed through a long standing international focus on Western culture and its academia, including Darwin. I’m reminded of what Trumbach said, “The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century.” Darwin’s influence cannot to be diminished, despite the fact that many of his theories remain unproven.
Many indigenous cultures retain positive traditions of homo/trans identity acceptance despite deeply rooted homo/transphobia introduced by and perpetuated through violent contact with Western culture.
On LGBTQI2S+ Community:
Oppression of our community can often feel explosive and violent as well as less significant in relation to other communities, even marginalized ones. It is connected to multiple layers of silence and suppression, misinformation and aggressive lies used to oppress the people at large by separating them from their core beliefs and truths. This is usually rooted in a past of violent colonization of indigenous people, usually most violent against queer/trans/intersex people of the community.
image from the children’s book, The Boy and the Bindi, read the HuffPost articleBACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
Look at queer/trans/intersex experience throughout the entire world pre-colonization. Then look at post-colonization perspectives and how and why a culture may have changed. Place this beside our more complete and current understanding from the last week of nature. The more we look at global experiences of what I’m calling queer/trans/intersex and how it’s talked about, especially through time, the more we can see the underlying indigenous culture still present alongside the impact of colonization. I believe Transgender Warriors would be wonderful required reading for queer/trans/intersex folks.
Including global perspectives in home and educational settings helps bring greater awareness to the diverse fabulousness and eternity of our community while highlighting some of the ongoing awareness that’s needed about international oppression.
Stepping away from exclusively Western/Euro/US LGBTQI2S+ frameworks expands the possibilities available from which to perceive gender and sexuality. Including global perspectives in home and educational settings helps bring greater awareness to the diverse fabulousness and eternity of our community while highlighting some of the ongoing awareness that’s needed about international oppression. This is an opportunity to engage larger and necessary conversations with our kids about racism, colonization and how it’s tied to homo/transphobia in our own country and abroad.
Bringing this kind of critical awareness and making connections at a kid’s level may seem daunting at first, but understanding our world and their position in it is empowering. And when we teach from a place of powerful self- and community-love first, that is the strongest message communicated and that will help keep all of us strong. The details and lessons are like seeds. They’ll grow over time.
It’s also valuable to understand nuance, make connections and further conversations. 10 countries where homo/trans expression may be punishable by death: Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates are Muslim. That doesn’t mean there aren’t queer/trans/intersex Muslim people. Like with Christianity it is a hot topic. Having been raised Catholic and then disowned by my family because of their faith and homophobia, understanding the history of the Bible and queer reality was my first step into historical activism. Looking at the different translations within context and how they changed over time was enlightening indeed and began a more expanded perspective of myself and helped me negotiate the intense homophobia in my family and the faith I was raised in. Islam is similar.
Books like these while explicit at times and inappropriate for kids, are a great resource for grownups to educate ourselves about the prevalence of queerness across all lines even when current narratives deny it.
Queer Theory and Queer Studies. Developed in the 1990’s queer scholarship and understanding is on the rise. There is power in truth, but again it’s important to retain critical awareness especially about context and history. There are many contributing factors and being able to see through the global influence of Western culture is imperative. I’m always excited to see new generations coming into voice, especially IPOC queer/trans/intersex folks.
Here is an interesting pair I found who freshly posted this video:
The International World of Queer Identity and Colonialism:
The International World of Queer Identity and Colonialism (ft. Political Personal) - YouTube
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
1.Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of LGBTQI2S+ Western frames in relation to gender and even sexuality. Again, this includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about thinking queer/trans/intersex indigenous people are exactly the same as our contemporary community. What is different? What is there to learn?
2.Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded..
5 weeks of expanding the mind and beautifying the world with Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness!
I’ve been studying and living my queer culture for over 30 years. There is much wisdom and beauty within it, great artistic expression and brilliant scholarship, small intimate stories and large sweeping narratives. This series is rooted in my community and meant to bring into greater light some of the basic truths of queerness in the world around us.
Since the 1990’s there’s been a noticeable uptick in queer scholarship in the areas of history, science and more. Not surprisingly, holding an outsider perspective lends itself to seeing through the dominant culture’s deeply held prejudices in numerous fields. Queer scholars have the tendency to expose what is and always has been in nature, in society, in history, in humans, with less filter and a queer lens. This leads us to what is truthfull, while teaching us more about LGBTQI2S+ falsehoods and how and why they’ve been perpetuated in our current culture. Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.
Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.
By stating what is, the need to defend, prove or convince others eventually becomes moot. We simply are. We can all stand in the truth of what is and grow from there. This has an enormous impact on our hearts and minds and bodies as queers/trans/intersex, and changes the ways that we move through the world inside and outside. Instilling confidence, belonging, respect and value are not something we have to work on or prove that we deserve any longer, we simply are. Allowing an internal shift to take place in view of this kind of information is key. The truth of what is will set us freee! We are and always will be, Queereternal, Gendernow!
The foundations of my gender work are the same ones that reverberate through all of my work, whether it explicitly addresses gender or not. Holistic, nature-based, rooted in self and community love, truth speaking, IPOC/LGBTQI2S+ centered, fully inclusive and meant for practical daily application.
Gender Now Coloring Book published in 2010
I began gathering resources and sharing my gender work for kids and families in 2010 with my Gender Now Coloring Book. I wanted a solid go-to resource that I could use with my kids that would also be valuable for other families. It’s loaded with information. TONS of information! (There are a lot of games and play too!)
I’ll be teasing out some of the resources and details of Gender Now as we move through this series. I just have to say, everything is jammed with love! I hope this serves as a call to more and more truth and love centering and listening to the LGBTQI2S+ community, especially Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC). Our gorgeousness abounds! We must share OUT!
What’s in store each Week
Each of the next 5 weeks will focus on a different theme: Nature, Multicultural Awareness, Indigenous, and US history, and finally the Gender Wheel. The series is appropriate for grownups and young adults, but is ultimately about bringing greater awareness and support to our kids and families.
Each week begins with an introduction to books by queer scholars and goes on to include the following sections: Imagine for a moment, What is commonly taught and thought, Back to the truth and Practical daily application with 4 areas where you can put truth to action. There’s also coloring pages, children’s books, scholarly books, videos and more.
A Holistic frame is used throughout the series. Mind is not separate from body, and sexuality is not separated from gender. This perspective is developed through the course of the series culminating in the Gender Wheel. Consequently, gender is seen relative to the LGBTQI2S+ community.
This series is just a beginning and is not meant to be a sole resource. It is a glimpse into a fraction of the research I’ve done. It is explicitly meant as a doorway to further study and play. The more we lift up and use the brilliant scholarship from our own community, the sooner truth will support us in creating a more equitable world of love and respect.
WELCOME TO NATURE WEEK!
In PART ONE of the series we open our eyes to the natural world all around us, remembering that we too are a part of nature.
We begin by looking at two highly praised books that represent a slow and growing trend. They document the reality of animals. As a consequence they also highlight how Western culture has suppressed the truth of queer/trans/intersex expression and presence in nature. While it will take years, perhaps even decades for the professional field to create overarching academic frameworks to accommodate this shift in thinking, the information is out there now and its strength is growing.
As parents, educators and activists we can support a shift toward this kind of truth telling by keeping ourselves abreast of this developing scholarship and exploring how to put it to practical daily use, especially in the classroom and home.
After 10 years of research, Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance/Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was published in 1999. Nature/International Journal of Science said, “This book should surely become the standard reference work for research on the topics covered.” It gathers in once place a staggering array of over 300 mammals and birds, documenting same-sex partnering and extensive gender diversity.
“The animal world—right now, here on Earth—is brimming with countless gender variations and shimmering sexual possibilities: entire lizard species that consist only of females who reproduce by virgin birth and also have sex with each other; or the multigendered society of the Ruff, with four distinct categories of male birds, some of whom court and mate with one another; or female Spotted Hyenas and Bears who copulate and give birth through their ‘penile’ clitorides, and male Greater Rheas who possess ‘vaginal’ phalluses (like females of their species) and raise young in two-father families; or the vibrant transsexualities of coral reef fish, and the dazzling intersexualities of gynandromorphs and chimeras. In their quest for ‘post-modern’ patterns of gender and sexuality, human beings are simply catching up with the species that have preceded us in evolving sexual and gender diversity—and the aboriginal cultures that have recognized this.”
In 2004, Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow/Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People was published. Nature/International Journal of Science weighed in again saying, “As a compendium of information on sex and gender diversity in the natural world, Roughgarden’s is the richest and most authoritative book available,” making it a perfect companion to Bagemihl’s book.
“Roughgarden’s compilation shows wide variations of gender expression among vertebrates, demonstrating that several stereotypes about gender are simply incorrect, she maintains. For example animals aren’t just male or female; individuals can be both male and female at the same time or be one or the other at different times. Males are not necessarily bigger than females, and in many species, it’s not the females who give birth but rather males that incubate eggs in a pouch. And like the Bluegill Sunfish, many species have three or more genders.”
Sex-Changing Clownfish (4-min) - YouTube
And the scholarship continues. These two books don’t reflect the work of one person, but literally hundreds of people working in their field.
A 2009 study says, “Same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds, concludes a new review of existing research.”(1)
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine that everything you see around you in the natural world is queer/trans/intersex, similar to humans. Every plant, every animal, every insect and bird, flora and fauna alike.
Imagine the natural, exuberant expression of everything, visible everywhere you look. Feel yourself as an integral part of all of this. Couple this with the idea that all of this diversity and expression is appreciated and valued as important and necessary. Nature and all that it is, is seen as perfectly natural.
‘Queer’ is no longer other. Queer! is everything.
Finally, imagine growing up and being taught this in school. Imagine your parents, family and friends speaking casually about the queer/trans/intersex-ness of all nature as if it’s normal and necessary and encouraging you to learn about it too.
WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)
At this time and for a long time, Darwinism is the name of the game. Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) is considered the father of evolution and described as one of the most influential figures in human history. The impact of his work cannot be denied or diminished, despite the fact that there is a lack of evidence for most of his theories.
Beyond his basic thoughts about evolution, he included that nature is inherently competitive, the purpose of sex is procreation, females of a species are small and coy, while males of a species are large and aggressive. Anything and everything falling outside of these parameters is aberrant according to Darwin. And coupled with his belief that man evolved from apes was the belief that the white race was the most evolved thus superior, with all other races falling in graduated ranks below. (This last one continues to be knocked down through genetics that state there is only one race. All humans are equal.)
Now I don’t pretend to know everything. In fact, what I’m sure of is that there is still much to learn and synthesize in ways that I cannot know, possibly ever. But I do believe there is much that can be known. For example, it is always valuable to look at what is, especially when it comes to that kind of influence attributed to one person. Looking at Darwin’s context, what his theories explicitly and implicitly foster and/or promote and how they’ve impacted our LGBTQI2S+ community can be known and can shed light on a larger perspective of how Darwin’s theories still function in our society and why.
Here are some extremely general sweeps to place Darwin in context. He predominantly lived and worked during what is called the Victorian age in England, 1837-1901. This era is known for hypocrisy and repression, sexual restraint and a strict and limiting moral code. It is also a time of great transformation, including a shift from a highly religious social frame to a more secular one. Until 1861 homosexuality was an offence punishable by death. Slavery was legal until 1833.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was seen by some as a threat to traditional creationist beliefs. Still it was widely accepted by the 1870’s by the scientific community and a majority of the educated public, marking a secular shift in consciousness at the time.
Queen Victoria reigned and is the namesake for the era, however the British Empire was a patriarchy and sought to expand across the globe using violence, particularly in Asia and Africa.
Some of the fundamentals of Darwin’s theories will sound familiar as they’ve either been subsumed into Western culture or rise from it. These beliefs can become invisible, creating an implicit back drop that constantly promotes and supports the patriarchal Western Culture from the inside out.
These include but are not limited to, man over nature. Women are inferior. Man over woman. Nature is competitive, not cooperative. Survival of the fittest. White supremacy. Sex is for procreation and the survival of the species. There is only male and female. Everything always partners in heterosexual pairs.
On LGBTQI2S+ Community:
The impact on our community begins with the erasure of queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies from nature through the exclusive focus on heterosexual males and females. Our invisibility makes it easier to control the dominant narrative about us, maintain judgment, as well as avoid talking about bodies and sex. When queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies do come to light they are positioned outside of what is considered normal and positive, because sex without the possibility of procreation is considered fundamentally wrong, even unnatural.
BACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
The more we look at nature and how it’s talked about the more we can see the layers of impact Darwinism has had on science, Western society, and our community in particular. In contrast, Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.
Her perspectives and those of many more like her, propose that there is another, more authentic way to include all expressions of gender and sexuality throughout the natural world in ways that do not encourage dominance and prejudice.
Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.
You can learn more through her TED talk:
Sexual diversity in nature: Joan Roughgarden at TEDxAmazonia - YouTube
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
1.Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of Darwinism. This includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about ‘understanding or explaining gender.’ It’s about looking at everything and seeing how gender is naturally expressed everywhere all the time around us.
2.Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded understanding of nature and gender. For example, stop saying ‘boys and girls’ and instead say people or kids. Become aware of more and more gender assumptions. For example, excusing boys for physically rough behavior while assuming or encouraging girls to be less physical or physically smaller. And so on.
3.Interrupt falsehoods. Speaking truth is awesome, but it has to be coupled with interrupting untruths or it has no power. We must also take the time to say what is not true and acknowledge that almost everything around us is saying these untrue things about nature and gender, but that doesn’t make them anymore true. If we don’t model this for our kids, no one will. We can embrace the truth about nature now. Some simple examples are kid movies. Speaking the truth about Clown Fish, bears, snails, whales, and so on. Snails are not girls or boys. Some lizards are lesbians. Some animals are both girl and boy.
4.Educate toward truth/children’s books and adult resources. These are what I consider my absolute basics to date.
These days, these days, these days. Everything changing. So much discomfort. Everywhere hope and courage. So much waking up as the children take to the streets speaking truth OUT loud.
So much more waiting in the wings.
These days, I close much of my correspondence with “take good care through these bumpy times.” I can’t not acknowledge the world shaking around us, within us, reality shift, shift, shifting about. I personally feel compelled, driven, but always looking to soften and slow down to stay strong for the long dance and the ever moving earth.
Last year feels like a blur. It was a deep and challenging year and I’m damn happy it’s over, although there were some pretty fantastic times too. This year feels different. I feel strangely seasoned, knees bent, head up. Blowing in the wind like a tree.
It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths.
It was a phenomenal journey that began in 2015. As I look at the three books and the 58 artistauthors who shared their work over this time, I’m humbled and perfectly blown away. They prove to me what I know in my heart. Everyone has a story. Everyone is an artist and it changes us when we express.
It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths. I love indigenous, POC, LGBTQI2S+ narratives unbridled by limitation, valued from the heart, and not just included, but centered. I love creativity allowed to flow in service first to ourselves, and then overflowing out from there into our communities, changing the world.
Voice Is a Revolution mini-course in School of the Free Mind
This last year I dropped deeply again into the practice of children’s books. I wanted to share through posting a few videos to the school, but much to my surprise it resulted in a mini course just added to School of the Free Mind called, Voice is a Revolution: Writing Children’s Books from the Holistic Self.
It validates that it can be personally challenging to come more powerfully into voice, which leads to sharing what practices supported me most during this last year and finally a series of guided worksheets to support coming into a more holistic voice. This last piece is connected to a workshop I got to do during my Fresno residency. I’m excited because this holistic piece resonates throughout my work and one of my goals is to make it as accessible as possible to folks. It expands who we are! Of course I’ve got a picture book in mind.
For me personally, a strong voice and a holistic self are fundamental to staying strong while having my own indie press. Everything I do in some way points to folks starting their own presses and expanding beyond the traditional systems. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to turn the tides of our culture, but the time is clearly NOW. Make Books Now!
I’ve got a number of more books in the makes this year. I don’t want to say what, when, where, how–too much until the time comes, but there are some fabulously marvelous bits!!!! And this Fall I’ll be sharing something I’ve never done before and it is moving me toward one of my secret dreams.
I’ve also begun a partnership with two fabulous activists, Laurin Mayeno and Mauro Sifuentes. Already deep in the mix, we’ll be doing a private presentation soon, and then present again this summer at Gender Odyssey in Seattle. Aligning our work and standing together feels revolutionary and comforting. I am beyond excited to push beyond the binary with these two.
Counteracting Bias with Action
The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI children’s books by non-LGBTQI authors communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth.
I’ve also begun sharing my new worksheet, Vetting LGBTQI Children’s Books with Love at the North Bay LGBTQ Family Symposium last month. After two rounds of plagiarism this last year and seeing firsthand the kind of distortion and damage that can be done by non-LGBTQI people speaking about our lives and realities, I felt I had to do something.
I consolidated the framework I use to review LGBTQI children’s books with a queer-centric perspective into a worksheet to open the conversation (you can see this in practice at our School of the Free Mind/The Heart of It LGBTQI book reviews). The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI books by non-LGBTQI authors I’ve come into contact with communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth. I’ll be sharing this worksheet next month as part of my Gender Month (read more below).
There are an abysmal amount of children’s books for our community. We need MORE QUEER VOICES and stories rising from QUEER WISDOM and LIVED EXPERIENCE. WE need to lead the narratives that are connected to our lives and families and LGBTQI2S kids.
Book Festivals, Interviews and Reviews
March I’ll be at the Tuscon Book Festival. Feel free to come make art with me at one of the workshops if you get a chance. I’ll also be on a number of panels with other amazing artists and authors who have received the honor of a Pura Belpré Award. And I get to share the stage with Peter Reynolds in one panel, another favorite of mine.
Ok, like I say in my workshops, I’m going to shut up now. I have literally a thousand or more things to bring in but there’s more serious play to attend to, like next month. March is Gender Month on my blog. Every Friday I’ll be sharing a big chunk of my research here and how it ties to The Gender Wheel and much, much more. There will be articles and videos and reviews, as well as coloring pages, curriculum and play!
There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work.
Lots of information for grownups and kids. Just like with children’s books where I share everything I know from 20+ years in the biz, I’m going to share all the extra fabulously nerdy research that lies within my gender books for kids that I’ve accumulated over 30+ years of queerdom. This is an inside story. There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work. I can’t wait!
Alright darlings, love. Love and love and love and more love.
Make it strong, make it aggressive and sure footed, aim for your own heart, your own spirit. Dive into loving your truly valuable self. We need you. We need your voice, or we are not a whole people. Together, we are the revolution. The world is changing right now. It’s going to be a long dance, but with deep self love spreading out to community love, WE ARE THE WAY. Voice is a Revolution.
Take good care through these bumpy times my love, xomaya
How do I begin to talk about Orlando? Or about this last year? It hasn’t been an easy one. It has been a year of waking up in the challenge, a year of marching and leaning forward enough to maintain momentum. No longer necessary to seek the journey, it has rushed into our faces. We must become the journey if we want to go forward in this political climate. We must embody our path.
So to speak of Orlando is to speak of self. And as a queer Chicana when I speak of self I must also speak of love. I must carry my own supply, because this world has little for me. Orlando made that clear, again.
And my love, even my self love, I know is not mine, but part of the greater flow. As I love my self, I send love to the families. As I love my self, I send love to the lost. As I love my self, I change the world in which a massacre like the one at Pulse can happen.
I must hold self love up high enough to see through the lies of this land and keep my self alive, embodied.
This is the revolution.
This is the epitome of being queer to me.
Creativity has always been my modes operandi. When the going gets tough and the going is definitely tough, the creative start making art! The portraits of those lost are most moving. They serve not only as a memorial, but also as an act of respect. Art is a way to commune with a subject. As artists, we take them in and then express out how they move us. They literally move through us. Through our eyes, our heart and finally out our hands onto the canvas or page. Artists re-embody their subjects through themselves. And again I come to love.
The more we love ourselves, the more we express love through everything we create, the more creativity is an act of love both self and communal. Self. Community. Creativity. Love. This is life to me. This is political. Our creativity is within to heal us and those around us. That’s why it’s suppressed.
To unleash our creative power is one of the strongest acts of self love there is.
In April, I spontaneously began writing my first YA novella, Ma Llorona. It hit hard and fast. Unexpected, even disruptive. I got the main body of it but eventually learned that what I thought I knew I didn’t. Numerous times I thought it was ready for final edits, but as I do with my creative work, I prayed into it instead of looking for closure. I asked for insight and healing every step of the way, especially since I had never done anything like this before. And in perfect order, my creative prayers delivered again and again and the story expanded, deepened, healed more and more of me. I didn’t know how much of me would be held or healed by this story. I didn’t know that I had the ability to let something like this pass through me. I’m still rattled, still a bit shaky.
By the time the manuscript was complete, and I’ll be honest I’m still on final edits, Orlando had become part of the story. It wasn’t my initial intention. It was a deeper, intuitive healing. The kind that sneaks up on you because it’s so deep it can’t be consciously courted. As I worked through the timeline with the calendar I realized that Orlando occurred at a key moment. It was there, embedded in the story already, waiting to be included. When I looked at why it would be there, it fit perfectly. It made sense. It was only a matter of me opening my eyes and accepting it.
So today as I actively work on completing and submitting the second proof to my printer, as I love my self and send deep love to the families and those lost in Orlando, I howl out to our ancestors and I howl into the power of creativity to heal us through these times.
I HOWL LOVE.
I HOWL THE POWER TO CREATE.
I HOWL THE POWER TO HEAL.
The ancient river ghost, La Llorona guides me to speak however messy, to step forward however clumsy, to lean into my own ghosts both personal and ancient and find a way through the shadows.
I reclaim La Llorona as an indigenous, queer, MesoAmerican reflection. She is ours now. She belongs to us queers. We need her to howl with us, to teach us about grief. But more than one ghost, I claim all of our ghosts. I claim all of our stories as valuable, all of our history as necessary, I call out all the healing waiting to be unleashed through the power of our voices. As queer Latinx/Chicanx we can heal. We can change the world. We can paint, write, express. With love we can re-embody and transform this world. It’s ours. I claim this world as queer. Now.
It makes sense that Orlando is a part of Ma Llorona. Orlando is very deep for us as queer Latinx/Chicanx. It is part of our story now. It is ours to heal. It is ours to see that it rides not only on the moment it happened, but on everything that led to that moment. From MesoAmerica to Mexico City to San Francisco to Orlando, the ghosts are calling.
Tonight, like last year we will gather in the Castro and fill the sky with our love, and our grief. We will stand with the ghosts and we will tell their stories. Our stories.
Tonight, we will change the world, the way queers always do.
By loving ourselves and using our voices.
Tonight we stand with Orlando.
Blessings OUT on this one year anniversary. Queer Eternal.
The act of telling our own stories is a radical act.
I continue to stand humbled by the power of creativity and its ability to heal us and change the world we live in. It’s with a sense of urgency that creativity flows through me these days. Sometimes it feels like the only realness in a mad, mad world. I know for myself going through my own personal challenges, creativity has been the anchor, the teacher, the expression I needed to heal and further myself on the path of life. I have said for many years that I sit at the feet of the creative force, a devotee open to learn. Unleashing the creative force within myself and allowing it to flow with greater and greater power is one of my primary goals in life. From this all else flows.
In that flow, I just spent the last 3 weeks writing my first novella. It was unexpected, and overwhelming at times. As I step away and begin final reads and edits, I find I am more committed to the power of voice as a revolution to heal us, to reclaim our history, to change the vision we hold of ourselves… I could go on forever! Instead I’ll land on this.
WE NEED YOUR VOICE. WE NEED YOUR STORIES. The weight of silence is very real. It has affected our hearts and our minds. The world has changed without our voices in it. We must find a way to step forward and reclaim storytelling.
For over 20 years I have been citing CCBC’s statistics to portray the sobering vision of silence for POC and Indigenous people. But the last few years I began focusing on what else those statistics are telling us. When we look at them from a creator’s perspective, we see how many more books we need to make to step forward into our voice in the world. We see the power that is ours to rise into, the spaces where our voices are needed.
Look at the graphics below. See where your community stands. I follow the BLUE statistics to see where Latinx like me stand. Our numbers are stunning. Looking at the enormous silence and invisibility we live with as a community. I can literally feel the courage it has taken me to step into voice. It’s been a deep and healing challenge, a 40 year journey, ever since I was 13 when I first decided I would write.
Where we stand as of 2016 in U.S. Children’s Book Industry:
Where we should be if POC&Indigenous authors were telling our own stories:
How the last 11 years (& beyond) has impacted us:
What can we do about it now?
Voice is a revolution. For you. For me. For all of us. We need your voice. We need your story. Now more than ever.
There is an urgency to step forward and a knowing now that we must do it for ourselves.
I’ve provided everything I know along the way through School of the Free Mind and will continue to share stories, book templates, statistics and everything imaginable on our collective journey toward presence and voice.
In that spirit,
Reflection Press will be releasing my next book, a ghost story novella, fabulously soon! And several other children’s books are in the works. We also have plans to offer anthology submission opportunities and are preparing to open up scholarships again for School of the Free Mind. Join our Mailing List to stay in the loop!
More details coming soon. Stay tuned!
(Note about the statistics above: Simplifying statistics helps us identify overall trends but does not represent the nuance of our communities. Also every effort has been made to show accurate numbers, however our goal is not to get caught up in the specificity of the numbers but bring awareness to the reality of the situation and inspire effective action.)
I’m no stranger to the inequities that exist for People of Color, Indigenous and Queer authors and artists. I’ve been teaching and lecturing about it and its impact for 20 years in the children’s book industry. I speak from knowing and teach from understanding on a personal level.
So why the element of surprise, or at least something akin to surprise, when after teaching how to make children’s books for the last 3 years, I confirmed what I already knew?
Maybe the heart is always surprised when faced with the reality of inequity. I don’t know. Maybe it just hit too close to home.
What I saw was nothing short of a consistent and persistent pressure in our society to silence and erase marginalized communities, explicitly and implicitly. No surprise, right? Nope.
Still totally shocking? Yes.
I am haunted by what I witnessed. Not once, not twice. But to some degree, constantly. I cannot give one individual example that isn’t echoed nearly verbatim by another and another. Real lives and hearts and bodies.
As I paid attention to what happens when people tell their stories, or try to tell them, I could see clearly the shape and layers of our oppression. I could see more clearly my own as I stood among my people and listened.
What I had initially thought was my own story, what I initially thought were my own limitations and wounds, I confirmed without doubt were shared by all of us in a community.
Some people outside of PoC, Indigenous or Queer communities, may have had some similarities. Sadly I noticed white Americans who experienced strong trauma in their lives carried similar challenges to folks who’s primary trauma was simply being born to a marginalized community. The difference however, is that being a part of a marginalized community permeates all aspects of life, ancestry, past, present and potentially future.
So how does silence and invisibility in children’s books impact our ability to tell our stories and be seen?
I will answer with my own experiences because I know that my story holds the bones of all the stories I heard. To some degree, what I am about to share I saw in all of us. It moved me to understand that it was not isolated, but consistent and persistent for PoC, Indigenous and Queer authors and artists.
Before telling my stories my mind would be distracted by doubts.
Even though I am filled with stories I would think that I need to be formally educated to tell them ‘properly.’ I felt that no one will listen and that my story is not important. It is not the kind of story that gets attention. Or that I can’t tell my story, too many people would be hurt or angry if I told what I really want to tell, so safer left unsaid.
When I began telling my stories I couldn’t get it right no matter how hard I tried. Everything kept slipping from my hands.
I would feel inspired and excited but once I got going the story would be disjointed and confusing; endings were difficult. I couldn’t naturally hold my voice and flow. And if I ‘tried’ to write I felt all this pressure and seemed to fold up; I couldn’t figure things out or understand how to put things together. After a lifetime of hearing stories in the media, there seemed to be a disconnect between ‘what a story is’ and what my story is.
What’s important to me doesn’t seem important to anyone else. I have to constantly stand up for myself.
White editors unconsciously modified a story of mine, erasing the most essential part that had to do with identity and belonging. They were ‘educational experts’ so I didn’t question their frame at the time. It wasn’t until after publication that I found the change. I felt that by not being on my guard I let kids down and was misrepresented.
I want to be seen and acknowledged for my work. At the same time, who do I think I am?
Just as my work was about to take off in a significant way, I got sick, very sick and was derailed for years from doing what I have been compelled to do all my life. Survival took all my focus. I realized that being seen felt dangerous in a way I could not put into words and my body responded unconsciously. It was only after I was out of survival mode that I could fully understand what took place and why.
When I engage with bigger systems in the world, I feel smaller.
I get overwhelmed, feel heavy, even lose interest. It’s like I can’t speak the language or play some invisible game that everyone else seems to already understand. I am very smart, but end up feeling dumb and ill equipped.
Violence in the media against my communities can take me out for hours, days, sometimes weeks. It just depends.
Experiences like Orlando light up the pathways of fear that exist within me, my friends and family. Depending on how close it hits to my own experience as a woman, Chicanx, queer or those I love, I can’t work as well; I don’t want to speak to as many people; my creative flow gets jammed; I have to take a break from projects that bring out my vulnerability and/or power. I hide inside in a million different ways.
Experiences like the ones above may come in waves, or at different times and in an ever changing variety of ways. It can be challenging at first to see the accumulative effect in yourself, especially without placing blame squarely on your own shoulders. But when we see the patterns in context, we begin to understand that we are not alone.
How can we create change when the silencing is so pervasive?
Touching the reality of silence in the world, including our own is an invaluable step.
It’s important to respect silence and how it has kept us alive. And when it is time, and not before, we can begin the walk home, toward #ownvoices.
The healing is real. The power that’s rising matters. As the adults, we must begin with ourselves. If we want to change our representation in children’s books in a profound and lasting way, we can’t leave it to someone else. We must begin with the silence in our own lives, in our own communities. We were once the kids we’re talking about. We are the ones who can make the most difference.
What we need are the stories in all of us. This is what we must call forth. The lasting storytellers will rise and keep telling more stories. But right now, we need everyone’s stories. Your story. Your voice. Your experience. Your life. Your laughter, your way of seeing. You. Are. Filled. With. Stories. The stories of a hundred years, five hundred years! MORE!
I understand the insideousness of silence, the layers and layers. It is a surprisingly powerful act for those of us who aren’t used to seeing ourselves in books or hearing our voices in the world. It can be hard to put into words what happens on a soul, even ancestral level as our voice grows stronger in the face of insistent silence.
What I know.
When our children see us center ourselves as PoC, Indigenous and Queer people in children’s books we break silence and change the world they see everywhere else.
No child should long for their own image.
Join me in the truth that we are not just here, we are gorgeous in our BEing!
A new bilingual children’s book series that celebrates LGBTQ history through the lens of multicultural and multigenerational queer family
The Pop-Ups’ Picnic, the first book in the series, will be published by Reflection Press in 2017
The Pop-Ups are what we call GrandPop and PopPop, Sky’s grandfathers. Like all grandparents, they love spending time with their grandkid.
Sky’s first big plane trip was to the Pop-Ups’ picnic to meet all kinds of family, the relatives she’s related to by birth and the aunties, uncles, queens and fairies she’s also related to by birth. Sky’s family is 2nd generation with queer parents and grandparents! So while there’s always family, there’s also “family!”
Sky at the Pop-Ups Picnic, 2014
The series opens with the Pop-Ups’ annual picnic. It’s tradition to bring the community together once a year ever since the small town’s gay bar closed. Now everyone’s invited! “Family” and family! A peek into LGBTQ history through the lens of family.
And the Pop-Ups and Sky have just begun. Follow the series as life and history become one! Weddings, Oakland Pride, the Castro, the Sisters, Compton Cafeteria, Philly’s Gayborhood, NYC’s Stonewall.
The series will honor our ancestors, share our history toward equality while celebrating courage with a mad dash of fabulousness right down to our very own Pop-Ups who will have been together for 30 years in 2017 when the first book comes OUT!
There’s no better way to convey how great it is to be gay than with the Pop-Ups! Come learn, it’s not just OK to be gay, it’s freakin awesome!
I didn’t pause. I sat down and wrote the truth book as soon as Matthew suggested I create something in response to the 2016 election, because I know. I know what it’s like to be bullied in big and small ways. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have any power in a situation. I knew this is how kids were feeling. Not because I was hearing it on my social media, but because I know.
I immediately wrote the book because in my imagination I could see the faces of all the kids I’ve worked with over the last 20 years. I reached toward them like I always do, because I know. I recognize myself in them which is why I continue to share what I use to strengthen myself and firm my own resilience in a larger framework that does not want or welcome me.
This book is not your usual children’s book. It’s more of a self-care book for kids using truth and creativity as tools to deal with bullying. You might say this is the heart of social justice. The inner work, but for kids.
As social justice activists know, burn out is real. Actively engaging with the world at large about our own oppression takes a toll. Coming face to face with the words they call us, the things they think about us, the eternally clever ways they sidestep equity and perpetuate power over us instead of true power rising can be exhausting and sometimes just heartbreaking. Microaggressions or massive legislation. How do we mediate this for ourselves let alone for our kids? How do we support their education and activism without burdening them with their own oppression, but instead enlivening them to become more true to their selves?
Rising from a Holistic frame instead of a Western one, When a Bully is President does not focus on fighting and resisting, although ACTION and ACTIVISM are supported. It’s about what makes us strong from the inside out. Truth and creativity. Tools like these call in our full self and are often dismissed or diminutized precisely because of their power and ability to make us more resilient and stronger for the long haul.
When a Bully is President is about reclaiming that inner journey for our kids as they participate in today’s activism with the hope that as they develop discernment and self-love, the work toward social justice will continue and evolve tomorrow. True power rises. From the lowest up and from the inside OUT!
The book is available NOW through most online retailers and can be ordered by bookstores through Ingram.
In the makes is the reader’s guide and how to stage a community project. I’ll share those later this week along with a short reading list about few of the pieces at the core of my work if anyone is interested in their own study.
Want to explore creating your own children’s book like When a Bully is President? DO IT! We are in deep need! Go here to learn more.
The revolution is always now, because darling, you are the revolution! Love you. xomaya
In the days ahead we must know the truth of who we are and that we are pure creative power.
Go slowly and carry your pen. Document your life and experiences, your thoughts, your children, the people you know. Write. When you don’t have words, draw. Use your creative power to guide you and know yourself. Let it flow through these days and through your heart.
Because if we’re going to make it through, and we will, we’re going to have to open new paths, dream new worlds, write a whole new story.
We need our creativity more than ever.
Take care today. And tomorrow. Take care during all of these days.
They will test our love, for ourselves, for each other. These days will test our love for truth and our love for humanity.
But through everything, creativity will guide us back to the truth of ourselves.