The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and Cartoon Network have launched a cheery new comic starring Cartoon Network characters that highlights the power and importance of respecting gender identity through the use of pronouns.
The comic, part of NBJC and Cartoon Network’s ongoing collaboration, was designed by members of the NBJC Youth and Young Adult Action Council (YYAAC) with artist Steven Lowe (@steeeeevn), a team of talented creators from Cartoon Network Studios, and leadership from NBJC’s director of education programs and research, Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond.
“At the heart of our work at NBJC is affirmation of the dignity and beauty of our Black transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary and other gender-expansive siblings,” said Darling-Hammond. “This comic strip advances our goals by showing what it looks like to treat people with respect, while finding a sense of common humanity. Our hope is that this strip’s audience, of all ages and backgrounds, will feel inspired to begin volunteering their own gender pronouns, respect those of others, and normalize awareness of the existence of people across the gender universe. We believe that recognizing and celebrating gender expansiveness will move us closer to a world where we can all be healthy, happy, and whole.”
NBJC’s YYAAC member Tyler Miles adds that “Part of the excitement of this project is that we are engaging a topic that young people almost always have experience with, but don’t often have the space to discuss. Whether these youth identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, cis, or the multitude of identities therein, this comic is a radical act of trust and care to reach all youth who are beginning to, or have already, thought critically about gender. They are heard, they are seen, they are accepted, and they are loved.”
Very often, faith and LGBTQ identities are seen in opposition. A new picture book, however, celebrates both the Jewish spiritual tradition and families of all types, including ones with same-sex and gender non-conforming parents and Jewish families of color. The two Jewish authors—one Black, in a different-sex relationship, and one White, in a same-sex one—shared with me a little about their motivation for writing it.
When Aviva Brown went looking for a book to give to friends who had just had babies, she discovered that her favorite, one she herself had been given, was out of print. She had already written and self-published a children’s book, Ezra’s Big Shabbat Question, to reflect her own Black Jewish family, “so I decided that if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d just write a book myself,” she told me via e-mail. “I thought about all the hope, joy, fear, and humility that raising children inspires and I wanted to put it into a book with a decidedly Jewish point of view.” She shared her idea with her friend Rivka Badik-Schultz, who relates that Brown told her, “We need an inclusive, Jewish baby book.”
“I agreed and she sent me her first rough draft,” Badik-Schultz said. “Several reimaginings and revisions later we had a draft we both loved.”
Brown added, “I’m a huge advocate for diversity in Jewish kidlit, and I knew that I wanted to show the many, many variations of Jewish families. My family has a mom, a dad, and four kids, but that isn’t every family. The modern Jewish family may have two parents of the same gender, or one parent, or gender non-conforming parents, and so many other variations. Rivka and I wanted to try to show at least some of those families on the page.”
“When it came to the illustrations, we were both completely on the same page,” Badik-Schultz affirmed. “We wanted to represent different family structures and the diversity of Jewish families. We wanted to show families with single parents, adopted children, and raising grandchildren. We wanted to show gender non-conforming parents, same-sex couples and interracial families. We wanted to show a spectrum of what it means to have a ‘new family.’” They succeeded—and the gender non-conforming parent even became the cover image.
She added, “I am a white, cis woman in a lesbian relationship. Our daughter is 9. As she has grown up we have strived to provide her with a diverse literary cast of characters. But—when she was a baby there were so few options. Mama, Mommy, and Me was really the only baby book we had that remotely represented our family. But at least we had one! I have many friends in the LGBTQ community and one of the complaints that I often hear is that baby books—even those aimed at our community—tend to assume that at least one parent is cis-female. Minority racial populations see even less of themselves represented in baby books. Getting to work with Aviva on ensuring that there was racial diversity as well as gender diversity was a special treat.”
Their book,I Looked Into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families, is a loving poem from parent to child told as a series of comparisons between the parent and various figures from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). “The first time I looked into your eyes, I laughed like Sarah,” it begins. The parent then wept like Hannah and sang like Miriam. “As I looked into your eyes,” it continues, “I wished for Abraham’s generosity, Moses’ humility, and Joshua’s courage while the city walls crumbled.” The poem then speaks of the peace, oneness, and love that the parent feels while looking into their child’s eyes.
On one page, a parent talks of feeling “the Divine Spirit,” but there is no mention of “G-d” per se (and thus no gendering of G-d), a light touch that feels like it leaves room for Jews with varying conceptions of the divine. While the text and biblical references would work for families of any Abrahamic tradition, a few pages include Jewish symbols, like Stars of David and a tzedakah box for charitable giving, that mark it as intended for (though not necessarily limited to) Jewish families.
The illustrations, by Catherine Sipoy, depict modern families doing family things—having a meal, reading a bedtime story, going to the doctor, looking at the stars—with insets showing the relevant biblical figures. The parents and children have a wide variety of skin and hair tones. One family is Black, another East Asian; others could be read as White or Latinx. Two parents wear turquoise jewelry and look to be Native American (and yes, there are Native American Jews). Another wears a sari and a bindi—and while the latter is best known as a Hindu symbol, Brown said that she “asked in many multicultural Jewish groups and was told that the bindi is as much a cultural symbol as a religious one, and that many Indian Jewish women wear them.” Badik-Schultz added that a friend of hers who is Jewish and married to an Indian man wears a bindi “when they are doing ceremonial activities” and encouraged the bindi in the picture. They’ve clearly done their homework to be both inclusive and accurate.
This sweet book shows that faith, tradition, and LGBTQ identities can live in harmony. It also offers a much-needed balm against the “ashkenormativity” of much American Jewish culture, which favors the experiences and traditions of those with Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry (and I say that as someone of 98 percent Ashkenazi descent myself). It would make a great Hanukkah gift (the holiday starts on December 10) or a baby gift at any time of year.
Looking for another inclusive book for and about new families? Try Wonderful You, by Lisa Graff (my review here) or try some of the growing number of LGBTQ-inclusive board books.
(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
For Indigenous People’s Day today, let’s take a look at the few queer-inclusive children’s books that celebrate indigenous people and cultures, and ask why there aren’t more.
Families, written by Jesse Unaapik Mike and Kerry McCluskey and illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko (Inhabit Media), is the story of Talittuq, a second-grade boy living with his mother in Iqaluit, the capital city of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. One year at the start of school, he realizes the many different family configurations that he, his friends, and his teacher have. While the plot in some ways sticks to well-worn paths trod by many other LGBTQ-inclusive books celebrating families, it stands out for its focus on an indigenous family and its use of Inuktitut terms and names throughout. (There’s a glossary at the end, although much is also understandable from the context.) Mike herself was raised in Iqaluit by a single mother, giving the book grounding and authenticity. Publisher Inhabit Media is an Inuit-owned publishing company with its head office in Iqaluit. And yes, the October Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a U.S. observance, while National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada is held every June 21st. Still, indigenous stories, authors, and publishers deserve our support, not just today, but any day, and it’s great to see this goodhearted story that is queer inclusive as well. (Full review.)
Colors of Aloha, written by Kanoa Kau-Arteaga and illustrated by J.R. Keaolani Bogac-Moore, follows a group of Hawai’ian children, plus one older brother and his boyfriend, as they explore their island and learn their colors, along with tidbits about various native Hawai’ian legends, culture, and foods. The joyous tale is published by queer-focused micro-press Flamingo Rampant, and only available through them.
47,000 Beads, written by Koja and Angel Adeyoha, and illustrated by Holly McGillis, also from Flamingo Rampant, tells of a Lakota child who gets a little help in expressing a two-spirit self and dancing at a pow wow.
When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamos, written by Ernesto Javier Martínez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez (Reflection Press) is a gorgeous bilingual book in English and Spanish that honors the Mexican serenata tradition even as reframes it to include one boy creating a love song for another, with the help of his father. While it is a celebration of Mexican culture broadly speaking and the characters are not identified as indigenous, it includes references to Xochipilli, the Mesoamerican Nahua deity of creativity, dance, and song. A note at the end reminds us that “The Nahua people still continue to inhabit Central Mexico to this day.” (Full review.)
These are all great books for reading at any time, whether they reflect your own culture and experiences or offer windows into others. Still, I would love to see even more queer-inclusive children’s books that include indigenous characters and families (and people of color more generally), both from small presses like the above and from the major publishing houses. If Pete Buttigieg can have a picture book biography, why not Sharice Davids, the first openly LGBTQ Native American and one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress? An enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, she was raised by a single mother and worked to put herself through college—then went on to law school, a mixed martial arts career, work in economic and community development on Native American reservations, and a stint as a White House Fellow under President Obama, before running successfully to become a U.S. representative for Kansas. Hers is only one of many, many stories waiting to be told.
(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
Hello friends and happy Sunday! We’re here once again, back at it to talk about the good things in this world, like babies being born and NEW NANCY MEYERS SPECIALS, and so much more. I’m not gonna ruin it for you, let’s get right on into it.
What’s that about bridal wear being gender neutral? We love to see it!
Hot take! Masc people can absolutely wear a wedding dress if they choose to. Bridal wear is / should be #genderneutral. (Yes, this is totally an excuse to show off my glamorous masc bride wearing the biggest, poofiest, bridal gown she could find.) pic.twitter.com/zauB3uLChR
This is what makes Batman and Robin so interesting. It seems to exist largely as a rejection of that vanilla and bland sexuality in Batman Forever. If Batman Forever felt like an uncomfortable embrace of the homophobic paranoia of Seduction of the Innocent, then Batman and Robin plays like a firm rejection of the philosophy of Frederic Wertham. There is something quite compelling in all of this, and Batman and Robin is fascinating to revisit in that context.
Editor’s Note 9/27/20: An earlier version of this column referred to Chaya Milchtein and Morgan as femme partners. That reference has since been updated. We apologize for the error.
And that’s all folks. For this week’s good news, and also for my time at Autostraddle. Today’s Sunday Funday is my last post as a writer for Autostraddle dot com, a place I have grown so much at and have great love for. I will miss writing these for you each week, I will miss answering your questions in the A+ Inbox, I’ll even miss moderating your comments. But everything, literally everything comes to an end, and this is the end of my time. I’m going to remember it fondly. I’m leaving with a full heart, and eyes excited about what the future brings for me.
So, like I tell you every week: I love you so much. Do something for yourself this week: read a book you’ve been meaning to read, take a long lay on your couch, get a weighted blanket. Snuggle your pets, snuggle your person(s), wear a danged mask, and believe that everything, bad things and good things, will have an end. And that endings are not bad, they’re just endings. Okay, I really do love you, mean it, bye.❤️🌈✨
Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.