Tag: Finds

A Gay, Black Boy Finds a Liberated Childhood

A Gay, Black Boy Finds a Liberated Childhood

Life can be scary for a young, gay, Black boy growing up in a society full of fear and intolerance. The star of a new graphic novel, however, has the love of family, friends, and educators to help him navigate the challenges as he finds his empowered voice.

What You Don't Know

In What You Don’t Know: A Story of Liberated Childhood (Dottir Press) Anastasia Higginbotham uses her signature collage artwork to give us the first-person story of a young boy named Demetrius. Demetrius begins by observing that “What you don’t know is that life was great before kindergarten…. Then school happened.” He asks, “What are we even learning here besides all the things we have to be afraid of and all of the things we can’t do?” Despite the scariness of school, however, he has friends and protectors who include another queer student, a “radical librarian,” a loving teacher, and a queer counselor. “But even they are a little bit scared,” he notes observantly.

He is also grateful that he doesn’t have to hide his true self from his dad, a Black man who “loves me completely.” His mom, too, has “her own sense of justice and her own ideas about God.” We see her reading something on her phone, getting angry at those who are “endangering the lives of trans kids.” She stresses to Demetrius that he matters and is not the problem. (The mom could be read as a light-skinned Black woman or Latina, although Higginbotham says on the credits page that the mom is White, and modeled after herself, her mother, and others.)

Despite the support he has, however, Demetrius feels that “the world’s ugliness toward gay people lands right ON me,” and asks, “And what about the ones who aren’t loved at home? What about the kids whose own families reject them?” (Here’s what we know about that.) He sits in church with his mother and notes that all he feels there is shame—“But the shame isn’t mine and it’s not coming from ‘God.’” He imagines his spirit floating up to Jesus, depicted as a Black man, and asking, “Does it hurt your feelings if I don’t believe in you?” Jesus replies, “It’s my job to believe in you, and I do.”

Demetrius asks Jesus if there are other gods. Jesus replies, “Divinity is everywhere, in everyone and everything,” and says he loves everyone, from Billy Porter in a dress (who floats by in several images) to those who are homophobic. When another churchgoer confronts Demetrius’ mom and tells her to stop dressing him in flowers because he’s a boy, however, the mother apologizes to Demetrius for bringing him there and says she will immediately stop going to that church. Higginbotham deftly shows how Demetrius can be “cool” with Jesus while also rejecting an institution that perpetuates homophobia.

We will rewrite the rules we live by and love the world into balance.

A secondary plotline that we see play out is that Demetrius and his friends are recording a podcast, one that further affirms everyone’s right to be themselves and reinforces young people’s power to create change. “We will rewrite the rules we live by and love the world into balance,” they narrate. At the end of the book, Demetrius’ parents continue to encourage his own style and voice as he and his friends celebrate the launch of the podcast. “What you don’t know is I’m always gonna love myself and find others who do, too,” he asserts, dancing into his future.

Higginbotham manages to acknowledge the bias that Demetrius faces, put the emphasis on the love he receives, and make him an empowered and confident protagonist who is grateful for help but not a passive victim. He knows the world can be harsh, and acknowledges that some things scare him, but also knows where to find the support he needs to be the person he knows he is. It’s a tricky balance, but Higginbotham nails it.

I should note, too, that while the format at first looks like a picture book, Demetrius is in middle school and the vocabulary level, length (140+ pages), and nuances place the book for me in the middle grade category as a graphic novel. (Obviously, some older elementary school students are ready for middle grade books; this is just a guide.)

Much as I have long waved the flag for more LGBTQ kids’ books that aren’t “about” being LGBTQ, there’s still a place for some that thoughtfully and directly address being queer in today’s society. This is one of them, which presents an inspiring vision of what queer kids can be with the love and support of family, friends, and educators.

Almost One Quarter of LBQ Women Are Parents; Bisexual Moms Feel Less Connected to LGBTQ Community, Study Finds

Almost One Quarter of LBQ Women Are Parents; Bisexual Moms

A new study has found that nearly one quarter (22.8 percent) of cisgender lesbian, bisexual, and queer women ages 18 to 59 have children. Compared with non-parent LBQ women, the parents were more likely to be bisexual, in a relationship with a man, and non-urban. What does that mean for the LGBTQ parenting community and its representation?

Bisexual flag

Photo credit: Peter Salanki; adapted under a CC BY 2.0 license

This latest study, from researchers affiliated with the Williams Institute at UCLA, is the first to use a U.S. population-based sample to compare the mental health of lesbian, bisexual, and other-identified female parents and non-parents. Its findings about the rate of parenthood among LBQ individuals corresponds to previous work showing that an estimated 24 percent of female same-sex couples have children.

Among lesbian women, the oldest non-parents reported more happiness and less psychological distress than the youngest non-parents. (Perhaps there is wisdom that comes with age.) There was no difference, however, in happiness and psychological distress among the parents in different age groups. Non-parents, however, indicated more internalized homophobia than parents. The authors don’t hypothesize why this might be; I’d venture a guess that it’s because children often force us to be out in ways we never imagined.

Bisexual parents in the study, however, reported more psychological distress and lower life satisfaction and happiness than lesbian parents, something the researchers found surprising, “because the overwhelming majority of bisexual parents are in relationships with male partners and thus would likely be viewed as heterosexual by the general public.”

Parenthood for bisexual mothers involved with male partners thus comes at a cost from both the general public and the LGBT community.

Although one might assume there are benefits to being viewed as heterosexual, however, the researchers say their results are consistent with findings of other studies that show sexual minority women with male partners “reported less connection to the LGBT community and greater anxiety” and that many bisexual mothers experience binegativity and exclusion by lesbian communities. “Parenthood for bisexual mothers involved with male partners thus comes at a cost from both the general public and the LGBT community,” the current study concludes. The youngest group of bisexual women reported more community connectedness than bisexual women of other age groups, though.

Even parents with “emerging identities,” such as “queer, pansexual, asexual, and others,” reported “more social support from friends, and were lower on internalized homophobia than bisexual parents. Although the number of parents with other sexual identities was small, our results indicate that these parents are finding support and experiencing pride in their identities, contrary to bisexual parents.”

Co-author Esther D. Rothblum, visiting distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute, said in a statement, “There is a unique form of bias against people who have both same-sex and different-sex attractions and sexual relationships, and this may be why we see poorer mental health outcomes for bisexual parents.”

Another recent study confirms that the majority of LGBT adults (54.6 percent) identify as bisexual. And we’ve long known there are millions of bisexual parents, most in different-sex relationships. Yes, that may sometimes give them the advantage of “passing” as straight, but as this study shows, there are significant disadvantages as well. And parents who feel excluded and distressed may convey that stress to their children. It’s not good for anyone. The takeaway, for me, is that the LGBTQ community needs to do more to include, support, and represent bisexual parents.

The study is “Mental Health of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Other-identified Parents and Non-Parents from a Population-Based Study,” Journal of Homosexuality, by Mark Assink, Ph.D., Esther D. Rothblum, Ph.D., Bianca D. M. Wilson, Ph.D., Nanette Gartrell, M.D., and Henny M. W. Bos, Ph.D. (2021).

“Carlos, the Fairy Boy” Finds His Wings in New Picture Book

"Carlos, the Fairy Boy" Finds His Wings in New Picture

I think we could all use some joy right now, so here’s a look at a brand-new, bilingual, #OwnVoices picture book about a boy learning about his cultural traditions in Panama while he gets support from his abuela to follow his fairy boy dreams.

Carlos the Fairy Boy - Carlos, El Niño Hada

Carlos, the Fairy Boy/Carlos, El Niño Hada, written and illustrated by Juan A. Ríos Vega (Reflection Press), at first glance has a similar story arc to many other picture books about gender creative boys: a boy wants to wear something gender creative, is told he can’t, but ultimately finds support to do so. Where Carlos rises above many others, though, is in the cultural specificity and the #OwnVoices perspective of Ríos, “a queer Latino educator and researcher from Panama,” as his bio tells us. The story begins as Carlos is flying to Panama with his parents to spend time with cousins during carnival. His parents tell him about the traditional parades and the two carnival queens who are the stars.

When Carlos learns that his two female cousins will be on a queen’s float dressed as fairies, he wants to join them, but they and his Papá say only girls can do that. His abuelita (grandmother), however, takes his side, saying, “During carnival, we need to celebrate who we really are.” She takes him to visit Luis, a famous carnival costume maker, and tells Luis, “He is very special like you.” I love that Carlos’ abuelita, while an ally, knows enough to take him to a member of the LGBTQ community for further support. The message that there are other gender creative people in the world, grown up and successful, is an important one that many other picture books overlook.

Luis makes Carlos a dazzling costume and admits that he himself wanted to be a fairy boy when he was younger, but was bullied about it. Carlos assures him he could still be a fairy. I like that Ríos has a self-confident child offering support to someone from an older generation, rather than the child being bullied and needing to learn lessons from an adult. (Obviously, both things happen in real life; I just think children may respond more positively to books where the child is the knowing one.)

At the end of the book (spoiler alert), Carlos proudly joins the parade—where he sees Luis in the crowd also wearing a fairy costume.

Ríos’ bright collage illustrations capture the festive spirit of the carnival. Carlos and his family have medium-brown skin and dark hair; Luis is a fair-skinned redhead; and the other people of Panama have a variety of skin tones, from dark to light.

In an afterward, Ríos notes that like Luis, he was bullied as a child, but his abuelita “recognized that I was different and did small things to show me that I was important and special.” And the character of Luis “is based on stories I gathered from the talented friends and men who work on the queens’ gowns all year.”

This is the second book from Reflection Press mentored by co-founder (and queer parent) Maya Gonzalez. The first, When We Love Someone We Sing to Them/Cuando Amamos Cantamoswritten by Ernesto Javier Martí­nez and illustrated by Gonzalez (my review here), is similarly steeped in family support and cultural tradition (in this case, that of the Mexican serenata) as it shows a boy getting his father’s help in crafting a song for the boy he loves. Both books are wonderful examples of how to thoughtfully portray LGBTQ people in our intersectional identities.

Also check out the award-winning Gonzalez’s own

Call Me Tree/Llamame arbol, about a child of unspecified gender who finds resonance with the natural world; her books with partner Matthew SG about pronouns, They She He Me: Free to Be! and They, She, He easy as ABC; and their Playing with Pronouns Card Deck.

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