Tag: gender

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary and Gender Creative Characters

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary

Two new picture books show us nonbinary and gender creative kids having imaginative adventures in their fun, welcoming, queer, and sometimes magical communities.

Imagination and Community in Two New Picture Books with Nonbinary and Gender Creative Characters Creative fun! Posted on October 26, 2020 Two new picture books show us nonbinary and gender creative kids having adventures in their fun, welcoming, queer and sometimes magical communities. Hooray, What a Day - A More Graceful Shaboom A More Graceful Shaboom - Jacinta Bunnell

A More Graceful Shaboom, written by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula (PM Press), is a surreal romp of a book that follows Harmon Jitney, a nonbinary child with “an extravagant collection of belongings” that they find hard to keep organized. They decide a purse is the answer, but their two mothers and sister are too busy with their own projects to help. Mama Millie Mapletush, for example, is “building an XJ-6350 Millennium Bipedal Astro Welding Robot from scratch,” whose components include a dishwasher and a movie theater popcorn machine.

Finally, a gender creative neighbor says he has a collection of purses, though he can’t quite remember where he put them. He and Harmon look behind a series of doors that reveal things as varied as a giant Muffin Monster, polar ice caps, and 66,500 Brussels sprouts. Ultimately, they find the purses. Harmon selects the purse of their dreams and proceeds to collect all of their treasured things into it, from belongings to friends, town, and, well, the entire universe. The magical ending is a celebration of community and love.

There’s an inspired silliness about the whole tale. It’s unclear exactly what age group the book is targeting, though, as the wordiness and level of vocabulary seem geared far above the usual picture-book range. Not that I’m against books that stretch young readers in this regard; adults should just be aware that they may need to do some explaining as they read through the book with kids, as least the first few times. What I appreciate most about it, though, is that the book isn’t “about” gender or identity, but rather about gender diverse characters simply having joyous adventures. We need more books like this.

Hooray, What a Day - Molly Allis

Another new book that takes a similar joyous approach is Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! by Molly Allis, available through Allis’ website. The bilingual book is an extension of All Together Now, an animated kids’ show that Allis is creating. The show stars a child named Frankie, described as gender non-conforming in the show notes, who uses “they” pronouns and lives with their grandma. Frankie’s best friend is Jesse, who lives with his two dads and uses male pronouns, but likes to wear skirts, jewelry, and sometimes makeup. The book takes us on a day-long adventure as the two friends explore their queer and colorful community. They go to a parade, visit the community garden, stop at the cafe owned by one of Jesse’s dads, and make zines at the local bookstore.

Queerness is everywhere—Grandma makes rainbow pancakes and has Indigo Girls and ACT UP posters in her kitchen; we see rainbow and trans flags in the community; and several characters at the parade are clearly gender creative. More general progressive messages are also strewn throughout: one character wears a “Black Lives Matter” shirt; the parade marchers carry signs saying, “Otro Mundo Es Posible,” and “Be the Change.” At the end of the day, after storytime with Grandma, Frankie reflects on how happy they are to have spent the day in their community with friends and chosen family.

Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! doesn’t have the fantastical tone of A More Graceful Shaboom, but Allis’ multi-colored people and richly detailed backgrounds are equally imaginative and fun. Potential readers should know, though, that while queerness abounds in the community, Frankie and Jesse’s identities aren’t clear from the book alone, but only from the show notes on Allis’ website. We don’t learn that Frankie uses “they”; we might assume from the illustrations that Jesse is a cisgender, gender conforming girl; we meet one of Jesse’s dads, but never know he has two. It’s true that the story isn’t “about” Frankie and Jesse’s gender or family structure, and as I’ve explained, we need more stories like that. But is the lack of clarity about their identities a missed opportunity for queer representation or a chance for readers to assume identities for them that the readers can relate to, no matter what the author intended? I leave that to your interpretation. (Now that you’ve read this post, of course, you can inform young readers of the author’s intended identities for the characters as you see fit.)

Regardless, the community that Allis depicts is clearly full of other, if minor, characters who are more obviously queer, and it’s packed full of queer iconography. Frankie and Jesse are at ease with it all, so even if their identities are here unknown, this remains an empowering, queer-inclusive book that will brighten any bookshelf. Let’s hope there are more books (along with the still-pending show) about the diverse people of this cheery and inclusive world.

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Sunday Funday Will Not Be Throwing a Gender Reveal for Miss Major’s Baby!

Sunday Funday Will Not Be Throwing a Gender Reveal for

Happy Sunday friends! This week I watched too much Grey’s Anatomy and fucked up my challah watching Izzie be Izzie. I also made my first ever actual sourdough loaf (she’s perfect), went to my first Selichot service, and stress bought eight fancy candles. Just an average week during a global pandemic. I made apple sauce, raspberry jam, and strawberry jam because for two perfect days, it was 68º in Austin, TX. In September! I’m starting to think the universe is not conspiring against me!

I’m gonna ride this high and focus on good news!

+ Are you still keeping up your sourdough starter? Gail (my starter) is doing well, and I hate throwing away her daughters, so here’s a recipe for strawberry and pecan scones to use up your sourdough daughters.

+ These queer women are making space for themselves in ballet.

+ Lucy Worsley is a straight white lady in the UK who stays in her lane and makes really cute documentaries about historic things. Fall in love with her newest one while you’re pretending time still matters.

+ Wynne Nowland came out as trans and it “stirred surprise, support and new challenges at the company she runs”

+ 19 Black families bought almost 100 acres of land in Georgia to create a safe space for Black families.

+ Miss Major and Beck are having a baby, and they will not be revealing the baby’s sex! Hooray and Hallelujah indeed!!

+ Sohla El-Waylly cooks three recipes that define her life.

+ San Jose’s Post Street is the city’s first LGBTQ+ district.

+ The Transgender First National Scholarship is the first of its kind for trans students.

+ A snake laid 7 eggs, even though she hasn’t been around a male snake in years. Good for her! Also, isn’t this the plot of Jurassic Park???

+ The film Tahara puts a Black queer Jewish teen at the center of it while she navigates her grief. 

+ Inside Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani’s Los Angeles office with Architectural Digest

And that, my friends, is all the good news fit to print. I’m off to go pay too much money to have a doctor look at my arm, which I lost 180º of motion in over a month ago. I love the medical industrial complex! Then tonight I’m gonna put on a robe and Auntie it out to the Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle Verzuz battle, then watch a Brandi Carlile concert, and convince my girlfriend to watch Cabaret with me.

This week will be good. I will be happy. I will be provided for. I will take care of my community, and they will take care of me. We got this! Have an amazing week, I love you, I’ll see you soon.


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.

Ari has written 320 articles for us.

A Sparkling New Picture Book on Gender Expression and Allyship

A Sparkling New Picture Book on Gender Expression and Allyship

Here’s my third and final review for this week’s mini-theme of picture books about gender creative boys—this one focusing on the importance of allies.

Bling Blaine - Rob Sanders

A Glittery Tale

The titular character of Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade, by Rob Sanders (Sterling Publishing), loves to sparkle. “He bedazzled his book bag. He added sequins to his baseball cap,” Sanders tells us. He “spread happiness like confetti.” Blaine is popular and active in the school community, decorating the library and giving out shiny bookmarks to the other kids.

A few kids, however, don’t understand him. One says that only girls wear sparkles. A new kid pushes him and calls him “sissy.” Eventually, their words begin to affect him, and he shows up one day in plain, dull clothes. Blaine looks glum and this casts a pall over the whole school.

The next day, several other students—boys and girls—show up wearing sequins and sparkles in defiance of the detractors. Blaine’s friends then talk with the new kid and with a grown-up library volunteer who had rolled her eyes at Blaine’s bling. Sanders avoids heavy-handed messaging, though—we’re never told what the friends say, but it’s clear from the illustrations that they’re explaining their support for Blaine’s style.

Blaine then gives a sparkly gift to the new kid, who thanks him and smiles “just a little”—a soft touch conveying that change sometimes takes time. The final spread declares that from then on, “everyone was free to be themselves” at the school. That feels a bit optimistic—but we could all use some optimism these days.

Letizia Rizzo’s cartoon-like illustrations are cheery and colorful, emphasizing pinks and purples. Blaine has medium brown skin and dark brown curly hair. The other children are of various racial and ethnic identities and body types.

Several other books about gender creative boys in school situations have plots that may seem similar on the surface—the child gets teased and then everyone learns a lesson about diversity. Yet Sanders, an elementary school teacher and author of numerous LGBTQ-inclusive books, goes beyond that to offer some different perspectives: Blaine’s being bullied has a negative impact on the whole community. The students find the solution themselves, without adult intervention. Importantly, too, allies are key.

In fact, allyship is really the main theme of the book, more so than Blaine’s personal journey. That’s not a criticism; there are already many other books about gender creative children that more fully explore those children’s feelings. Bling Blaine, however, seems less a story for gender creative children than it is for their peers—it’s a tale on how to be allies, and that’s sorely needed, too.

Defining Allies

Two supplemental pages at the end offer a definition of “ally” and how to be one. An ally, it says, is “a person or group associated with another or with others for a common cause or purpose; a person who cooperates with another; supporter; friend.” That definition seems borrowed and only very slightly edited from the Dictionary.com entry. It’s true enough—but oddly omits the Dictionary.com meaning of “ally” that seems most relevant to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion: “a passive or active supporter of a particular politicized or marginalized group, usually not a member of the group.” Yes, that wording is too complex for the picture book age range (and I’d drop “passive,” as I think that true allyship requires action). The idea of supporting someone even if they are different from you could have been incorporated, however.

The additional suggestions on “How to Be an Ally”—in brief: stand up for what’s right, learn, listen, and keep trying—are good but also don’t really get at the idea of allying across difference, except to note somewhat vaguely that, “as an ally, it’s not about you, it’s about the other person.”

Certainly, it’s a fine goal simply to encourage children to stand up for anyone being bullied, similar or different. That’s a good place to start talking about allyship, especially with younger children. But parents and teachers should be aware, particularly as kids get older, that there’s a further layer to explore about supporting people who may not look, act, or believe the same way.

Final Thoughts

I offer those thoughts because I really do like the story as a way to begin conversations about allyship, even if it’s only a starting point. I hope it sees much home and classroom use. It shows that the burden shouldn’t always be on gender creative kids (or kids of any marginalized group) and their families to solve problems of bias; it’s a community problem and allies have a big role to play. That’s a hugely important lesson for us all to remember these days, in a world where the shade threatens to overcome the glitter. Bling Blaine might just help turn that around.

You may also be interested in Sanders’ other two recent books, both biographies: Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg (my review here), and The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert Cashier, about a transgender civil war soldier (my review here).

See also my reviews from earlier this week of two other books about gender creative boys: one for the youngest children and one from 1979 that has just been republished.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Picture Book Is a Glad Celebration of Gender Creativity

Picture Book Is a Glad Celebration of Gender Creativity

I’m going to lean in to the theme of picture books about gender creative children this week, with a look at a sweet recent picture book about a gender creative boy bear and his emotions.

Glad Glad Bear - Kimberly Gee

Glad Glad Bear, by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster), is the second of her Bear’s Feelings series that gently conveys social-emotional lessons through the adventures of the young, anthropomorphic Bear. (The first is Mad Mad Bear; the third, Sad Sad Bear, is scheduled for early 2021.) I’m often skeptical of anthropomorphic animals, since it seems like some publishers have at times seen them as more palatable than real humans in books about LGBTQ and gender creative characters—but this one is part of a series that began before touching on such identities. Its anthropomorphism therefore doesn’t seem like avoidance; it’s simply cute, and I’m fine with that. Also, the anthropomorphism is very light—these are basically human bodies with cute bear faces, not talking chickens, so they seem very relatable.

In Glad Glad Bear, Bear (who uses male pronouns) is happy about his first day at dance class. He has new leggings, slippers, and a tutu, which he joyously dons before accompanying his mother to dance class.

Upon seeing the other children and their parents, however, Bear feels “a little shy” and afraid—and “a little different.” We’re not told why, though the image shows us four presumed girl bears in tutus and one other presumed boy bear in leggings, but none in both tutus and leggings like Bear.

When the music starts, however, “Bear begins to feel light. And bubbly. And twirly.” Soon he is dancing. Afterwards, the teacher thanks him for coming, “And Bear is very glad he did.” We see him leaving the dance studio hand in hand with one of the girl bears.

It’s a sweet story—simple but perfect for the youngest age range. The illustrations are adorable, and clearly show Bear’s range of emotions. I also love that in contrast to many other books on gender creative boys, this one avoids having anyone make negative comments about Bear’s gender expression. Bear “feels a little different,” but it’s open to interpretation as to why—and even if readers decide it’s because of his gender expression, they’ll see that his hesitancy is soon dispelled. If only the real world was like that. Perhaps books like this can help make it happen—and then we’d all be glad.

H/t to Alli Harper of OurShelves for alerting me to this book.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Classic Picture Book About Gender Creative Boy Is Back in Print

Classic Picture Book About Gender Creative Boy Is Back in

One of the first picture books about a gender creative boy, published in the 1970s but long out of print, is now available in a new edition produced by its illustrator, Marian Buchanan. She recently shared with me some details about the lengthy journey to its reprinting and why it still holds lessons for today.

Jesse's Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack. Illustration by Marian Buchanan

Jesse’s Dream Skirt, written by Bruce Mack (under the name “Morning Star”) was first published in 1977 in the second and final issue of Magnus, a gay men’s magazine, with illustrations by Larry Hermsen. It was picked up by Lollipop Power Press, a small, feminist publishing collective in North Carolina, who put out a call for a new illustrator. Buchanan, who belonged to a women artisans’ co-op that sold their books, submitted samples of her work. Lollipop Power and Mack chose her to illustrate the revised story that they published in 1979. (See her blog for an interesting discussion of their specific revisions.) Lollipop Power in 1979 also published the first LGBTQ-inclusive picture book in English, Jane Severance’s When Megan Went Away.

In Jesse’s story, we meet a young White boy who likes to wear things that “whirl, twirl, flow and glow.” One night, he dreams of a skirt of his own and his mother agrees to help him make it. She asks gently, though, if he’s considered what other kids might think. Jesse is undeterred.

When Jesse wears his skirt to daycare, the teacher, a Black man, is supportive. Some children smile but others criticize; one calls him a “sissy.” Jesse is upset.

The teacher then gathers the racially-diverse class and asks why they were teasing Jesse. They have an animated discussion about their own varied experiences with gender and clothing. This variety of perspectives is “one of the book’s strengths,” Buchanan said.

Jesse's Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack. Illustration by Marian Buchanan

Jesse’s Dream Skirt: Interior image of Jesse and teacher by Marian Buchanan. Used with permission.

Most of the children, it turns out, like Jesse’s skirt, which prompts him to share his dream. The teacher then takes a piece of material from a box and wraps it around his waist. Some children follow and make dresses, capes, or turbans from pieces of fabric. They parade and dance around the room, although “Jesse didn’t mind that some just watched.” On the last page, he twirls in his skirt, just like in his dream.

The teacher provides a good model for adults in similar situations, Buchanan observed. He facilitates “an exploration of [the children’s] feelings and behavior rather than telling them off or guiding them towards any particular perspective,” which may help children hearing the story to have “a similar exploration and discussion.”

Additionally, she said, in some other books, bullies simply “become villains rather than small children under the influence of the culture of prejudice in which they’re being raised.” In contrast, Jesse shows readers how to engage with bullies and sometimes bring them over “to a more open-minded point of view.” Yet the book also conveys “that this isn’t about trying to convert anyone to being a certain way themselves; it’s about letting everyone be the way they are individually.”

Despite its strengths, Jesse’s Dream Skirt was never reprinted as a standalone book after Lollipop Power closed in 1986 and Carolina Wren Press, a non-profit North Carolina publisher, acquired the rights. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, in his 2012 book about LGBTQ children’s literature, Rainbow Family Collections, opined that Jesse, which was “much more blatant in its treatment of gender nonconformity,” was overshadowed by the 1979 publication—from a larger publisher and an established author—of Tomie DePaola’s Oliver Button Is a Sissy, about a boy who prefers drawing and dancing rather than sports.

Still, some found great value in Jesse’s story, as Buchanan discovered when she investigated reprinting it for its 30th anniversary in 2009. She found expensive used copies online and realized it had become “a sought-after classic in some educational and LGBTQI+ circles.” The San Francisco-based Lesbian and Gay Parents Association and the Buena Vista Lesbian and Gay Parents Group had included it in their 1999 anti-bullying guide “Preventing Prejudice – Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Transgender Lesson Plan Guide for Elementary Schools.” That, too, went out of print (though not before rousing the ire of some conservative Christians, who claimed Jesse’s story was pushing children to “‘become’ homosexual,” Buchanan said).

When she contacted Carolina Wren, they suggested she republish Jesse herself. She didn’t want to do so without Mack’s permission, but none of them had his contact information. She eventually discovered that he had died in 1994 of complications from AIDS, she noted at her blog. She later tracked down his heirs—his brothers—via a genealogy website, and they agreed to a reprint at the end of 2019, just in time for the 40th anniversary. The updated edition has the 1979 text and interior images, a new, full-color cover, a clearer font, an introduction by Buchanan, and reader testimonials.

She admitted that the black-and-white illustrations are “a little dated.” Nevertheless, she said, she’s gotten praise for their “soul and emotion,” adding, “The story itself is not outdated—which I suppose is unfortunate in a way, because it means there’s still a need for this kind of counteracting of stereotyping, prejudice, and bullying.”

She does think there’s more “awareness and acceptance” of many diversity issues today, including “non-conformity to culturally defined gender expression.” Yet she reminds us to remain aware of the differences between gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Jesse is not necessarily transgender or gay, she notes in her introduction. “He may just be what is nowadays called a ‘pink boy.’”

Whatever Jesse’s identity, the book remains a gem of thoughtfulness about a gender creative child. This new edition, available only at Amazon.com, should find its way back to many bookshelves.

Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.

(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

Trans prisoner receives gender surgery after legal battle

Transgender inmate Adree Edmo is being housed in a men's prison in Idaho

A transgender woman serving a prison sentence for sexual abuse in Idaho has undergone gender affirmation surgery, after a years-long legal battle and two attempts to castrate herself behind bars.

Adree Edmo had pursued a successful legal challenge against Idaho and Corizon Health Inc, the provider of healthcare for the state prison system, over the refusal to permit her surgery.

She underwent surgery on July 10, according to the Idaho Press, after successfully arguing that depriving her of treatment violates the constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment”.

The surgery is estimated to cost between $20,000 and $30,000 — far less than the state is believed to have poured into legal battles to prevent it from taking place.

Edmo was sentenced to ten years behind bars in 2011 for sexual abuse of a minor after performing a sex act on a male 15-year-old. She was 22 at the time.

Surgery: Governor Brad Little has repeatedly denied transgender inmate Adree Edmo's request for surgery
Governor Brad Little has repeatedly denied transgender inmate Adree Edmo’s request for surgery

The inmate was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by prison doctors in 2012, but was denied access to gender affirmation surgery, leading her to attempt self-castration while in prison on two occasions.

She sued for the right to undergo surgery in 2017, and was ultimately victorious in federal district and appellate courts.

Idaho’s Republican governor Brad Little had sought to appeal the ruling even further, to the US Supreme Court, but it declined to take up the case and permitted the lower court ruling to stand.

Despite burning through taxpayer dollars fighting the legal action, Little had argued: “The hardworking taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a convicted sex offender’s gender reassignment surgery when it is contrary to the medical opinions of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals.”

Appeals court found that denying treatment causes ‘ongoing harm’.

The ninth circuit court of appeals found that prison doctors “knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to Edmo’s health by rejecting her request”, causing “ongoing harm” to her.

The ruling doesn’t mean that all trans inmates in Idaho will be eligible for state-funded gender-confirmation surgery, but it could set a standard for providing surgery to certain inmates with severe gender dysphoria like Edmo.

Edmo is is scheduled for release in 2021.

A trans woman serving a sentence for murder in California became the first inmate to be permitted gender affirmation surgery in 2017. As of 2019, a total of seven inmates in California have undergone gender affirmation surgery, according to public records.

For anyone questioning their gender or gender presentation: : butchlesbians

For anyone questioning their gender or gender presentation: : butchlesbians

I highly recommend reading the book Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately from folks questioning their gender, talking about dysphoria, bouncing between feeling like they’re NB, a trans guy, or just a really butch woman. I was in the same boat. Hell, most days I’m still in the same boat, but then I started reading this book and couldn’t believe how much it helped me feel more secure in my gender. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m just beyond the halfway mark, and already this has helped me feel like no matter how I present or how I feel, I have a place within the butch community of women and non-women alike.

The book was published in 1998, so some of the language we have today wasn’t present during the time the book was being written, so you’ll notice that transsexual is used where we would use transgender today. There are also terms used to describe masculine women* (or masculine people who were assigned female at birth). Although the author talks about masculine women* in a way where they say “women” or “female”, they very clearly use neutral language of the time to talk about the people in the book. This book will not only work for butch women, but also for non-binary people, and even trans men (although maybe a little less so).

Reading 100+ pages of other people who were assigned female at birth and repeatedly defied the gender norms and expectations of the times was so exhilarating, and I cannot recommend it enough. Before there was language to even identify dysphoria or wanting to present with more masculinity, women and non-binary people and trans people existed, and that helped me realize that I have a place in the world, no matter how I feel from day-to-day.

This book has massively helped me with my gender dysphoria, and I hope it can help some of you.