In Search of a Good Book

18 Mar

Little Bear at six months browsing the kid bookshelf in our living room

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the books we have available for Little Bear. I love reading, and even as a child reading was part of the way I made sense of the world. I really resonate with Hermione from the Harry Potter books in that my first response in the face of a problem is to check the library. While I recognize that Little Bear is probably not going to have the same relationship to books that I have, I want her to have access to books that help her make sense of the world. As a parent and a book-lover, I want to be able to have ways of introducing age-appropriate discussions about difference, inequalities, and justice.

I was doing a little research about children’s books and race, and found some really disturbing statistics over at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about books by and about people of color. For example, in 2012 there are approximately 5,000 new children’s books published. However, only 119 were about African-Americans and only 68 were written by African-Americans. There were only 6 books about Native Americans and 22 by Native Americans. There were only 76 books about Asian Pacific Americans, and 83 books by Asian Pacific Americans. Only 59 books were by Latinos and 54 books were about Latinos. To be clear, I am not saying I think all children’s book authors who are people of color should only write or illustrate books about people of color, nor am I saying that white people absolutely shouldn’t write books about people of color. To be honest, I am still wrestling with notions of authority and authenticity when thinking about who should or shouldn’t be telling stories about marginalized communities. However, on the whole I try to operate on the basis that people in marginalized communities know their struggles, joys, lives better than someone not in that community. 

So why is this important? Why are kid’s book in particular important? In Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature Allison Lurie writes that

The great subversive works of children’s literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten. 

The stories we tell are powerful. Stories help shape our sense of the world, of what is right and wrong. Children’s books have explicit and implicit messages about race, gender, class, ability, power, and culture. Being able to share books that explore these issues is important to me as a parent. My partner and I have tried to provide Little Bear with books by and about a lot of different types of people and families. As we saw above with books by and about people of color most books are still by and about white people. I am willing to bet all the coffee in my cupboard that a similar trend emerges for ability, sexual orientation, class and gender identity. 

In a pretty quick search for children’s literature by and about people of color, I found a few decent lists and essays at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a list at my local public library website.  Where have you found good lists of books by and about people of color? How about books about sexual orientation and gender identity? Books about ability? Am I over-emphasizing the importance of children’s books? Whether you are a parent or not, what are your thoughts about finding a variety of books for the kids in your life?

CCBC Multicultural Children’s Literature Page

CCBC’s 50 multicultural books every kid should know

Hennepin County Library Birth to Six book list on Helping Kids Relate




On my impending fatherhood

8 Nov

My partner and I are having a baby. Supposedly this child will arrive around November 8th (so you know, today), but rumor has it babies aren’t exactly predictable. According to the doula that taught our childbirth education classes, most first babies are around 10 days late.

While expecting a baby wasn’t exactly a surprise, (we needed to 1. get a doctor’s signature to even buy sperm, 2. buy it, 3. store it at an andrology lab, 4. find ridiculously tiny sterile syringe barrels without needle tips, 5. get another doctor’s signature to pick up and take home the sperm we already owned, 6. stop at Jason’s Dry Ice at 6 am to fill up our cooler with dry ice, 7. pick up the vial from the andrology lab, 8. let it thaw 30 minutes and then 9. proceed) the past few months have gone really quickly.

Yesterday and today I really haven’t been able to focus. I check my email obsessively. I have phantom vibrate and think my phone is ringing in my pocket when it is sitting on my desk propped up by the monitor on silent. I constantly hit refresh on twitter. Occasionally I process some paperwork. I have a hard time falling asleep. It’s like a combination of birthday, new Halloween costume, first day of summer, new crush all in one. On Sunday I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because I was so anxiously excited. It feels like I have giant butterflies in my stomach all the time, and I have forgotten that I need to eat on occasion. In short, I am looking forward to being a dad.

Transition Question Series #5 and #6 Anything you didn’t like about T? Anything about life after transition that is not what you expected?

29 Sep

5) Anything you didn’t like about T?
At first I wasn’t thrilled about giving myself my shot, but I adjusted quickly and it’s not a problem. I recently switched to injecting in the butt instead of the thigh, and that has made it even easier. This might not be an option for everyone, I am fortunate to have a partner that is able to help me by doing the injection in the butt, and I volunteer at the Shot Clinic in the Twin Cities where there are folks available to give injections.

 I didn’t have any huge emotional spikes or rage, and my period stopped pretty quickly after I started so it was pretty easy for me. I didn’t have a ton of acne. Mostly I was just really horny (well, hornier than previously) all the time for several months, and had a ton of energy, now I feel level.

6) Or is there anything about life after transition that is not what you expected or that you don’t enjoy?
Physically? Honestly no. I am really really really happy that I transitioned. Socially? There are a few things I didn’t expect, like seeing the stark contrast between going into a store and being read as female then going in 4 months later and being read as a man, and also still learning how to navigate friendships/social situations in all-male environments, but for the most part I enjoy it. I knew it was gonna be a little weird re-learning some of the social cues and language I learned being raised as a girl.

I don’t enjoy the strange man-club dynamic that happens in some situations.

Personally, I also don’t enjoy being read as hetero. It’s particularly common since my partner is a woman. It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation because I don’t particularly like being out as trans to everyone, yet I like being out as queer. I touched on this briefly in a previous post I think. I am always looking for new ways to affirm my queerness without needing to plaster my backpack in rainbows.

Transition Question Series #4 Is there anything you would do differently

13 Jul

4) Is there anything you would do differently?
I think the only things I would’ve done differently would’ve been to be more prepared for top surgery, to have tried to lost a little bit more weight before hand. Even so, my results themselves are stellar. I have struggled with some disordered eating/body issues for most of my life since my first puberty. But honestly, how many people  don’t have those struggles to some extent. As far as T, surgery etc. goes I wouldn’t do a thing differently. I used to think I would’ve wanted to transition earlier, especially when I was comparing myself to young high school kids transitioning. But I started hormones and had surgery when I was able and ready to do, both emotionally and financially, and I think that made a world of difference because I felt complete ownership over the process.

Transition Question Series #3 – How much does transition help?

6 Jul

3) I wonder how much transition helps? Do you still struggle
with feeling dysphoria or disconnected? Do you feel in between the
lines so to speak?
Transition has helped immensely. I’m not going to say I don’t feel depressed sometimes, cause I do because their are other things that stress me out about life like unemployment, starting school, previous sexual abuse, tea party republicans, and so on. And I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I still feel frustrated with my belly/hip region but for the first time they are actually mine, and my body doesn’t feel like it’s betraying me anymore. The bodily disconnect I felt is gone, I don’t feel the huge struggle I did previously to just feel seen. After top surgery when I was coming out of the anaesthesia I apparently sat up, and put my hands on my chest in a panic, felt that the breasts were gone, and lay down with a sigh of relief. I still feel that relief sometimes. I look at old pictures of myself from high school and college and while there are some where I am happy and all, most of them I think I look trapped, scared, angry, confused and a little hopeless. If transition wasn’t an option for me, I don’t know what would’ve happened. Even my parents have noticed a difference. They’ve told me on several occasions that part of the reason they are ok with my transition is that they can see how much happier I am than I was all through high school and college. They said I used to just seem so angry all the time. I think that is just as indicative as anything I can say that transition helps. For a while before I was passing regularly I still felt in-between a little bit, but it passed, and I think a lot of that was due to me not having dealt with working out how to own being read as male in society.

I also think that it’s ok to feel in-between sometimes. I think if anything it can help point out that everyone feels in-between. Everyone. No one meets the ideal, and when we dwell on our “shortcomings” that we reify that the ideal is something we should strive for at all. Even so, we still live in bodies that interact with other bodies and get judged for what shape and signals they are giving off. So I guess the best advice I have is to feel that in-between, and then decide what you want to do. Some people like being at the in-between and strive to balance perfectly on its edge. Some gently lean one way or another. Some folks are on one side and want to run like hell for the total opposite. All of that is ok. Just find what makes you happiest and lets you feel embodied and whole.

Transition Question Series #2a and b: Do you feel you lost any of your queer identity? How does it feel to be perceived as a white hetero man?

13 Apr

2a) Do you feel you lost any of your queer identity?
This is a complex question for me. The short answer is I sometimes feel like I’ve lost queer visibility, but that if anything transitioning has affirmed my queer identity. I would also say that I sometimes feel like I’ve lost some connection with a butch community and to some extent a dyke community. I rarely get the butch nod out in public from butch folks and that makes me sad. However, the longer it’s been since I’ve transitioned, the less I feel sad about that. I have gotten involved with the queer/trans community here in the Twin Cities in a lot of different ways that have strengthened and affirmed my queer identity. The times I feel most visible, where all the parts of me are valued and seen, are when I am among my queer community/family. I do sometimes feel like I’m read as a white hetero dude in public, which is one of the reasons I often flag in public. Flagging has had a big comeback in a lot of the circles I run in, so that’s one way of indicating that I’m queer. I do feel sad sometimes about losing the queer visibility I had before I transitioned, but that why it’s good to have supportive community. Also, I guess I don’t really think about whether or not I look queer in public as often because I feel queer, and I feel happy in my body.

2b) How does it feel to be perceived as a white hetero man?
I have lots of feelings about this. I’m not hetero, even though I’m monogs and committed to a woman, I am still attracted to women, men, queers, genderqueers, etc. But honestly, being seen as hetero is sort of small potatoes. I’ve struggled with masculinity; specifically how to enact a non-toxic, feminist and anti-racist masculinity.

This is a bit of a tangent, but bear with me. I think a lot of transmasculine people contemplating transition, myself included, are more excited about the physical aspects of transition than the social power/status of being a man in the world. For the longest time I thought that I could just avoid being seen as a man, that if I transitioned but didn’t identify as a man I could dodge the bullet of dealing with misogyny/patriarchy as a member of the group with male privilege. It’s more complex than if I were a cisgendered man obviously because there are issues of access to therapy, hormones, surgery, name change, changing documents, and what could possibly happen if my trans status were revealed to people who wanted to punish me for it. 

However, I still have gained social power through my transition, and I’ve had to come to terms with that fact. No amount of verbal/internal gymnastics about how I identify can change that fact that I walk down the street looking and sounding “like a man” and that this gives me power. This is only exponentially compounded by the fact that I  have white privilege. I can’t I’m committed to trying to remind myself what it felt like when the world perceived me as female, enacting a masculinity that is non-toxic, positive, feminist, and anti-racist. 

And honestly it’s fucking hard sometimes, but it’s also worth it.

Transition Question Series #1: Did it ever hit you suddenly that you had to change?

14 Mar

Unlike some transfolks, I can’t say that I always knew from a young age that I was trans. I was a pretty content, happy kid until I hit puberty. Then I turned into an often angry, sullen, slightly irrational, depressed and frustrated teen.

I can’t really pinpoint any huge break-through moment. It was sort of like a slow overflow, like when you have a dripping faucet that you don’t really notice until your sink overflows and your kitchen is flooded. I can pinpoint when I had little lightbulb moments, like when I read a book in class about a trans woman and realized people could transition, when I started reading more queer/gender theory, when I read Stone Butch Blues, when I found youtube videos and blogs by transguys, when I read Kate Bornstein, S. Bear Bergman, Julia Serrano.

I luckily gained a community where exploring gender was accepted, and encouraged. I had people around me talking about gender and bodies and sexuality and the relationships between them. I also found counselling/therapy to be helpful. I went to an incredibly non-judgemental person in counselling services at college who helped me work through some of my anger, anxiety, and depression. He helped me negotiate coming out as trans without making me feel stigmatized, sick, or like all of my issues stem from being trans.

Basically, it was a progression through learning about different ways people make their bodies home to fit their gender to deciding what I needed to do to finally feel at home again, calling a cease-fire between my brain and my body.

Next question will be up soon-ish. As usual, please feel free to ask me any clarifying questions or other totally unrelated questions.