On the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, author Joy Ellison reflects on why we need to talk about transgender history with children.
When I was looking for a publisher for Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made Lgbtq+ History, one question haunted me.
Is it age appropriate? Should we really be talking about transgender history with our children?
Editors asked me. Agents asked me. My writing teacher flat out told me that I couldn’t write a picture book about this topic.
It hurt. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are my heroes – two transgender women of color and best friends who changed history during the Stonewall Rebellion. Sylvia and Marsha’s uncompromising love for themselves and courageous activism inspired me. They made me proud to be transgender and I wanted to share that pride with kids, especially transgender kids and children of color.
It hurt, but I wasn’t surprised.
We often treat transgender identity as an adult topic. While we may claim that we’re simply worried that our children won’t be able to understand terms like “gender identity,” our fears are rooted in decades of misrepresentation of transgender people. Television, movies, and the news media have portrayed transgender people, especially transgender women, as deluded, dangerous, and dishonest. The media has conditioned us to believe that we need to protect children from transgender adults. Even when we reject that message, we may still find ourselves nervous to discuss transgender identity with our kids.
But children usually understand their own gender identities at young ages. By the time they are reading picture books, some children already know they are transgender. That’s why we can’t afford to avoid this topic. Transgender kids need to know that they are loved now.
I wrote Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! to help parents talk about transgender history with their children. Through simple language and warm, inviting pictures, this book tells how Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson met as homeless transgender girls of color dreaming of a better future. Together, they made history during the Stonewall Rebellion, kick-starting the movement for acceptance of queer and trans people. They helped other transgender girls by sharing what they have in abundance: friendship.
To show parents and kids how to follow Sylvia and Marsha’s example, I’ve included a reading guide with background information, definitions, discussion questions, activities, and additional resources.
Parents don’t need to be experts to talk with their children about transgender history. It’s enough to tell our kids that we love them and introduce them to the stories of incredible people like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Kids can change the world, just like Sylvia and Marsha, and we can help them do it.
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolutionwill be published on the 19th November 2020. You can pre-order your copy here.