by Maya Gonzalez
My family attended the San Francisco Trans March last week. In its 20th year, it is one of the largest and oldest annual events of its kind. Thousands of people filled Dolores Park and then the streets for hours. Glorious diversity pouring in from every direction! Gender EVERYTHING! The full continuum. The Trans March always calms me. For a brief moment, the world feels like a hot bath. My bones relax. I feel myself rest down into the water, cupped and contained in comfort. I can expand and just be. Safe and sound.
|SF Trans March, 2023
People come from all over the SF Bay Area, the state, the country, even the world for that feeling. This year there was even a contingent of 3rd gender people who traveled all the way from India to perform on the stage.
Here, everything that makes you "weird or unwanted" in the "real
world" is exactly what makes you valuable and necessary in this one. It's
not just queer space. It's queer/TRANS space. OUTside. Under the sky and trees.
In view of the city and the bay. It felt local and global.
I kept laughing with my partner because everywhere we turned we saw people who reminded us of the kids in our books and card deck. There's Gia! Hey Harvey! Hola Quetzal!
|spread from our banned picture book, They, She, He easy as ABC
We intentionally created characters to be reflections of our community and make this powerful afternoon more accessible to kids. We wanted our materials to pass on what it feels like to be here--free from the constant pressure to conform , free to just BE, surrounded by community and support...As if the world was yours and you can relax all the way down into who you are. Besides awesome mental health benefits, there's also the added gift that freeing ourselves from gender oppression conveniently aligns humanity with the vast gender diversity reflected in nature. (Gender Wheel) Win, win, win!
|spread from our banned picture book, They, She, He easy as ABC
Needless to say it felt good to be at the SF Trans March. It's been a super challenging year for Queer, Trans, Intersex people. And like a lot of folks our small press was hit hard with book bans and gag orders. In fact, I was heavily targeted in conservative media again earlier this month because someone used my work in a school. Looking around at everybody was healing, even revitalizing as I realized I was deep in community. As a parent I felt peace watching my kid in this space and their comfort with their self.
Now, if the story ended there with a big rainbow bow wouldn't that be a lovely Pride gift?
....But the story doesn’t end there.
The park where the Trans March takes place is in a neighborhood that has been
heavily gentrified over the last many years. The people who mostly populate the
park have changed. For example, Mark Zuckerberg lived a block over until just
last year. So on this magical day, sitting across from the park at a local
cafe, was a group of kids with an adult enjoying their freshly squeezed juices.
Locals? Most likely.
These folks live in an adjacent world. One in which openly pointing and laughing at people in the Trans March is acceptable. While I can understand that the adult may have been surprised, and quite possibly overwhelmed *thousands of queer/TRANS people and their families and allies marching is a powerful sight to behold!* it doesn't compensate for looking uninformed and ultimately inhumane. Passing that kind of behavior on to kids is getting tired. As adults we all have a few horror stories, but there were kids in the March, including our own.
My thoughts raced to the classroom, the playground. We use children's books as our tool of choice for change. Are they enough? In the face of the larger culture? Parents? Generations of discrimination? Everything?
Over the last 20 years I have personally watched the Trans March grow into the thousands.
Freeing gender isn't just the future for queerness, it's the future to creating a new world for all of us. Our society is based on gender oppression and gender privilege. It's not about pronouns and definitions. We need to dive in and take the time to heal the deeper issues. It's time we understand that body and gender diversity are a necessary part of all realms of nature and as such should be treated respectfully or at the very least neutrally. It will take decades to undo the false education we are still giving our kids.
Can children's books address something so deeply embedded in our culture? I'll be honest, I ultimately want to be effective. I constantly question what is the best method and how do I create lasting change? Children’s books?
On the walk home we had to push through our classic afternoon winds. Strong and persistent. The Trans March was veering right, heading downtown to the site of Compton Cafeteria and the first queerTRANS uprising in the US. Our family was veering left to go home after a long day. We could still hear thousands chanting and drumming behind us.
Pushing along in the wind my kid turned to me rather thoughtfully and said, "We're not asking for freedom. We ARE freedom."
I paused. That hot bath moment returned. That sense of self relaxing down into
"Yes." I said, warming up against the cold wind.
As we walked home I thought about the book I’m working on right now. The Gender and Infinity Book for Kids. It takes the gender conversation deeper in a kid friendly way because it positions kids’ inherent diversity within the context of nature and directly addresses the pressure kids experience to conform to stereotypical gender roles.
My kid continued to repeat the words like they were memorizing a secret spell. "We’re not asking for freedom. We ARE freedom."
Just before we got home they said they should make a kids’ book about it. I couldn’t agree more.
Happy Pride month! Hope you got a moment to relax into your fabulous self.
Maya Gonzalez is an award-winning children’s book artist, author, activist and progressive educator. Maya's work addresses systemic inequity in relation to race/ethnicity, sexism and cissexism using children’s books as radical agents of change and healing, both personally and culturally. Maya co-founded Reflection Press, a POC, queer and trans owned independent publishing house that uses holistic, nature-based, and anti-oppression frameworks in their books and materials for kids and grown-ups. Maya is also the creator of the Gender Wheel, a tool to express the dynamic, infinite and inclusive reality of gender, and provides lectures and workshops to educators, parents and caregivers.Website: www.mayagonzalez.com
Instagram: @mzmayagonzalez and @genderwheel