Photo by Foluke Oshin/Libraries Taskforce
I spent a couple of hours in between classes browsing through children’s literature theory, as one does, not looking into anything too seriously. I had just been exposed to the genre of theory and was a little skeptical. What is there to say about Mother Goose and Captain Underpants? It wasn’t until I stumbled upon an excerpt from Jacqueline Rose’s “The Case of Peter Pan: The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction” that I realized just how important and overlooked children’s literature is. The general argument of her book is that, in order for a book to be children’s fiction, it must be written by a child. Rose argues that when adults write stories for children, they are only presenting an adult’s fantasy of what childhood is, therefore imposing their view of childhood onto children.
This concept was not entirely new to me. I’ve long believed this is true of trans/GNC narratives. I have first-hand experience with the harm that can be enacted by stereotypical narratives about the trans community. Through literature and media created by cis people – even those who are well-intentioned – the trans experience is often boiled down to a select few tropes: the horrific coming out experience, trying on makeup and getting caught, or shaving your head and binding with ace bandages. Though these experiences are true to many members of the trans community, they are often presented as if they are the only trans experience. Through this lens, I was able to see how the concept applies to childhood. Often, when someone far removed from the experience tries to portray it, the all-important nuance is lost. Learning the intersections of this concept, I was inspired to create my community service project: a collection of stories written, formatted, illustrated, and fully spearheaded by trans and gender expansive children.
I reached out to the Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling’s TransActive Gender Project and connected with three families of gender expansive children (ages 4-10) with an interest in creating. I met with the three young authors at the Portland Q Center for a series of individual and group workshops. Each young author and I worked one-on-one to create a zine about anything on their mind. With very little prompting each individual author took off! They wrote about fairies, wolves, unicorns, and lots of rainbows. Each of their zines were completely formatted, illustrated, and written by the author (with me as a scribe for the youngest author). Afterwards, all of us met together to create a collaborative story. We went through brainstorming, outlining, writing, and illustrating the final draft. In our final workshop, we talked about formatting the entire collection. Each author chose how the scans of their zine would appear in the collection, what order to put them in, the size and orientation, including biographies, names, ages, and pronouns, and more! They were completely in charge and thrived in an environment of complete creative freedom. It was decided the title of the final collection would be “Unicorns, Faries, and Wolves, Commotionss - was written by queer and trans kids.”
As we move forward with our project, I look forward to being an advocate for these young authors as they challenge adult assumptions about how, and with whom, stories should be shared. The publishing world has long been exclusive of marginalized voices, and we surely face a difficult road ahead. However, whatever path these authors choose will be a display of what marginalized youth can accomplish, whether it is altering the system or working outside of it.
My hope is for this book to be in queer and public libraries across the pacific northwest. Elevating the voices of trans and gender expansive children has allowed me to realize the wisdom a person can hold regardless of their age or experience of gender. I believe narratives by these communities are indispensable to representing the breadth of experiences of transness and childhood. These stories, and the ones these young authors continue to share in their daily lives, show that there is no predetermined, correct way to be trans or a child, or to share that experience.
This post was written by Wells Fargo Point Scholar Teague Shattuck.
Teague is currently studying Philosophy at Reed College. By living as a visible, queer person, Teague hopes to inspire others never to accept “punishment” for existing genuinely. Read more about Teague here.