Planting Seeds for the LGBTQIA Community and its Allies, By Jennifer Angelina Petro

Planting Seeds for the LGBTQIA Community and its Allies

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

“What does it feel like to be transgender?” the eight-year-old asked wearing a t-shirt that read: “One of a kind.”

“THAT is a great question,” I said, “thank you for asking it.  For me, being transgender feels just normal.  It’s me.  It’s who I am. It’s awesome. When I realized who I really am it was the happiest moment of my life.  It feels wonderful, and sometimes scary, and sometimes I struggle with learning more and more about what makes me feel more comfortable being myself.”

She listened with wide-eyes…wide with wonder.

“What does it feel like to be you?” I asked, “Wonderful-one-of-a-kind-you.”

“It feels good,” she said, “People laugh at my jokes, my friends like me.  Do you want to hear a joke?”

“Lay it on me,” I said.

“What is the best time of the day for a clock?”

I was stumped.  “Tell me,” I said, “I’m stumped.”

“Six-thirty,” she laughed, “It’s hands down the best time of the day.”  And then she laughed again at her own joke.

“Grrroooooan,” I said, “I love it!”  And then, of course, I told her one of my corny jokes.

Another child, probably around the same age as our budding comedienne, asked: “Are you a boy or a girl?”

“GREAT question,” I said, “Thank you for asking it.  I am a girl.  I am a woman.  When I was born the doctors and my parents all thought I was a boy.  I looked like what they thought a boy should look like.  But then, as I got older, it just didn’t feel like I was a boy, and then, little by little, I realized I’m actually a woman.”

“But you have a deep voice,” he said.

“Yes, I do.  I also shave.  There are millions of ways to be a woman—and all of them perfectly wonderful.  Some women, like me, could easily grow a beard.  Some women HAVE a beard. Some women, like me, have deep voices.  And I’m still a woman.”

“Cool,” he said, and I gave him a rainbow flag that said: “Love is Love,” on it.

A few minutes later, I asked an adult, “Hi, are you familiar with LGBTQ things?”

They looked embarrassed and then confessed, “I don’t even know what those letters stand for.”

“Want to learn? I asked.

“Yes.”

And so, I explained what they mean, and then curtsied and said, “And I am a transgender woman.”

“Ooooooh,” she said, her voice modulating up and down as she prolonged her, “Oh.”

Throughout the evening I asked the same question to kids and adults and got a variety of answers.  Several kids knew what the letters mean, while others didn’t.  Some kids and parents said they knew lesbian people, gay people, trans people, and all of those kids and parents said it with complete every-day-ness, which, of course, it is.

One ten-year-old asked: “Is it normal to be transgender?”

After thanking him for the question I said: “Yes, it is.  It’s normal to be gay, bi, lesbian, it’s normal to question—so, yes, it’s normal.  Is it not as common to be transgender?  Yes.  But it’s normal,” and I handed him a flag.

One little boy entered the fair, holding his mother’s hand, and pulling her eagerly over to our table.  He was probably seven.  His mom told us, “He saw your table and was so happy.  He says of himself, I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl—I’m me—Benjamin.”  He proudly took a rainbow flag and explored our displays with eager eyes and a happy, validated heart.

I could go on and on with wonderful moments like these.  Being at a diversity fair at a local public school–Glenside Elementary School, in Glenside, PA., was a complete joy.  It was an honor to be asked.  Glenside is a fairly conservative town, and the diversity fair has always featured tables with different countries, religions, foods, and so on.  Never in their history have they had an LGBTQ+ table.  We were a first.  And yes, it was a nervous first.  The organizers weren’t sure how we would be received.  They figured none of the parents would be mean, but they thought it was possible some families wouldn’t take kindly that we were there.  We worried parents would shepherd their children away from our table, but it turned out to be the complete opposite.  Parents and children flocked to our table.  It didn’t hurt that we were giving away cupcakes, Skittles, stickers, rainbow flags, parent and child resources, and so on.  And they came—dozens and dozens—probably well over a hundred people—maybe closer to two hundred.  And every family that came was happy we were there.  They asked respectful questions, had supportive things to say, and took advantage of our free resources.  It couldn’t have been a bigger success.  We planted many, many seeds that night—for both allies and queer kids, who may or may not know they’re queer yet, or do know they are, but keep it a secret, to other kids who proudly know they are.  We demonstrated that queer people are people—fun, smart, generous, kind people.  We celebrated the LGBTQ+ community, and its allies.

We made many wonderful connections. We met someone who helps get homeless LGBTQ+ kids of the streets.  We met another who helps place LGBTQ+ kids in foster care and get adopted.  We met teachers and educators needing ideas and support for queer children in their classes.  Networking is so key in helping the world work together to help queer kids.

We were invited by my friend Kate, who was organizing the event.  She was inspired after she saw an episode of Liz Plank’s, Divided States of Women, which featured my church (Love in Action UCC) and myself.

Our table was stellar.  We draped it with a large rainbow flag and a large trans flag. We had several poster-board-sized displays.  One of them had queer people throughout history—past and present.  We had a display for queer sports figures.  We had a display for queer entertainers.  We had one with queer comic book heroes (that board brought a lot of kids over to our table).  We had another devoted to transgender people.  Another devoted to simply loving yourself as you are—your bodies, your talents, your genders—a total celebration of loving ourselves.  We also had a board for general Pride—with pictures of queer people of all kinds.  As mentioned, we had a bunch of picture books about LGBTQ+ people and issues.  We had a lot of parent resources for loving and accepting and parenting LGBTQ+ children.

 

 

I even brought my guitar and sang a few songs on the stage.  I introduced myself as a transgender woman and watched proudly as the children sat on the steps of the stage and watched and listened and smiled.  One little girl sat listening, smiling, and waving her “Love is Love,” rainbow flag as I sang. Parents formed a semi-circle behind them and also happily watched and listened.

And we planted many seeds.

One of my favorite parts of the night was watching my crew interact with the kids and parents.  Miles, a young transman friend came, and Anais, a young friend who doesn’t identify as either male or female came as well.  When I say, “young,” people, I mean, they were 20 and 17, and they were amazing.  I was so proud of them.  They are blazing a trail for queers and allies.  They were kind, cheerful, genuine, wise, proud, mature—they give me so much hope for the future, as did all the parents and children who visited our table.  These young people who came with me—they were, and are, amazing. They left the event feeling happy and proud of themselves and so moved and excited at the response we received.

Dear Readers, despite the current regime, the future is bright and in good hands.  Changes are happening—positive changes.  Our presence at this diversity fair even prompted the principal of the school, after informing the faculty we would be there, to introduce a new, school-wide policy: No more addressing the student body during assemblies, as “boys and girls,” no more greeting your classes with, “Good morning, boys and girls,” no more dividing groups by boy-girl.  This type of change is huge for queer kids—those in and out or questioning.  It shows one positive act for the LGBTQ+ community has far-reaching effects.

Join us.  Encourage your schools to invite the queer community to attend your diversity festivals.  Advocate for non-gendered bathrooms and non-gendered language in your schools.  Encourage teachers to learn about queer issues, talk with your children and neighbors and friends.  And if your child has a question for one of us, say, if we meet in the check-out line—let them ask.  Don’t censor them because you worry we’ll be offended.  Let them ask.  Their questions are important, our answers are important, that you support your children asking questions is important.  Plant seeds with us and watch as a garden of rainbows sprouts in the hearts and minds of people everywhere, watch as the culture continues to grow in simply seeing us as people who deserve equal rights like anyone else.  Watch as your children continue to blossom as lights in the world.

 

 


 





Zimzir and the Dragon, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Zimzir and the Dragon

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Before Word

Being friends with a dragon takes some getting used to.  For one thing their digestive systems are always rumbling like an old car.  When they burp, which is often, foul smelling smoke comes out of both ends, and little spurts of fire sometimes ignite nearby curtains or sofas.  Another thing is that they sometimes eat people which is hard to explain to the authorities when they come looking for said eaten person.

However there are many benefits of being friends with a dragon.  For example, they eat people—people who are bullying you or harassing you, which really cuts down on being bullied when word spreads that people who pick on you end up disappearing, leaving only a few bits of hair and sneakers behind.  Another benefit is that they burp, and foul-smelling smoke comes out of both ends—which is another good deterrent for bullies—as are the little spurts of flames aimed at particularly sensitive areas on bullies.

You might be wondering why I have so many bullies flocking around me.  You see, I am trans—transgender.  And I’m a kid.  I was born nine years ago and everyone thought I was a boy.  And even though I was born with the parts that would make some people assume I was a boy, I am a girl, and I know I’m a girl.  My parents know now as well—after years of me insisting on wearing dresses they finally got it.  Not that dresses defines being a girl, but my folks are old-fashioned.

I am one of the lucky ones.  My parents both accept me.  I also have friends who do as well.  It wasn’t always that way though, and when I first came out things, shall we say, got ugly.  And that’s where being friends with Harbor came in handy.  Yes, Harbor is my friend dragon, and he does by ‘he.’  My name is well, we’ll get to that, and this is the beginning of many beginnings and the end of many endings and the beginning of many endings and well, you get the idea.

 

Zimzir and the Dragon.

As I said, my parents were told I was a boy when I popped out on a cold winter morning in January.  My parents named me, “Joseph.”  It was an OK name, except it didn’t fit.  At first, I didn’t understand why it didn’t fit. It just didn’t.  Sort of like accidentally putting both legs into a pair of pants.

My parents were pretty OK though, and so I began to grow up, or, well, as I like to think of it—grow down.  You see, I always felt like I was an alien or something.  Like I came from up there in space somewhere.  I just felt different from the earthlings around me.  And so, it took me a few years to come down, so to speak into this body I didn’t want or ask for.

When I was a toddler (which is a really funny word if you think about it) I used to toddle to the laundry basket (my family did do laundry, but always left the clean laundry in a basket in my parent’s room, and I knew this, so I would, as I said, toddle to it, and then, with some effort, toddle over and into it, sort of like a misguided cat).  Once in the basket I would do an artistic little dance as I sat there on the clean laundry with quite possibly a stinky diaper, which consisted of me throwing clothes around the room while I sang (the artistic little dance, that is, not my diaper).  “Sang” isn’t quite the right description of the vocalizations that came out of my mouth. My singing was more like cows yodeling.

While in the laundry basket I used to fish out the “women’s” clothes and wrap them around my head.  Then I would giggle and slobber into them.

And here I want to say that, of course, clothes (and toys, for that matter) (and well, anything for that matter, especially kids) (unless they want to be) should not be gendered.  So, I put “women’s” clothes in those little quotation mark thingies just to let you know I think it’s absurd that people think there is such a thing as “women’s” clothing.  For the rest of this story, however, I am not going to use quotation marks, mainly because they are annoying.  Trust though, whenever I mention women’s clothes or boy’s clothes, I mean (with a big roll of my eyeballs) (eyeballs is also a funny word) that I mean “women’s” clothes and “boy’s” clothes.

As I grew down some more, I used to go into my parent’s room and not only fish out my mom’s clothes, but I try it on and parade around the house. This made my mother laugh and my dad yell.

“Take those off, Joseph.  Those are girl’s clothes.  You’re a boy,” he would say.

To which mom would say: “Oh, honey he’s just pretending.”

To which I would say to myself: “No, I’m not.  These clothes might be too big for me now, but they are the kind of clothes I want to wear forever.”  And then I would take them off and treat them as if they were threaded with gold, and fold them up neatly and put them back in the laundry basket.

One day, when I was around seven, I was at my cousin, Annabelle’s house, and I stole one of her dresses and wore it to school the next day.  I felt so proud and happy.  It felt like I was wearing cool, refreshing sunshine.

Sitting in the principal’s office after getting sent there by my teacher for causing a ruckus in class just because I was wearing a dress, was the first time I remember wishing I had never been born.  “This sucks,” I thought, “I just want to be myself and everyone either gets mad or thinks I’m a joke.”

And while waiting for my mom to come bring me a change of clothes, I heard Harbor for the first time.

I say, “heard,” because the first thing I heard was a fart.  I looked around the office.  No one else was there but me.  Upon sniffing however, I knew someone, or something—judging by the intensity of the fart-smell—was with me.

Then I heard a burp and saw a little burst of smoke and flame appear in the middle of the room near the ceiling.  I jumped and let out a little scream.

“It’s alright,” said a voice that sounded like gentle thunder.  It was a sound that soothed me and resonated through my lungs, “It’s just me, Harbor.”

“Hhh-Hhh,” was all I could manage to say. I sort of sounded like I was practicing dramatic exhales.

“Harbor,” the voice said again, causing a little storm to wave pleasantly through my heart.

“Harbor?” I said, “But, where are you?”

“Right here,” came the voice.  And then, there—right there—in Principal-Poopy-Pant’s office (not his real name) (unfortunately), the air in front of me began to shimmer and quiver and take form and color and weight, and as it did, a dragon appeared before me—large, aqua green with purplish markings and wings folded neatly against the ceiling.

“You’re a dragon,” I sputtered, and my mouth, if it could have, would have opened down enough to hit the floor.

“Yup,” he said, “so I am.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I am here for you.”

“For me?” I gulped.  “Like, here to eat me?”

“Oh no,” said the dragon.  “I am here to be your companion.  If you will allow me, that is.”

“Why do you want to be my companion?  Do I need one?”

“Because I want to be.  I know what it’s like to not be accepted for who you know you really are.”

“You do?”

“Yes.  And ‘yes’ to your other question.  We all need companions sometimes, and you have an especially challenging journey ahead, and I am offering my services.”

“Services?” I asked.

“I will be your protector; guardian angel, if you will.”

“I see,” I said, “I’m not sure what to say.  I mean, here I am, in trouble again, talking to a dragon.  I’m not sure how I feel about that or having a protector—let alone a dragon protector.  I’ve always had to protect myself.  I’m used to it, even when I do a crumby job at it.”

“I see,” said the dragon, “are you saying you would rather me go?”

I hesitated a moment, and then said, “Yes.  I have always felt alone and that’s sort of how I like it—or at least, sort of like how I’m used to it.”

“That’s fair,” Harbor said, “I’ll just be going then.” And the dragon began to dissolve into the air.

“Wait,” I said, standing up for the first time since this encounter began, “can I change my mind?  You know, if I decide later I want a companion, can you, I mean, will you, still be there?”

“I’m sorry,” the dragon said, pausing in mid-disappearing into thin air, “I may not be here for you.  There are many like you who need protecting.  However, someone will always be there for you, even it isn’t me.”

And as I stared hard into Harbor’s eyes and saw nothing but oceanic light, and kindness, and wisdom, and a sly sense of humor, I found myself saying: “Wait, please.  Stay.  Actually, being alone kind of sucks.  Well, not all the time. Sometimes I love being alone and need to be alone and wish I could be alone forever, but in general, I have no one who accepts me as me, and you seem to.  So, will you stay?”

With that Harbor fully materialized into the office again and lowered its great head down to eye level and said: “It would be an honor.  And now, what shall I call you?”

I looked at the ground and shuffled my feet. “Well, my given name is ‘Joseph,’ but that’s not the name I want or call myself.”

“Well,” Little One in the Beautiful Dress, what would you like to be called?”

I looked up at Harbor and couldn’t believe I was about to tell someone the name I had always treasured secretly in my heart.

“It’s OK,” Harbor said, “you can tell me later.  On your time.  Always on your time.”

His voice rumbled gently through me.

“Besides,” he said, “we have work to do here.  We need to get you out of this pickle the limited minds of the grown-ups around you have put you.”

“How?” I said.

“Watch,” Harbor said and winked, and then, shimmered into invisibility, but not before breathing a little puff of fire and placing it on my head where it disappeared into me like warm apple cider. And before I could say a thing, Principal Poopy Pants came out of his office.

“Your dad is here,” he said, “and he’s not happy.”

Just then, the office door opened and in stormed my father, jeans and a t-shirt in hand.

“What were you thinking, young man?” he said, lifting me from the chair by my arm.  “Why do you do this?  I don’t get it.  It’s infuriating. Why do you want to dress like a girl?”

“Because I am a girl,” I found myself shouting, my whole body feeling as if it was filled with some kind of strange, warm power.

“You are not a girl!” my dad and the principal shouted together.

“Yes, she is,” said Harbor appearing suddenly in the room, smoke and ribbons of flame streaming from his flaring nostrils, his voice thundering.

My dad and Principal Poopy Pants leapt into each other’s arms and turned around to look at Harbor.  They screamed like frightened sheep.

“Get this into your heads,” Harbor said, lowering his own to meet their terrified eyes, “If you still want to keep your heads.  She is a girl.  She feels better in dresses.  Accept her for the truth of who she knows herself to be, or else.”  And he puffed a burst of smoke around their heads.  They coughed and tried to wave the smoke aside.

“But,” my dad began.

“But nothing,” Harbor growled.

“But…that’s my son, my son Joseph.”

“That’s not my name!” I shouted, and I felt like my words were smoke and fire.

Harbor puffed out a little flame that came inches from my dad’s nose. “Don’t,” said Harbor, pausing before growling the rest of his sentence, “Ever. Call. Her. That. Again.”

“But,” my dad attempted.

And then Harbor roared a roar that shook the furniture in the room.  “No buts!” He bellowed.

“OK…OK,” my dad said.  And then he looked at me, “This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Then get used to it,” Harbor said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Get used to it.”

I had never sassed my dad before, but instead of getting mad, he bent down and looked at me, gently putting his hands on my shoulders.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I think somehow I’ve always known, but I was afraid of what others would think, what people at church would say, what your friends or grandparents would say.  But, if this is who you are, then I accept you, and will do everything I can to help you feel accepted.  I never want you to feel wrong about being who you are.  I’m so sorry.”

It was the first time I ever saw tears in my father’s eyes.  I teared up too, and so did Harbor, who sniffled out a little fart scenting the room with, well, dragon fart smell, which was a lot like burnt toast, not altogether unpleasant, like the smell of horse poop that smells like mowed grass and straw.

“Now,” my father said, still holding my shoulders and wiping a tear from my eye, “what would you like to be called?”

I bowed my head and then lifted it up proudly and looked first at Harbor and then at my father.  “My name,” I said, with all the power of a phoenix rising from the flames, “is Zimzir.”

My dad smiled and stood up and turned to Principal Poopy-Pants.  “Mr. Poopy Pants,” he said (and I burst out laughing), “This is my daughter Zimzir.  She likes this dress and she is going to stay in it and you and your school are going to everything in your power to help her feel accepted.  Educate the students, teachers, parents.  That’s your job. So, do it.”

“Yes,” added Harbor, breathing fire tinged smoke around the principal’s head, “Do it.”

Principal Poopy Pants shook his head like a bobble head in a car on a bumpy road.

And so, my father walked me back to my classroom, opened the door, looked at the teacher and then the other students seated at their desks.

“People,” he said like a warrior announcing the arrival of a princess, “this is may daughter, Zimzir. Whatever you may have thought of her before, this is who she is and if any of you have a problem with that you will have to deal with me.”

“And me,” said Harbor snaking his great, scaly head into the room.

The class and teacher screamed and Harbor winked at me and then disappeared.

The other kids shook their heads not knowing if what they just saw or heard was real.

My dad looked down at me and said: “You want to stay here…Zimzir, or would you like to go for some ice cream?”

“I want to stay,” I said, looking up at him and smiling, “let’s get ice cream after school.”

“You got it,” he said and turned to go pointing his finger at the teacher and class.  “Remember what I said,” he warned.

And as I walked proudly to my desk, I looked out the window and saw Harbor.  He looked like he was about to fart.  The classroom windows were open.  He got up real close to the window and winked at me.  I plugged my nose.  I knew what was coming.  I sat down, smiled at him and knew I was me.  Zimzir.  And I, Princess Zimzir had a protector forever.

 

Afterword:

We may not all have a dragon as a friend, or parents who accept us.  We can dream though, and we can do our best to be ourselves in however form that takes, and in however time that takes—even if it takes a lifetime.  We need to do what is best and safest for us.  And since not all of us have dragons, may we all be Harbors for one another—safe places we can go when we need understanding, support, love, laughter, and a place we can burp and fart with wild abandon.  May we all be dragons and protectors for one another.  May we lift each other up and take care of one another.  And if you’re reading this and you’re not trans, then accept your kid, accept your friend, accept your relative.  Or else. I know someone hungry just waiting for you to make the wrong move.  Live your faith.  Be a parent.  Be a friend. Be an ally.  Be a Harbor and breathe fire for the sake of people like me.

 


 

 

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