An Interview with Matt and Our Month in Review: August 2017

Following are highlights from our month on Instagram. Click here for all of the months’ pictures, thoughts and happenings. If you’re on Instagram, follow me. If you already follow me, thanks!

“There’s nothing negative about the way C.J. is. He’s not dysphoric, searching for some answer. He’s super happy just being himself. I told Lori we were going to raise C.J. the same way we raised Chase — instilling the same values and virtues — but that we would follow his lead and love him no matter what. I was like, ‘If he loves Barbies, let’s give him Barbies. If he loves wearing dresses, let’s buy him dresses’,” Matt in an interview with MEL Magazine. Click here to read it.

 

He had a bad day and needed to go for a walk “to gather himself.” I walked with him. Eventually he told me the top three things that were bothering him.
1. Someone ate the last of his Pringles.
2. He felt like he wasn’t very helpful in the escape room we did.
3. He’s sad that some parents don’t love their kids anymore when they come out as LGBTQ.
Those are some big problems for a 10 year old. And, that last one, is rough on a person no matter their age.

When CJ told me one of the things bothering him (see previous pic/post) was that some parents reject their kids for being LGBTQ, this quote kept looping through my head. It’s exactly how I feel about CJ, Chase and Matt. It’s how every parent should feel about their LGBTQ child. And they should communicate it clearly in words and actions. Everyone should feel that a handful of people — or, at the very least, a parent — would choose them.

 

Channel your inner CJ today. Say “Yaaaaas Qweeeeen” when your boss asks you to do something. Say “water off a ducks back” and flick your wrist and roll your eyes when someone says something rude to you. Eat ice cream for lunch and pickles for dinner. Create something fantastic. Be in bed with a good book by 9 pm. Live that CJ life.

 

Another week of sewing camp all stitched up. “My teacher really had her hands full this week! There were so many girls who had never sewed before. This one girl kept saying her sewing machine was broken and I was all ‘Gurl. You’re machine is not broken. Here, let me thread it for you.’ Then I helped every girl thread her machine. I’m basically the teacher’s aide and should get paid $10 for the week.”

 

Flashbacking to little CJ this Friday. He’s werking and twerking on his first day of preschool. While I love the pose in this pic, I can only focus on his polo shirt’s pink stripe. Why? Because he wanted a pink shirt from the girls section and I wouldn’t buy it. He was four and I was struggling with his gender expression. I was afraid that the start of school would bring the start of bullying. So I forced him to focus on and get excited about the pink stripe on his polo shirt. Now, looking back from where I am today, I get mad at myself and feel bad for CJ when I look at this pic. He was four years old. It was the toughest age for a lot of reasons. The terrible twos are nothing. Nobody talks about the fucking fours. And, when CJ was four, we were at the height of our struggle with his gender identity and gender expression. Schools starting. If your boy wants a pink shirt, get it. Don’t settle for a pink stripe.

 

You’re looking at proof that I’m a good mom and my kids are reaching age appropriate milestones. CJ (age 10) can now flat iron my hair for me while I look at my phone. I’ve dreamt of this day. I’ve been waiting to write the date in his baby book. Today is the day. August 14, 2017. #neverforget #mommingsohard #momlife

 

Backseat confessions on the way home from gymnastics practice.

 

Matt: CJ, this is the church where your mom and I got married. Stand in front of it so I can send her a pic at work.

 

Me from the Nordstrom shoe dept: Where are you?
Matt: We are in the makeup department. A great guy saw CJ looking at the makeup and I told him that CJ is in to makeup and wants to be a makeup artist. He is giving CJ a free makeover.

Upon seeing my third grade school picture…
CJ: Mom! You were gender nonconforming, too?!
Me: No.
CJ: Then why are you wearing a tie?
Me: Because it made me feel powerful. I wanted to be a successful businesswoman and that was my “power suit.”
When I wore that outfit I always got compliments. People said I looked smart and like a boss. Why? Because masculinity in females is seen as a strength. But, femininity in males is seen as a weakness. So, CJ doesn’t get the same kind of praise when he wears a skirt….even though that’s the clothing that makes him feel powerful.

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Inside the Mind of a Gender Creative Boy

I hear from a lot of adults raising gender expansive four and five year olds. The adults are typically stressed, confused, lonely and scared. I get it. I’ve been there. Ages four and five were the toughest for us in terms of parenting a gender expansive child. I tell families that it gets better once the child can communicate his/her thoughts and feelings. Like, now, with C.J. being 10 years old and getting ready to start fifth grade, if I have a question about him, I can ask him and he can answer. I asked C.J. what he remembers thinking and feeling when he was four and five years old and I wrote it all down. I’m hoping that sharing C.J.’s memories below might help families currently wondering and/or struggling. xoxo, Lori

(By: C.J., age 10, August 2017)

When I was two years old I kind of liked cars and knights and stuff because that’s all the toys we had. When I got closer to three years old, I started to like pink, purple and princesses. By the time I was four years old, I liked everything girl stuff. I really liked the way girls’ hair and dresses moved.

In preschool and kindergarten, I got the hint that I wasn’t like other boys my age. They would wear superhero stuff and I would wear clothes that were more feminine. I even wore Little Mermaid pajamas on pajama day and a Monster High costume on Halloween.

At that time I don’t think I really cared what other kids thought about me. When you’re in preschool and kindergarten and you’re different, the other kids don’t really care as much. My mom says I used to ask every morning if I was going to get bullied at school, but I don’t remember that. My mom says it’s good to forget stuff sometimes.

Back when I was four and five years old, I used to tell my parents that I wanted to be a girl. I never said I was a girl. I just said I wanted to be a girl. Because then I could like all of the stuff and hobbies and clothes that I liked and nobody would care or give me a hard time about it.

I used to draw myself as a girl. This summer, I went through my drawings from kindergarten and in all of them I had long ponytails and dresses on. It surprised me when I saw that. When I saw those drawings, it made me realize how fast people can forget things they did. I’m going into fifth grade now and that was just back in kindergarten.

I guess I do remember wanting to be a girl if I think about it really hard, but I don’t want to be a girl anymore. I want to be me. Just me. I’m a gender creative boy. I’m a boy who likes girl stuff. I don’t even like calling it girl stuff and boy stuff. There shouldn’t be girl stuff and boy stuff; it’s all just stuff.

Sometimes I don’t feel safe at school and other times I do feel safe. I don’t feel safe at school when I’m in the bathroom or when the fire alarms go off. I also don’t like being alone. I don’t feel safe in the bathroom because the boys just pee everywhere and they aren’t as neat and tidy as the girls. I’m more neat and tidy like the girls. I always go in the stalls, even if I’m going pee. That makes me feel more secure.

I feel like I’m a different type of boy. But I’m a boy for sure. I like both male and female pronouns. I don’t really care which ones people use when they talk about me. I feel like pronouns are no big deal. Pronouns are not important to me, rainbows are important to me. My mom says different things are important to different people.

People who are LGBTQ are important. That’s a fact. People who are different are very important because they are people, but not everybody sees them that way.

My mom and dad used to sometimes think I was transgender – a girl born in a boy’s body. They even thought about letting me transition to being a girl when I was littler. That doesn’t bother me because I know I’d be a boy now.

I don’t think it’s possible that I’m transgender because I really like how I am. I’m happy with myself.

My mom and dad tell me that some parents with kids who are four and five years old are really stressed out because they have gender creative kids and they don’t know what to do. I would tell those parents to just relax and let your kid be who they are. And, let them know that you love them no matter what. That’s what my parents tell me.

If I could talk to myself when I was four years old, I would tell myself “don’t transition, because you are going to like who you are when you’re older. You can like girl stuff without being a girl. You can just be you.”

But if a kid is transgender, their parents need to let their kid decide who they are and follow their kid’s lead. If your kid is transgender, let them transition. Let them be who they are.

Sometimes it’s hard being a transgender kid or gender creative kid because you’ve got to take a lot of time to figure things out.

I think overall parents need to do a lot of relaxing.

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Our Month(s) in Review: June and July 2017

Following are highlights (lowlights not included!) from our months on Instagram. Click here for all of the months’ pictures, thoughts and happenings. If you’re on Instagram, follow me. If you already follow me, thanks!

C.J. leaves this message wherever he can. Here, he wrote it in chalk on the floor of a busy restaurant that encourages patrons of all ages to draw on the floor. Every time he leaves his “be yourself” message out in public, part of me thinks that someone who needs the message will happen upon it after we leave. But, most of all, I hope that C.J. always feels pride when it comes to the things that make him different and that he’ll always feel brave enough to be himself.

 

With no summer camp this week, my son has spent a lot of time drawing his favorite superheroes.

 

Serving everyone the “Pride Eye.” According to C.J., his “Pride Eye” look is inspired by the colors he saw at Pride this year, cotton candy, unicorns, love and happiness.

 

Sometimes, to celebrate the end of a rough week, you find the closest Pride, buy two train tickets, travel two hours and then…you march.

 

“What should I do now?,” C.J. asks at least once a day because he knows if he tells me he’s bored I’ll tell him only boring people can be bored. “Why don’t you sew something? The machine is out,” I said the other day. At age 10, he knows his way around the machine just as well as I do. He made this skirt in an afternoon.

 

This week C.J. added contortionist to the list of things he wants to be when he grows up. We encourage and empower young girls. We tell them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Make sure we do the same for boys. C.J.’s list of future professions includes: artist, makeup artist, drag queen, Olympic gymnast, hair stylist, contortionist, RuPaul’s Drag Race judge, AGT judge, Cupcake Wars judge.

 

It’s C.J.’s last day of sewing camp. He made lots of friends and lots of drag queens. Here’s his felt Sasha Velour. The employees at our local Joann’s Store were so supportive and encouraging of C.J. – who was the only boy enrolled in sewing camp. They told him that they see a future for him on Project Runway. They were even more complimentary of Matt, who took C.J. into the store an hour before each day of camp to pick out new fabric, notions and patterns. “It’s so great to see a dad in here buying fabric for his son and encouraging him to sew. A lot of dads wouldn’t do that,” they said to Matt. They’re right and I’m glad they gave Matt the kudos he deserves. He’s the best dad. (But, this also got me thinking, how come I’ve been celebrated for taking Chase shopping at a sporting goods store?)

 

I spoke at Aetna today about raising a gender creative child. The Q&A session that followed was the most emotional I’ve experienced in a while. It was a reminder that you never know what the other people in the room or your co-workers are going through. Be nice to people, listen and practice empathy.

 

This week C.J. is the only boy at sewing camp. He’s also the only one who made a Violet Chachki hand puppet.

 

Yesterday I spent the afternoon speaking at the Orange County Bar Association about raising a gender creative child and provided thoughts and guidance for interacting with children of all gender identities and expressions. What a great group of caring and inquisitive people!

 

C.J.’s perfect summer day includes having his three best girl friends over to jump on the trampoline, swim and do makeup. “Let me show you a trick I learned from drag queens,” I heard him say several times during their makeup session.

 

I was cooking dinner and noticed I was all alone downstairs and the house had grown very quiet. Then, Matt texted me this pic from upstairs. C.J. had been doing makeup all weekend. Just when he thought he was running out of willing faces, he asked Matt. And, Matt said yes. Like he always does.

 

And, yes, I absolutely did immediately come to the defense of women everywhere and make it very clear that women are strong and fierce protectors. It didn’t matter. He still wants a husband instead of a wife.

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Matt and I Speak Out After James Woods Ruthlessly Attacks Our Son

In recent years, James Woods has traded in tackling prime roles in critically-acclaimed films to gleefully play the part of a smugly menacing public nuisance on social media.

He’s been called “President Obama’s biggest, most famous troll on Twitter,” and now, he’s terrorizing the family of a gender nonconforming child. — HuffPost

That gender nonconforming child is our son. We are that family.

Rather than retreating and/or ignoring the barrage of hate that followed Wood’s tweet, Matt and I chose to speak to HuffPost about what we’ve experienced over the past several days. Click here for the interview.

If you choose not to click through or read the entire interview, at least read the following excerpt about the support we’ve received — because it’s been amazing. People Magazine also did a short interview, click here to read it.

What kind of support have you received?
Matt: We have received a lot of support from our friends and family. Anybody who knows us knows that we have an awesome support system. It goes to show that you don’t cultivate relationships with quality people for the good times. You do it for the hard times. That’s when true friends step up, support and encourage you. They remind you that you’re doing the right things for your children. I expected my friends and family to be there for us, I wasn’t expecting the outpouring of encouragement and love from the public and celebrities.

Lori: This incident has shown us that the village we are lucky enough to be a part of will assemble at a moment’s notice to support and protect us. We’ve had close friends and mere acquaintances reach out to us and defend us. They offered to help us in any way they can and have made good on their offers. The LGBTQ community was also swift to be by our side. We’ve been in constant communication with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) since the tweet. I’ve seen firsthand how quickly and powerfully HRC can mobilize to provide support, a listening ear and sound advice. It’s amazing. PFLAG has also been checking on us throughout the day and offering help. Members of the LGBTQ community who are strangers to us have offered support and encouragement.

And all of the people and organizations that have contacted us have always been – first and foremost ― concerned for our safety and wellbeing. And, then, there are the celebrities who came to our defense. When Neil Patrick Harris replied to Woods’ tweet, I was speechless. As a parent, when someone comes to your child’s defense, the positive emotion is overwhelming. With Neil being who he is and having the audience he does, that positive emotion was multiplied. We are so thankful for his tweet and support. When other celebrities started retweeting Neil’s tweet, it felt like this big, powerful, loving, supportive army had assembled in front of us and we could take a moment to catch our breath.

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My Gender Creative Son’s First Pride

Just a boy and his two best girl friends marching at Pride.

“That was one of the best days of my life. Thank you so much for taking me,” C.J. said as Matt tucked him into bed for the night.

Most kids say that to their parents after a day at an amusement park. Not our kid. He said it after we took him to his first Pride.

On Wednesday, we told C.J. that we were taking him to the local Pride on Saturday. His level of excitement was unprecedented. He’d seen pictures of Pride and, with all the visual rainbow-ness, he’d been asking to go for the last year.

I told him that we needed to make signs. We did need signs, but mostly it was a project to keep him busy for a few summer hours.

C.J’s sign

Matt’s sign

My sign

The night before Pride, C.J. laid out his outfit. He woke up at the crack of dawn the next day to get ready. And, even though we didn’t plan to leave the house until 10:15 a.m., he started contouring his face at 8 a.m.

We arrived before the parade got started and, admittedly, the vibe wasn’t initially all rainbows and glitter. The parade got a late start and, from where we were sitting, C.J. couldn’t see the festival area I told him about. He was a little worried that he’d gotten his Pride hopes up too high.

He watched the parade pass by. As with all new things, he observed quietly before letting himself go and clapping and jumping for the goodies being thrown by the parade participants. As the parade ended, we followed it to the festival.

“I loved the parade. I wish it was longer. And next year I want to be in it for sure. Who knows, I may even be in drag in the parade next year,” C.J. said as we walked.

The festival was everything C.J. hoped it would be and then some. There were free things, candy, games and contests. He also noticed that there were a lot of condoms. C.J. was also a big hit at the festival.

Hula hooping to earn a bag of candy from Kimpton Hotels.

“People kept stopping me saying ‘always be who you are. Never change. You’re so awesome.’ And, I took so many pictures with people,” he said smiling.

My sweet, fabulous, rainbow boy has never received so many compliments. He’s used to getting stares and whispers when we’re out in public. He’s not used to getting the smiles, hugs and encouragement he received at Pride.

The cotton candy lady hooked him up with rainbow cotton candy bigger than his head sprinkled with edible gold glitter.

When it was time to go, he didn’t want to leave and offered to stay at Pride by himself. He said he would ride home in a taxi. We said no.

We stopped to eat on the way to our car and I asked C.J. what he liked best about Pride.

“I liked the vibe. I liked all the colors. But, most of all, I liked all of the people. Nobody judges anybody. You can just be who you want to be. There should be Pride every week, because it’s so much fun,” he explained.

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Category Is: Covered Wagon Realness

C.J.’s school year ended on Friday. Days prior to that was his class’s Open House – a night near the end of the school year when families are invited into the classroom to ooh and aah over the students’ best work. Of course Matt and I attended. We are really good at oohing and aahing.

Being in fourth grade, C.J. spent the year learning about his home state of California. On his desk sat a ceramic tile on which CJ had painted one of California’s missions. The front of the classroom was covered in art depicting California’s missions at sunset. I found C.J.’s and took a picture of it with my phone.

On the side wall there were individual pictures of each student looking like they were panning for gold. I took a picture of prospector C.J. and walked to the back of the room, where the biggest writing project of the year was on display.

The students had to write an essay as if they were 1840s emigrants traveling by covered wagon across the western half of the United States from Missouri to California.

The students had to take the assignment seriously. They had to carefully consider who they would want in their wagon, the supplies they would bring and the challenges the journey might hold.

I read snippets of other students’ essays as I searched for C.J.’s. Many of them had their wagons loaded with family, friends and pets.

I couldn’t wait to read who C.J. picked to travel and start a new life with in California. I bet it would be Matt, Chase and I. His family. Of course.

There it was! I found C.J.’s essay and started reading.

“C.J., Bob The Drag Queen, RuPaul and many more travelers were on their way to California from Kansas City, Missouri,” started the opening paragraph. “It was winter. They were going to California because they wanted to get wealthy and have better jobs and a better place to live.”

Another mom bumped in to me as she read her child’s essay hanging next to C.J.’s. I glanced at her child’s story and then stopped when I realized that might prompt her to read C.J.’s drag-queens-on-a-road-trip-a-la-To-Wong-Foo essay.

When given the freedom to pick whoever he wanted to start a new and better life with, my son didn’t choose family; he chose the most famous drag queens in the world. He left me in Missouri and struck out for California. I wanted to be in covered wagon. I’m fun. I like drag queens.

After reading and photographing his essay, Matt and I made our way to the door and stopped to talk to C.J.’s teacher.

“So, tell me, in all your years of teaching, have you ever had a student load their covered wagon with drag queens?” I asked her.

She started laughing and shaking her head.

“When I first started reading his story, it took me a minute to realize who all of those people were,” she said, still laughing. “Of course that’s who he chose! Only C.J.!”

Yes. Only C.J.

I told C.J. that I loved his essay and he explained that his initial concept had included more wigs, makeup, costumes and hijinks. And Jinkx Monsoon.

He said he toned it down after a few reminders that the story was supposed to be historical fiction, not fantasy. I’m not sure why that meant that Jinkx got eliminated and the other two queens got to stay. Maybe I was in the wagon in the first drafts, too. Maybe I got edited out. Maybe I stayed in Missouri with Jinkx. Maybe I’ll visit C.J., Bob The Drag Queen and RuPaul in California one day once they get settled, wealthy, have better jobs and a better place to live.

 

The Starving Travelers

By: C.J.,  Grade 4,  June 2017

C.J., Bob The Drag Queen, RuPaul and many more travelers were on their way to California from Kansas City, Missouri. It was winter. They were going to California because they wanted to get wealthy and have better jobs and a better place to live.

“Come on!,” yelled Joe, a man who was also traveling to California. “Ya’ll got to get these wagons over the river before nightfall!”

Once all the wheels were off the wagons, they all got the wagons on the river. Within minutes, something happened that they were not prepared for.

“Oh no! Oh no!,” yelled Bob The Drag Queen. “All of our food is floating away!!”

Joe dove in to the water and swam as fast as a dolphin. It was no use. All their barrels of water and boxes of cornbread were gone. C.J. looked around and heard sobs as loud as a stampede of buffalo from all the travelers.

“Come on! We have to keep going,” yelled RuPaul. “We need to get to California!”

C.J. looked at Bob The Drag Queen who had no hair because her wig fell off and Bob The Drag Queen looked at RuPaul who had also lost her wig.

C.J. asked RuPaul “What are we going to do?!”

“I don’t know, but we need to get out of here and to California as fast as cheetahs!” said RuPaul.

The next day was full of hunger, fear and a bunch of mixed emotions. As all the wagons traveled in the heat that felt like lava. The sun blistered the travelers backs. Skin was peeling off of their backs. It was almost too much to handle.

Just as the travelers thought that they couldn’t go any farther, out of the corner of his eye, C.J. spotted a group of Indians. C.J. jumped up and stood up as tall as he could in his high heels to show that he wasn’t afraid.

Once the Indians saw how starving, tired, scared and weak the travelers were, the Indians played games with the kids, gave them a place to sleep, gave them food and water and told them the fastest trail to California.

RuPaul, Bob The Drag Queen and C.J. got to California three days later. They got more food and a nice house and became very wealthy.

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Writing About Boys in Skirts: Lori Duron Interviews Lesléa Newman

The day I met one of my heroes. Lesléa and I in 2014.

One of my favorite authors has a new book out about one of my favorite topics. Lesléa Newman’s Sparkle Boy is about a little boy who loves things that sparkle, shimmer and glitter. He’s a lot like my son C.J. I interviewed Lesléa about her new book and her work over the last 35 years as an award-winning, trailblazing author and advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Lori Duron: I discovered your work when my brother gave my sons your book The Boy Who Cried Fabulous. As a fabulous, gay uncle, he wanted his nephews to see characters like him in literature. Little did we know that the book would resonate so much with my youngest son, C.J., who is fabulous and gender creative. After I started my blog, I reached out to you to say how much that book meant to us and our son. And I wrote a blog post about it.

Lesléa Newman: I so appreciated hearing from you! The Boy Who Cried Fabulous resonates with lots of people, including teachers and librarians who love the fact that it contains so many adjectives, which is something I never thought of.

Duron: Shortly thereafter we discovered A Fire Engine for Ruthie, about a little girl who likes motorcycles and fire engines. I feel like that book doesn’t get enough attention. I mean, it came out 13 years ago and the protagonist is clearly more than a tomboy — she’s gender creative. Once again you were ahead of your time. What was the reaction to that book when it was first published?

Newman: As far as A Fire Engine for Ruthie goes, I wrote that book as a direct response to Charlotte Zolotow’s classic, William’s Doll. The book did well when it first came out, but unfortunately it never went into paperback and is now out of print. (Any takers out there?) Tomboys of all ages really liked that book.

Duron: And, now, all these years later, you give us Sparkle Boy (out June 15). Thank you for writing this book, it’s so important that gender creative boys like my son see themselves in literature. What inspired you to write Sparkle Boy?

Newman: I was inspired in part by your book, Raising My Rainbow, which I was moved to tears by many, many times. I also learned a lot, especially about the different journeys each family member takes, in addition to the journey taken by the person in the family who is gender creative. Jessie, the older sister of Casey, who is the “sparkle boy” in my book, starts off in one place emotionally at the start of the story, and ends somewhere else. I think this is very important, and shows that everyone goes through a process when someone in the family discovers something about themselves.

I was also inspired by attending Family Week (in Provincetown, MA) which is run by the Family Equality Council. I saw so many little boys wearing tutus happily running around, filled with joy at being able to be themselves. One boy’s dad said to me, “I wish my son could wear his tutu every day, not just in Provincetown during Family Week.” And I remembered what you said in your book—that your job as a parent is to make the world a safe place for your son to be himself. That is my intent with Sparkle Boy: to put forth a book that respects, accepts and celebrates everyone’s right to shine!

Duron: You started writing books that deal with LGBTQ issues and identities in the 1980s, long before there were LGBTQ shelves in popular bookstores and online booksellers. What was it like writing about LGBTQ issues and advocating through written word back then?

Newman: You know, I really didn’t think about it. When I came out, in 1982, my writing just exploded. Previous to that time, I only wrote poetry and considered myself exclusively a poet (I had studied with Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado). But in the early 80s, much to my surprise, I wrote a novel called Good Enough to Eat, I was hungry (pun intended!) for books that featured a character like me (a Jewish lesbian) and couldn’t find any, so that’s why I wrote it.

I write to explore the world inside me, the world outside of me and the relationship between the two. I followed up that novel with a short story collection called A Letter to Harvey Milk. Each of the nine stories featured a different Jewish lesbian. And I was still writing poetry. I didn’t write these books to make any kind of political statement, though I do think writing as an out lesbian about lesbian characters is a political act. I was just writing stories about my life and the lives of the people in my community. I took the advice of Grace Paley, with whom I also studied, who said, “Write what you know you don’t know about what you know.” And then a lesbian who knew I was a writer stopped me on the street and said, “There are no books that show a family like mine. Someone should write one.” And, thus, Heather Has Two Mommies was born.

Duron: Heather Has Two Mommies was a pioneering book. It was the first children’s book to portray a family of two lesbian moms and their child in a positive way. What was the reaction to the book when it was first published?

Newman: I had a lot of trouble getting the book published. No publisher would touch it. Finally, my good friend Tzivia Gover and I decided to put the book out ourselves under the auspices of In Other Words, which was her desk top publishing business at the time. We sent out fundraising letters (before the internet! licking envelopes and stamps!) and raised about $4,000 — mostly in $10 donations. Then we found an illustrator through the lesbian gravevine and printed 4,000 copies. I never thought anyone except lesbian moms would be interested in the book, so I was surprised at the huge reaction it received.

Lesbian mothers were thrilled with the book. I heard about kids who got three copies for the holidays, who went to bed with the book tucked under their pillow every night. And I heard from people who were less-than-thrilled with the book and stole it from the library and refused to return it, or returned it with its pages glued shut. Part of the book was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire in an attempt to convince other representatives to vote on a bill that would cut federal aid to schools that in his words, “carry out a program or activity that has either the purpose or effect of encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.”

Duron: You’ve written more than 70 books and your works are pretty evenly divided in terms of intended audience. About half are for an adult audience and half are for children. What are the pros and cons of writing for each audience?

Newman: To me, it’s really all writing. What I try to do is let the content dictate the audience (children, middle-graders, teens, adults) and the form (poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction). As long as I’m writing, I’m happy. The advantage to writing a picture book, is that usually—though not always—it takes less time to write than a chapter book or novel.  The advantage to writing a novel is that I always know what I am going to be working on when I return to my writing notebook the next day (as opposed to starting from scratch every time I finish something short such as a poem or a picture book).

What I love about writing for children is that a book such as Heather Has Two Mommies can really make a difference in a child’s life. So many families have told me how important that book was to them because it was the first time their children saw a family just like their own between the covers of a book. That is extremely important and validating to a child. What I love about writing for adults is that often I hear from readers who tell me how my work has touched their lives. I never get tired of hearing that. That’s what it’s all about.

Duron: I think it’s important for people to know that you’re an amazing voice for the LGBTQ community through written word and the speaking that you do, but you’re also such an encouraging and nurturing mentor. You help emerging authors and advocates; that’s something not a lot of established authors do. They don’t always want to help other people.

Newman: I don’t really understand that. I firmly believe that when one of us succeeds, all of us succeeds. So many people have been kind to me along the way: my mentors, Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley; the women in my writers group; and so many others, too numerous to mention.

The literary life is not an easy one. Authors need to stick by each other and support each other. I am always thrilled when emerging writers I have mentored succeed (shout out to Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander author of The Crossover, and Leah Henderson whose first middle grade novel, One Shadow on the Wall has just been published). Allen and Grace kept in touch with me for years (again, before the internet), always showing an interest in my work and taking me seriously as a writer. That was so important to me. I honor my mentors by paying it forward.

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