by Jessica Brousseau, The Mid-North Monitor
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
A former Espanola High School student and a member of the Spartan Gay Straight Alliance has published a book about gender.
Developed for children aged four, Jimmy Stata created All About Gender after an assignment was given to his equity and diversity class last year.
“Jayson Stewart assigned us all the task of writing a children’s story using one of the pronouns we learned in class,” Stata explained. “I looked at the requirement and figured out I may as well make the whole book about gender.”
Stata said most kids don’t know about gender outside the pronouns that come with them and wanted to use the assignment as a way to teach kids.
“Growing up, the conversation around gender was very limited. Aside from some basic feminist concepts, it wasn’t discussed much.”
The book started off with the stereotypes of what is a boy and what is a girl. As he aged Stata saw there was more to a person than the label of gender.
“When I was a kid, boys played with trucks, girls wore dresses and things like cross-dressing were seen as a joke,” he said. “The concept of gender nonconformity, the idea that someone’s gender may not match what they were assigned at birth, and the thought that there could be more than two genders were simply not discussed and, worse, still were openly made fun of.”
Stata said this had an impact on him as he was growing up, impacting what he wore, played with and even watched.
“When I was young, like a toddler, I used to play with dolls and wanted to wear dresses. As I grew up, I’d be teased for these things so I stopped doing them, and even started making fun of others for doing the same. I stopped watching some of my favourite shows like Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon because ‘ew those are girly.’”
As a teenager he said he realized it was “ridiculous” to deny himself of the things he enjoyed and watched what he wanted on TV saying “Good stories are good stories.”
But just because he watched what he wants, does not mean that society has accepted his, or others, choice. “Unfortunately, people will still, in their adult lives, be bullied for not conforming. I mean, just look at how bad Bronies (adult fans of My Little Pony) are bullied.”
While Stata has chosen to pick a story line and quality over what shows his gender is expected to watch, he still has to hold back on his choices. “I still think dresses are really cute and look quite comfortable, but I’ll never wear one out of fear and internalized sexism. Hopefully, I can help make things better for future generations.”
That is what he is attempting with his book. While he talks of male and female genders he also introduces you to Jamie whose identifies as ze. “Jamie represents people that identify outside the gender binary. It’s ambiguous as to whether ze identifies as no gender or a third gender because I wanted zir to represent anyone who doesn’t fit feel male or female.”
Even how he illustrated Jamie is ambiguous. While the boy was depicted as a blue shape and the girl coloured pink, he drew Jamie green and gave ze a shape different from the boy and girl.
“I coloured zir green and gave zir a distinct shape because I wanted to show that zir gender is distinct from male or female”
Stata ended his book saying “gender is not about your body parts. Gender is something you feel a heart.”Stata said he wants kids to see past the physical appearance and that their “body has no bearing on their gender.”
“Girls can have penises and boys can have vaginas. I hope that as this way of thinking becomes the norm, we can better help those suffering from dysphoria and reduce the amount of people that feel dysphoria.”
Dysphoria is a state of unease and dissatisfaction, and is often referred to not being comfortable in one’s current body. “People shouldn’t feel pressured to undergo surgery for their gender to be valid. But of course, if they want to have surgery that’s perfectly fine. A transwoman is not a woman trapped in a man’s body, she’s a woman who happens to have been born with a penis.”
Is the acceptance of everyone in the future? Stata believes it can happen. “Looking into history, we see that many different cultures already had a concept of more than two genders and transitioning. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume we’ll eventually get back there. I do think it will take a lot of time and effort.”
While he said he can see it happening in his lifetime, he feels transphobia will remain.
“In the same way that while most people are not sexist or racist in Canada today, sexism and racism are still very much alive. We will see a shift where blatant transphobia will not be tolerated, but more subtle transphobia will be harder to eradicate.”
Although he may not know when transphobia will come to an end, he said he will continue to do his part until it happens.
A copy of Stata’s book is $15, with $5 of it going to the Spartan GSA. The book can also be downloaded from the GSA website at no cost.
Stata said the idea to provide the book for free was Stewarts and he was on board in having it happen.
“I know some people can’t afford to buy it, or want to check it out before they buy it. If people want to spend money they will, if not, they’ll always find ways around it. Besides, I wouldn’t want to keep this message locked behind a paywall.”
James Spencer can now use the men’s washroom at his high school.
The 16-year-old was barred from using the men’s room when he transferred to Clarke High School in Durham Region after transitioning from female to male.
Instead he was told to use the women’s washroom or a private washroom that required a key from the main office.
“I thought, ‘They’re figuring it out, it’s temporary,’ ” said Spencer. “But as time went on they’re portraying the message that transgender people are wrong and they need to be segregated. And I don’t sit well with that.”
In protest, he started a petition that got hundreds of signatures and went from class to class at the school to share his story.
And it has worked.
The first thing the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board said at a Wednesday morning meeting with Spencer was: “We want James to use the men’s washroom,” said Spencer’s older sister, Jess, who was present. “It was really surprising.”
“We decided it would be most appropriate . . . and that’s the direction we’ve taken,” said Martin Twiss, the board’s superintendent of education.
As well, the school’s private, gender-neutral bathroom no longer requires a key, he said.
“We’re piloting (the accommodations) at this school . . . it’s certainly teaching us a lot,” said Twiss.
The board is also looking at policies employed by other school boards as it develops its own.