Call Me Tree – Llámame arbol
by Maya Christina Gonzalez
With gratitude to Susie Hayes for gifting this colorful – and bilingual – book that ends with this quote:
Call me tree / Llámame árbol
Because / Porque
I am tall / Soy alto
I am strong / Soy fuerte
And like a tree / Y como un árbol
I am free / Soy libre
Call Me Tree
You may have noticed some transgender people have been a bit busy breaking cultural taboos recently. There are a few hashtags running around which might be recognizable.
Depending on your relationship with the transgender community, you may know one or all three of these hashtags:
It has been a week where Caitlyn Jenner’s image on the cover of Vanity Fair was tweeted the world over. It has also included notable responses from the transgender community such as Jenn Dolari and Crystal Frasier’s powerful call for trans people to create their own Vanity Fair cover celebrating the beauty and strength in the transgender community. (They also wanted to make the point that not every trans person can – or wants to – subscribe to “white, cisnormative beauty standards.”)
Celebrating in Philly
This flurry of conversation about transgender matters has merged with my own experience as I witness friends and colleagues enjoying their time at the Philly Trans Health Conference. In the ever-expanding trans conference circuit – 20+ conferences planned as of January 2015! – the 14th annual
#PTHC2015 conference was attended by over 3,000 people from around the globe.
It was celebrated with the Transgender flag flying proudly at City Hall, and just wrapped up on June 6th. As quoted in The Advocate, Nellie Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia’s director of LGBT affairs says:
“Far too often the ‘T’ is left behind or out of sight when we talk about LGBT issues, and it’s important to visibly make a commitment to work that we know needs to be done. I can’t think of anything more visible than putting the trans flag right next to the American flag at City Hall,” she told Philadelphia Gay News.
“We have far too many times where the trans community is mourning, from Trans Day of Remembrance to every time we lose somebody. But instead we should take a moment and revel in the empowerment of where the community is going because that’s incredibly important to celebrate.”
Enough about Hashtags & Trans Flags…What About Books?!
Yesterday, on June 6th – are you seeing a pattern yet?! – the New York Times noted something I’ve been witnessing as I prepare for the Celebration Tour. There seems to be a celebratory explosion of wonderful books being written by and for transgender kids and young adults.
Author Sam Martin, who is now 43 and transitioned after reading a photo journalist book featuring transgender people, says, “When I was growing up, I never saw people like me in movies or books.” He continues:
“My goal was to write stories that would have helped me feel less alone at that age,” said Mr. Martin, who works as a Starbucks barista in Washington and writes at night.
A few years ago, gender fluidity was rarely addressed in children’s and young adult fiction. It remained one of the last taboos in a publishing category that had already taken on difficult issues like suicide, drug abuse, rape and sex trafficking. But children’s literature is catching up to the broader culture, as stereotypes of transgender characters have given way to nuanced and sympathetic portrayals on TV shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent.”
Transgender actress-activist, Laverne Cox, echoes this sentiment when she reviewed the book I Am Jazz, co-authored by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings.
Mr. Andrews, 19, said that books for young adults on the subject were scarce when he began transitioning to male from female in 2011.
“When I first started transitioning, I mostly had YouTube as a source,” he said. “I wanted to write a book to help others because there were not a lot of sources out there, and I thought that one book could save a person’s life.”
Mr. Andrews says he receives 15 to 20 Facebook messages a day from readers about his memoir, “Some Assembly Required,” including notes from children as young as 8 and readers in their 60s and 70s who say the book helps them navigate questions about their gender identity.
Books are a path to self-understanding, and these books are clearly making a difference for many people – of all ages. I cannot wait to see what books will make a difference for the people I will be meeting on the Celebration Tour!
Call Me Tree / Llámame árbol
While there are a number of books which focus on what it feels like to move from one gender box to another, there are fewer that focus on the non-binary experience. These are the kids and adults who identify as gender creative, gender expansive, gender fluid, and/or gender non-conforming. Recently, my webcast guest, Krysti Ryan, noted how she has seen an increase – just in the past year – around the next generation pushing the gender binary norms.
Call Me Tree fits that need in that it provides a “gender free” multicultural reading experience where all children can see themselves.
The author, Maya Christina Gonzalez, writes:
You may or may not notice something different about my new book, Call Me Tree. Nowhere in the story are boy/girl pronouns used. No ‘he’ or ‘she’ anywhere! I found it easy to write this way because that’s how I think of kids, as kids, not boy kids or girl kids.
I even requested that no ‘he’ or ‘she’ be used anywhere else in the book, like on the end pages or the back cover when talking about the story. I also asked the publisher to only refer to the main character as a child or kid when they talked about my book out in the world. Because I wanted Call Me Tree to be gender free!
(Read the note to the reader from the author about creating a “gender free multicultural book” here.)
While I knew this book was “gender free” before I read it, and liked that it was about growth (a big theme for me), and celebration, I was curious if reviewers would recognize or highlight the gender free message. None of the reviews I found seemed to even notice this message, and always referred to the child (“Tree”) in the book using the “he” pronoun.
Given that the author was very intentionally creating this book to be gender free, I was happy to see this review where Crystalee of The Best Books Ever, writes:
I rushed out and picked up a copy from the library. It’s a beautiful picture book with bright illustrations and sparse language in both English and Spanish. However, if I had never read the article, I probably wouldn’t have realized the gender-neutral tones. This isn’t a book that hits you over the head with an agenda, but it DOES do a great job of conveying the message that everyone is unique and everyone should go after their dreams.
Like me, this reviewer knew about the intentionality around gender. On one hand, given the more subtle undertones about gender, this book may appeal to a broader audience, and it may not be as likely to get challenged or banned. On the other hand, it could mean that some youth who would enjoy – and see themselves reflected in it – may not know how to access it easily.
Alphabet Soup Paradox
This seems the paradox around how and why we choose to categorize any literature – or identities, for that matter. Witness the many discussions around language and the LGBTQ+ alphabet soup that we discuss on my monthly webcast. Regardless, I will be interested to see which library chooses this book to add to their collection, and why!
Our Favorite Quote
My daughter, Tulip Lavender (her chosen pen name), loves that this book is bilingual. She particularly enjoyed sharing it with her bilingual Spanish/English 1st grade class earlier this year.
Some trees reach
Some trees teach
Some trees stand so still
Algunos árboles se extienden
Algunos árboles se enseñan
Algunos árboles se quedan tan quietos
How Do You Celebrate Diversity?
- Do you have a favorite book that celebrates the Diversity of Sexuality & Gender?
- Have you read Call Me Tree?
Share in the comments how this, or another book, has changed – or even saved – a life. I will be highlighting your celebratory quotes about books I feature in my #aBookaDay blog.
Thank you for your generosity!