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Growing Up with Gender Neutrality

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Even before we are born, gender seeps through the womb like a glaze on a cake: very slowly, but all-encompassing, soaking what was a blank slate with gender norms and heterosexual expectations. From then on we slowly become more and more conscious of societal expectations, and unwritten rules and consequences. Whether they be intentional or not, the impact can be substantial.

Equality at Egalia

When people are young, they are malleable. The surroundings they are subjected to and the individuals that interact with them are instrumental in forming their first viewpoints of the world. Egalia, a preschool in Sweden, is a prime example of a safe learning environment that provides space to explore interests and activities that might be frowned upon or not offered in other preschools. “We don’t say, ‘Come on boys, let’s go and play football,’ because there might be girls who want to play football,” says Frida Wikström, the schools’ coordinator.  

Keeping the Ball Rolling

How does one continue the example of a safe environment shown at Egalia at home? It can actually be more difficult due to our own personal ingrained ideas about gender and what they look like. The first place to start in creating a freeing environment is the toy chest. Here are my top 10 picks for gender neutral toys:

  1. Stuffed animals – Who doesn’t love something soft and cuddly to carry around?
  2. Doctor Kit – I remember growing up with a Sesame Street doctor kit, and loving it.
  3. Building Toys – Legos, Lincoln Logs, blocks, etc.
  4. Appliances – Kitchen sets have always been a favorite of mine; cooking is a great skill to have, especially when you’re hungry!
  5. Play Food – A kitchen isn’t much good without some food to cook with!
  6. Tools – Fixing your vacuum cleaner, or changing a tire are skills everyone could benefit from learning.
  7. Bike or Trike – Once you learn, you never forget!
  8. Bath Toys – I was never a fan of bathing growing up, but having bath toys always made it much more bearable.
  9. Outdoor Games – Balls, frisbees, and hula hoops are all classics.
  10. Musical Toys – Who knows – maybe a toy xylophone will be the catalyst of creating a great percussionist!

Gender Neutral Clothes for Kids

Whether one is at Egalia, or at home, play clothes are a necessity. Here are my top 3 gender neutral kids clothing stores:

  1. Quirkie Kids – I adore how the majority of the clothes are images of cool things! Who doesn’t want a shark on a shirt?! Some shirts don’t resonate with me as much (“Still a boy” / “Still a girl”) but I can see how they could be validating for someone who is often told they are not behaving masc or femme enough for the gender they identify with.
  2. Baby Blastoff! – I am a VERY big fan of this company. Tabs are divided into shirts, pants, and bodysuits. Again, they are screenprinted with super cool images (trees, birds, dinosaurs). What captured my heart was seeing a child in a wheelchair sporting one of these awesome t shirts on the homepage – showing that ALL KIDS deserve awesome clothes. Representation of all types of kiddos is important, validating, and beautiful.
  3. Target – Target is setting an example by offering a ‘neutral’ setting under filters when looking at clothes. Supporting independent and local businesses is important and ideal. However, when we are in need of something affordable and closeby, it is wonderful to have validating and inclusive options.

Gender isn’t Garbage

I was raised very gender neutrally. Solid colored shirts and pants, not a lot of Barbies, and a whole lot of blocks and crayons. Even when I took ballet lessons from 4th – 6th grade, there were very few pink and frilly garments. There were times growing up where I wanted to present more femme. I wanted to wear clothes with some sparkle and sequins. I wanted to play around with makeup. There was a forbidden aspect that made it even more intriguing. This also applied to toys. The “boy” toy aisle in Walmart always looked more fun. There was action, adventure, variety, and more.

Egalia is more than just a preschool – it is an example of what all humans desire and deserve: “a space to feel security, joy and a desire to learn and develop many rich expressions, where everyone feels involved and where learning is for life!” Gender is not bad. Being assigned female at birth (AFAB) and loving dresses and dolls is not bad. Being assigned male at birth (AMAB) and loving trucks and pants is not bad. Eliminating gender isn’t the answer to creating a safe and fun environment to grow and play. Egalia acknowledges and embraces that. Critics have labelled the project as “gender-madness,” accusing the school of trying to brainwash the kids into a genderless homogeneity. Egalia’s not trying to do that. Gender is an important part of people’s identities, and the kids are free to embrace those differences.

Sara Whittington is a genderqueer artist raised in Central Louisiana, but currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. They have had the good fortune to be able to travel across the country, as well as abroad. Some of their favorite trips thus far have been adventuring across Iceland, spending summers on Lake Michigan, and a family celebration in Mundesley, England. In their spare time, Sara enjoys writing letters to loved ones.

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LGBT at NYCC

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Comic book stores and the fantastical stories that they sell have long been a place for the oppressed and marginalized to go when they were feeling down. Comics gave folks a safe space to retreat to when no one else would listen or understand, spinning stories of the misunderstood and how they rose above their circumstances.

Of course, at first comics focused primarily on straight cis white men and women, and their personal trials outside of fighting supervillains were only really relatable to some. Now, comic artists have branched outside of the binary, and comic books with characters (and authors and artists!) of any race, gender or sexuality can be found in many large chain comic book stores and conventions.

I explored New York Comic Con on its opening day, October 5th, and managed to find a plethora of LGBT+ comics and comic artists. Some of which I knew of already and others that were brand new to me, but all were swamped with patrons.

Boom! Studios is a comic publisher that has been my number one supplier of LGBT+ comics for a while. They offer a huge range of comics in terms of subject matter, age range, and representation.

Lumberjanes is the first Boom! Studios comic I found and loved. It’s about a group of girls at a camp for “hardcore lady types,” and the mysterious and supernatural creatures that they find deep in the woods. Two of the girls are dating each other (though their sexualities are never specified), one of the girls is trans and has two dads, and they make a friend at the all boys camp nearby who uses gender neutral pronouns. None of these facts are hidden in any way; they are all addressed directly in ways that readers of any age can comprehend. While the girls have very distinct personalities, they also effectively show just how nurturing, kind, strong and brave lady types of any age or body type can be. The all-female team of authors and artists (one of whom is dating a fellow female comic artist) created a world that will inspire any lady type (or dude type, or neither type) to accept themselves, learn their strengths, and experience friendship to the max.

The Backstagers appealed to me as a comic fan and longtime “theatre kid.” Taking place in a high school theater at an all boys school, it follows a ragtag group of technical theatre students (known to some as “techies” or, in this case, “backstagers”) and the strange and wondrous things they find hidden in the theater’s impossibly large backstage area. The artists, both queer, have said that there is only one straight character in the whole series. In the main group, one of the boys is gay, another bi, and another trans, and, like Lumberjanes, these issues are addressed directly and with all the awkwardness one would expect from high school theater kids. The trans boy is even shown wearing a binder, and frequently mentions how he used to go to the all girls school and help out in their theater department before transferring to his current school. While perhaps a bit of a niche comic, as it is all about high school theater and the drama that happens onstage and off, it’s still an accessible piece of literature and especially important for high school readers as they figure out who they are and their connections to others.

Representation in comics isn’t limited to those in print. Webcomics were among the first to have queer characters, mostly because of the inherent freedom in self-publishing on a more open space like the internet.

Check, Please! Is one of the more popular queer webcomics today. I tried to say hello to the comic artist at NYCC, but the line for her table stretched around her table and down an aisle in Artist Alley. This independent comic about a gay Southern hockey player going to a fictional college near Boston exploded into popularity because it’s free to read, easy to access, and overall just a really great story, dealing with homophobia, toxic masculinity in sports, and unrequited crushes. It’s very cute and often heartwarming, with an eclectic cast of characters, but also deals with very real subjects. It shows the good and the bad of growing up gay and exploring new relationships, which is frustrating and sad, but often comforting to those reading who could be struggling with the exact same thing.

What these three comics have in common is that they have accurate, well-written and entertaining representation, not for the sake of representation, but simply to share amazing stories that happen to have queer characters. In some of these stories, being queer is a huge part of the story or a character’s identity, but in others, it’s simply a fact that is easily acknowledged and accepted. Queer readers need to see that it’s okay to have these feelings or identify a certain way, and know that they can either live a normal life playing hockey at their dream college, or fight magical beasts in the woods at their camp for hardcore lady types, or both.

Be sure to share this article with the comic fan in your life, and leave a comment with your favorite queer comic below!

Originally posted 2017-10-27 19:25:56.

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Ireland Travel Guide

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Ireland isn’t nicknamed the emerald isle without reason. Sprawling across the entirety of the country are woodland forests, wildflowers, and seacoast grasses. In the summer, heather blankets the mountainsides and a light dusting of snow covers the green grass in the winter. The entirety of the island, comprised of Ireland and Northern Ireland (UK) is only about the size of Indiana but it is certainly no day trip. With its rich history, natural beauty, and lively culture, there is something for everyone.

Skellig Michael

Whether it’s the first or last thing you do, take a slow drive around the Ring of Kerry. The route itself is one of Ireland’s most visited attractions and will take you through the staple scenery of the island. Tumbling waterfalls, crumbling castles, and picturesque seaside villages are all accessible from the road. Star Wars fans, history buffs, and lovers of the ocean won’t want to miss the rare chance to visit Skellig Michael. With only a few boats going out to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, you have to secure your spot well in advance but exploring the centuries-old honeycomb monastery huts, climbing the steep cliffs, and watching the nesting puffins will be worth the wait. Besides, the pilgrimage to the tiny island isn’t only about the destination but the journey too. The only way to get to Skellig Michael is by fishing boat early in the morning, when the sea is tumultuous. But the trip rewards those that take it with the chance to see whales and dolphins right alongside of them. The ships leave from Portmagee, a tiny town on the coast with tight streets, quaint shops, and cozy restaurants.

Make sure to pack your wellies for a trip to Killarney National Park. The first and one of the most diverse national parks in the country, Killarney offers spectacular experiences in nature. Dotted with lakes, the woodland environment is home to a variety of flora and fauna including Ireland’s only remaining herd of wild deer. Just outside of the park lies the lively village of Killarney. Almost as popular a destination as the park itself, Killarney offers music, culture, and history. Later, kiss the Blarney stone for the gift of eloquence like Winston Churchill and so many others have and tour the castle grounds.

Irish Sheep

Further north is the city of Cork and past that is Dublin . Whether you’re looking to have a wild night at the infamous Temple Bar, or just a quiet pub to sit down, you’ll find it in Ireland’s biggest city. Also the nation’s capital, Dublin is teaming with diverse experiences including castles, goals, and cathedrals. In the summer, the city hosts the Dublin LGBTQ Pride Festival, the biggest of its kind on the island.

Within driving distance of the city are the Hill of Tara and New Grange, archeological complexes that have brought awe and wonder to people for generations. There, you can see the ruins and inscriptions left behind by Neolithic people thousands of years ago. Due to conservation efforts, New Grange is difficult to visit because tickets need to be bought in advance for a guided tour, but if history is what you came to Ireland for, it will be worth the trouble. On the other hand, the Hill of Tara is an easy drive and walkable park.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

The northern third or so of the island is Northern Ireland, a part of the UK. Though religious tensions caused the two sides to incite violence, that is now well in the past. The border is open and you can cross without any bother, not even needing to stop to show your passport. Just don’t forget to reset your speedometer to miles per hour and convert your cash into pounds. Northern Ireland is also covered in locations to stop and experience. From the bustling city of Belfast, to the sleepy village of Cobh where the Titanic last docked, this country is teeming with reasons to get off the highway. Cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, skip along hexagonal basalt columns at Giant’s Causeway, or drive along the scenic coast. Game of Thrones fans will also enjoy seeking out filming locations like The King’s Road (The Dark Hedges) and Dragonstone (The Mussenden Temple).

Musseden Temple

Of course, no trip to Ireland is complete without a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. The multiple hundred feet drop of sheer cliff is one of the most iconic locations in the country. Despite its size, Ireland has so much to discover. If you didn’t get a chance to see it all, it’s only a reason to come back again.

 

Originally posted 2017-10-27 19:25:29.

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LGBT History Month: Celebrating Sappho

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As some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of poetry. So are a lot of people, actually, and for good reason. Poetry is beautiful and allows us to say what the heart and soul can’t. Some of the greatest declarations of love and longing have been poetic, and there’s one poet who deserves a little attention for LGBT History Month. This month I’m documenting five of the most iconic and world-changing woman-loving women (WLW), and it would be careless of me not to mention the poet considered by many to be the ultimate WLW:

“Whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking
and lovely laughing – oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me
no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears
and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass”
Sappho

The above lines are exactly what they sound like: Sappho confessing joy and admiration for a woman. Doesn’t that make you feel so gay (pun absolutely intended)?? Known for writing about her yearning and love for women, Sappho is a well-known figure in the “L” part of the LGBT community. Born on the Greek island of Lesbos, Sappho was a prolific writer, composing line after line of beautiful poetry, much of it on subjects of love and women.

Unfortunately, most of Sappho’s writing has been lost, and only one complete poem, “Ode to Aphrodite,” has ever been found. As a poet, this makes me want to sit down and cry for all the lost lesbian poems we’ll probably never see. But just because we only have fragments of some of her work, Sappho remains an iconic figure in LGBT history, for a couple of reasons.

First, you’re probably familiar with the term “lesbian.” This word didn’t come from just anywhere, and you’ve probably already figured out that it’s no coincidence that Sappho was born on the island of Lesbos. See the connection?

And second, there’s the more obvious allusion in phrases like “sapphic vibes” or “sapphic tendencies.” The term “sapphic” stems from the name “Sappho” and the belief that she expressed open homo-eroticism not just in her poetry but in life as well. Unfortunately, we will probably never know for sure, as little is known about Sappho’s life. To add to her mystery, the meaning and subjects of her poems are hotly debated, and over the centuries many have been intentionally heterosexualized by scholars.

Whatever her original intentions were, it’s clear that Sappho certainly idolized women, even if it wasn’t explicitly romantically or sexually motivated. And in the lesbian community, Sappho is widely accepted as one of the first openly homosexual women in literature. As for this lesbian, I’d like to believe that Sappho was loving ladies her whole life, and openly expressing that love to the world. After all, that’s the dream, isn’t it? To be open about our sexuality and not be ashamed to show it? It’s what the LGBTQ community is still working towards today, and why we celebrate LGBT History Month.

Thanks to Sappho’s inspiring poetry we have a name for WLW and a historical figure to study and admire. Which women do you admire? What’s your favorite sapphic poem? Tell us in the comments, and go here if you want to learn about last week’s featured lesbian, Barbara Gittings, and her influence in LGBTQ visibility. Next week I’ll be talking about Gladys Bentley, continuing my coverage of iconic lesbians who changed the world.  

Originally posted 2017-10-27 15:09:19.

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