It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, nine hours of driving in a car is, well, challenging. We decided instead to cut our family trip to Philadelphia in half and camp in a forest along the way. And that is when it happened.
The sun had gone down and we were navigating the inky blackness of a back country dirt road, faithfully (or foolishly) following our mapquest directions. The windows were down and you could hear the little snapping and popping of the tires against the gravel. As we slowed to turn a corner, we came face to face with a wall of glittering fireflies.
Never in my life have I seen so many fireflies in one place. Probably thousands. Sparkling in and out like some sort of switchboard gone wild. All three kids were still awake, and so we turned off the car. And watched.
The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference is an international, annual, free event and as we wove around the vendor tables one day while between workshops, we stumbled across mel reiff hill and jay mays. mel and jay are the creators of “the Gender book”, a ninety page graphic masterpiece exploring- you guessed it- gender. A composite of hundreds of interviews and surveys, research and self-exploration, the book is accessible to anyone. And so that night, we curled up in bed with our eight year old, five year old and three year old to soak in the ideas together.
What happened is that we couldn’t get past page twelve. Or more precisely, we missed the first eleven pages, having opened the Gender Book to page twelve. It sparked such interest that we spent forty five minutes with it, blasting past lights out time. It is a picture of gender as a planet: there are two larger lands, “Manlandia” and “Ladyland”, but also several islands, peninsulas, bays, fjords, all surrounded by the sea of gender non-conformity.
“What are the different places within Manlandia?” “What does that boat with the words ‘gender fluid’ mean?” “The Gender Diverse Island looks like the Pride flag,” the kids notice. We look closely at all of the detail. I point out some of the surrounding text: “Some gender lands have more resources and power than others.” “New islands are often discovered.” “Sometimes immigrants are treated as second class citizens.” And “Borders change over time.”
“Dad, you know what we should do?” says our eldest. “We should make five colour photocopies of this page, one for each of us in the family. And then we should each take a marker and trace our journey, from where we were born to where we are now.” We have rounded the corner and the fireflies are before us. Although I am aware of people whose birthplace is the most comfortable place in the world and always has been, we are a family made up of travellers, and not only to new and singular set-in-stone destinations.
In the last few minutes before bed, we sit quietly and look at the book. And the next day, I am not surprised when my middle child spends an equally long time on page thirteen.
The gender planet is reproduced below, and The Gender Book is available online at http://www.thegenderbook.com. So many thanks to the team that put this together.