Andrea Aivazian, Gazette columnist: A new book that promotes the dignity and respect of the human family

Published: 10/14/2022 6:39:10 PM

I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing female friends who inspire me daily. Women leaders, visionaries and courageous, who set a high bar for the rest of us. The women who work daily to mend, repair and heal this beautiful but broken world. Women such as Beverly Daniel Tatum, Sister Nobuntu Ingrid Askew, Jo Comerford, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, Gina-Louise Sciarra, my sister Gina Ayvazian and sister-in-law Marcelle Walters. And Gwen Agna.

The latest amazing gift to the universe from this amazing group of friends and family (and there are others, plenty of names!) is the new book, “True You: A Gender Journey,” by Gwen Agna and Shelley Rotner. This book is a tender embrace of children and their broad sexual identities. “The Real You” is an open heart, deeply emphasizing, deeply inclusive and visually engaging.

Gwen and Shelley obtained permission from the parents of a group of children, from toddlers to pre-teens, to talk to their children, record and transcribe conversations, and photograph each child. The book is a compilation of children’s own words paired with their pictures, and Gwen and Shelley’s economically written musings. The result is a book for all ages of authenticity and immeasurable strength.

Gwen and Shelley wrote, “There are different ways to show who you are. It’s up to you – how you feel, how you dress, how you act, how you play, learn, love.”

The book contains pictures of children on bikes, dresses, pants, a tutu, one with blue hair, colored and white children eating ice cream, and disabled and healthy children. These, as we say in my profession, are all God’s people. And bless them. Bless them for telling their stories, laughing in front of the camera, waving their pride flags, swinging from a gym in the woods, and wearing “they/them” buttons.

“I’m not sure if I’m a boy or a girl,” says one kid, “sometimes it’s hard to know how I feel and what to wear. It doesn’t matter. I’m a kid. I love my bunny and my cars.”

Not only does “True You” teach us a lot about children and trans-generational society in a sweet and cute way, but the book is totally fun. So many smiles, so many babies cuddling, so much joy captured between two covers of one book.

The child says, “I love my brother.” “People should have a choice of what they want to be and should not be judged on that basis. Non-binary children, like my brother, should be treated the same as other friends who are boys or girls. We are all human.”

In case readers stumble upon some of the language in the book, there is an “introductory glossary” at the back of the book. The glossary will help people learn or revise what dysphonia, dead noun, orgasm, sex, and many other terms mean.

The back of the book also contains resources for future exploration, why therapeutic support matters, suggestions for transgender terminology, a letter from an adult trans girl, and a letter from a family with a transgender child. The addition of these materials makes the book a valuable reference guide and educational tool.

My granddaughter Fiona is now a little girl. She loves books – this is the time when she can sit tall enough to stare at pictures and hear the words. Gwen and Shelley’s book is now a cherished addition to the Fiona book collection in our living room; I know my husband and will read this gem to her often.

And now a word to the people who write me critical and even hateful letters after my monthly columns appear: Please do not write to me in response to this column. Perhaps you can find, borrow, or buy and read a copy of True You. Open your heart, open your eyes, and enjoy the deep goodness of this beloved gift of all of us. This book promotes dignity and respect for all members of the human family. This book can save lives. Take a deep breath, it’s all good.

In conclusion, I refer to the wise words of a young man quoted in True You. This kid said, “When I was born they thought I was a boy. Me! I have all kinds of friends. What matters is if you are kind and kind to everyone.”

Amen to this feeling.

Reverend Dr. Andrea Evazian of Northampton is an adjunct pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership.

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