Friday, May 1, 2015

A Focus on the "T" in LGBTQ

Susan Kuklin

When Susan Kuklin gave her acceptance speech at Bank Street College of Education for the 2015 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, she spoke of realizing, six years ago, that the "T" in LGBTQ was "underreported and undervalued." She thought it was time to give them a voice.

Kuklin approached New York's Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, and their team put out a call for anyone willing to speak with Kuklin for her book project.

Kuklin said she believes, as the law professor and humanitarian Brian Stevenson believes, that, "Society needs to pay attention to the marginalized, to the bullied, to poverty, to suffering, to exclusion, to unfairness and to injustice." This part of identity is more challenging, Kuklin added. Transgender youth were bullied, and their suicide rate was high for so small a group. As she interviewed the six youth in her book, she says, "I saw that 'them' was 'us.'"

Her half-dozen subjects tell their stories with humor and poignancy; they tell of their challenges and their triumphs. They discuss their transitions with candor and compassion. Jessy spoke of noticing the difference in other people's responses toward him as a man versus when he had been perceived as a woman. He could take up more room on the subway without dirty looks--it's accepted for men, it's not for women. Christina describes attending her all-boy Catholic School as Matthew, dressed like a woman. At a panel at Bank Street College of Education's BookFest last fall, Christina said, "If I could survive that, I could survive anything."

Susan Kuklin serves as a conduit for extraordinary people whose voices might not otherwise be heard. She speaks of capturing their words, photographing their progress, and her fascinating process of making Beyond Magenta on KidLit TV.

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