Genderful! for the Next Generation | Programs That Pop

The most meaningful library programming comes out of community collaboration. This was certainly the case with Genderful!, a series that kicked off on October 14, 2017, at the Brooklyn Public Library as an event for children and caregivers to explore gender through art and creativity.

The most meaningful library programming comes out of community collaboration. This was certainly the case with Genderful!, a series that kicked off on October 14, 2017, at the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) as an event for children and caregivers to explore gender through art and creativity.

In early 2017, I reached out to If You Want It (IYWI), a New York–based 501(c)(3) organization that supports the fight for gender self-determination and body sovereignty. Marie McGwier, cofounder of IYWI, was enthusiastic about partnering with the library to produce an event for youth and to provide an opportunity for trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive youth and their caregivers to come together in person. A lot of members of this community only connect online, and Genderful! is a physical space in which they can share knowledge and be with one another.

 

INTENTIONAL SAFE SPACE

McGwier and I dove into creating a manageable two-hour event that was nonetheless packed. IYWI board member Laura Jane Grace (a trans musician best known as the founder, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Against Me! and author of the memoir Tranny [Hachette]) is a big fan of public libraries. She is a regular Chicago PL patron along with her daughter and wanted to perform a kid-friendly acoustic set, so we built the rest of the event around that.

Although everyone was welcome, we wanted to focus on children and their caregivers who are trans, gender-expansive, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary. This meant creating an environment in which attendees could be surrounded by people, books, and art that affirmed them. Having that as a focal point informed every choice McGwier and I made.

Manifestations of this mission included a mini–resource fair with local organizations supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, recommended reading lists for all ages (borrow.bklynlibrary.org/booklist/6OBBk), and curated book displays. Another important aspect was hiring artists who are trans to lead activities. This had the twofold purpose of fostering visibility and representation of possible futures for the youth in attendance as well as prioritizing economic support for folks in the trans community, who often experience discrimination in hiring and employment.

As much as possible during a two-hour program, we wanted to offer multiple ways to exist in the space that included being quiet and being loud, listening and talking, being active and being still, and observing and participating. The space was intentionally created to let youth and adults alike celebrate gender diversity and empowerment through crafting, storytelling, musical performances, and conversation. This included:

  • A kid-friendly acoustic set by Laura Jane Grace, with drummer Atom Willard
  • Mask-making workshop with ray ferreira, artist and program director at the Octavia Project, which “uses sf to encourage young women and nonbinary youth to dream big and empower them with skills to build alternative futures”
  • Interactive storytelling with performer and activist Harvey Katz
  • Reading corner for the gender curious
  • Hands-on collaborative zine-making (check out the resulting zine at genderisover.com/genderful)
  • Resource fair of local grassroots LGBTQ organizations, including the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Anti-Violence Project, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Brooklyn Community Pride Center
  • Photobooth with props and costumes
  • Live event stream by media sponsor, web series First Person PBS

BPL’s Central Branch Youth Wing graciously devoted its space to our program for the afternoon. Along with funding from IYWI, BPL’s Youth and Family Services department provided a small budget so we could pay artists to work at the event and hire cartoonist and illustrator Mary Shyne for illustration and design of our promotional materials. We estimate that around 300 people attended, ranging from infants to adults. The response was overwhelmingly positive: a blend of joy, curiosity, and support. But in an effort to continue to improve the experience, we realized that the event should be longer (around three hours is a sweet spot), with extra staggered activities to allow attendees to immerse themselves more in each one.

 

GOING ON TOUR

What started as a one-off experiment has turned into a touring series. On October 14, 2018 (a year to the day after the first Genderful!), we put on Genderful! Chicago, a collaboration between IYWI, the I Do Company Chicago, and the Urban Prairie Waldorf School. This happened because Urban Prairie educator Jillian Miller attended the 2017 event and wanted to bring the same thing to their neck of the urban woods. Along with Miller, Dee Shapiro of the I Do Company/Shapiro Ballroom cosponsored/-organized the event, and we were able to extend it into an all-day program, with a morning session for children and an afternoon session for teens. Although the event was not held in a public library, librarians from the Chicago Public Library and Oak Park Public Library distributed library resources, made buttons, and ran Story Cubes, an interactive queer history tabletop game. We are having another Genderful! at BPL on Saturday, April 6, and all signs point to another Genderful! Chicago in 2019. We also have received interest from public libraries in other states to bring Genderful! to their branches.


Leigh Hurwitz (@miscellaniac) is a queer nonbinary School Outreach Librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library

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