Gay has been used for decades as a negative slur to denote something as ugly, weird or uncool. In my circle of Queer friends, we have reclaimed the statements “you’re so gay” and “that’s so gay” to mean that something is AWESOME, perfect, extremely good or delightful. So that got me thinking about all the amazing things that have come out of or are associated with LGBTQP culture: rainbows, musicals, glitter, unicorns, activism, and on and on! There are all these things that just wouldn’t be here without Queer people. Would we have jazz hands if it were not for all the gay choreographers? Who are the biggest, most exuberant fans of the movies Roller Derby and Beaches?
Since 2001, I have been collaborating with different artists, making coloring books that celebrate feminist, queer and trans people and ideas. I started making them because I didn’t see myself or my friends anywhere in media that was made for children. We were all children once and if you grow up not seeing a representation of your family, your feelings, your crushes, or your loves in ANY media at all, it is really hard to keep your head held high, let alone keep your tiara in place. In children’s movies, video games, books and TV, heterosexuality is not just the norm, it is very near the only way romantic love is ever represented. As an educator, I have spent many years working with kids of all ages who were literally dying to be seen and heard, overcoming abuse, neglect, homelessness and torture simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I wanted to create books which offered a fresh way for people to look at stereotypes and oppression. If you can get people to laugh at themselves and at cultural expectations, their hearts will be more receptive to taking a hard look at difficult issues. Once you have opened someone's heart with a joke or a good laugh, you are better able to do the hard work of liberation together. Though my work directly draws from feminist, queer, and transgender scholarship and activism, I try to make it accessible to people of all ages via the familiarity of coloring books. I LOVE COLORING, I always have. It is relaxing, creative and fun…. And above all, I just want people to be proud of themselves.
When I decided to make The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book, I approached it a bit differently than my other three books. With those books, I paid less attention to the design and more attention to the content. I just wanted to get the message to people. By the time the idea for this book came about, I had spent several years studying vintage books, art and design and wanted to incorporate a bit of what I had always loved about certain design into a book. I spent a week in my friend Neko Case’s library of old books, taking notes, snapping photos, and collecting ideas for what would become this book. She has a beautiful farm in Vermont. It’s not a bad place to spend a week working! And then I reached out to Leela Corman, who I had met 13 years ago at a writing retreat with Lynda Barry. We had stayed in touch through the years and I had followed her work. I was blown away when she published Unterzakhn, a hauntingly gorgeous graphic novel about two sisters growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1900s. When she said that she would love to illustrate The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book, we set out collaborating by sending ideas through email and setting up shared documents that we could work on from two different states. It took over a year, and luckily my publisher, PM Press/Reach and Teach was psyched about the project.
When you look at the history of the word Gay, it meant “exuberant, bright, attractive, lively, happy…” The antonyms for Gay are “joyless, depressed, lifeless, spiritless…” So the next time someone says “you’re so gay” to you, say “thanks”.