By Joy Michael Ellison
I wrote my debut picture book Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made Lgbtq+ History for a simple reason: I wanted to see myself and my community on the pages of a picture book. There are still only a handful of picture books about transgender people on the market. Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! will allow transgender children to learn about their past, so that they can more easily imagine their future.
It’s crucial that transgender young readers have access to books with main characters to which they can relate, but Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! has lessons for everyone, not just transgender kids. It’s a story about friendship, bravery, and working for justice and that’s something we all need.
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! centers on a friendship that changed history. Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican American transgender woman, and Marsha P. Johnson, an African American transgender woman, participated in the Stonewall Rebellion that sparked the modern LGBTQIA2 movement. I describe how they met in 1969 as homeless transgender girls of color. In the beginning of the story, Sylvia longs for change, saying, “Someday we’ll be able to wear whatever we want. People will call us by our chosen names and we’ll never go hungry.” Sylvia and Marsha help transgender girls by sharing what they have in abundance: friendship. Today, Sylvia and Marsha are still remembered, showing that best friends can change the world.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are important figures in transgender history, but that’s not where their relevance ends. As women of color, their story is also a part of Black and Latinx history, women’s history, and queer history. Transgender history isn’t a niche topic; it’s a part of our past that every child deserves to learn.
Transgender history is for everyone and anyone can share it. Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! includes a reading guide that I designed to make it easy to talk about the issues raised in the book. Featuring definitions, background information, timelines, discussion questions, and activities, this guide will answer the questions of kids, parents, and teachers alike.
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! makes transgender history accessible, relevant, and age-appropriate. You are invited to the party; let’s celebrate our community and our history!
Joy Michael Ellison is a writer, a teacher and scholar, and a grassroots, community activist. They are also a loud-mouth, a poet, and a ukulele-playing rock star. Currently, they are earning their PhD in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University, where they study transgender history in the Midwest. They live in Chicago with four houseplants, a lot of records, and one very patient roommate.