When I was rereading that New York Times piece about Drag Queen Story Hour almost every day, I didn’t know why. When I rhapsodized about trans punk icon Laura Jane Grace’s kid-friendly set at the Brooklyn Public Library, I didn’t know why. I was months away from figuring out I was any kind of gender rebel, and years from the revelation that I could be a children’s librarian, if I wanted to. (Although I did kind of know I wanted to).
Without realizing it, I idolized people like Harmonica Sunbeam and Laura Jane Grace because I recognized something in them that was already stirring in me: the kind of gender presentation that’s expressive, that’s wild, that’s unashamed. The kind that tangles itself up with the work you do and the art you make. The kind that can look like rainbow makeup or black tattoos or anything else you need, but always looks like magic. Especially if you haven’t seen it before. Especially if you’re a child.
Even when the wreckage of 2020 found me donning a homemade unicorn wig and recording two virtual storytime videos every weekday, I didn’t realize how much I had in common with my heroes. So I also didn’t predict that just like them, I’d have to field attacks from people who believe that because I’m transgender, I’m a danger to kids.
But I probably should have.
The email from my colleague explained that someone must have posted my videos to an anti-trans hate group, because she couldn’t think of any other way to explain the deluge of transphobic comments they were suddenly getting. I hadn’t even used the word “trans” in most of them; I’d just opened them with my kid-tested, kid-approved introduction: “Call me Mx. Aly, not Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, because I’m not a boy or a girl, I’m a unicorn!” An actual angel, my colleague protected me as best she could from the comments by deleting them as they flooded in. An actual lollipop cyclone of self-destructive impulses, I read some of them anyway.
I tried for too long to make this story upbeat and funny: a positive story about the bizarre alchemy of reclaiming hateful words so they can fuel you instead of damaging you. But those comments weren’t funny. They were poisonous, intentionally so. Most of the words I saw that day tormented the most vulnerable parts of my brain for…well, on really bad days, they still do. And it’s all even less funny because the comments I got — the ones I saw, at least — weren’t half as horrifying as the violence so many of my trans, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming siblings face down every day. There’s no doubt that’s predominantly because I’m white and transandrogynous. For trans women and femmes, for trans folks of color, and especially for individuals for whom any of those identities intersect, the dangers are much worse.
No. It’s not funny.
Except for this one guy.
This one guy just. Kept. Commenting. My colleague kept deleting his words, but he kept coming back with more. Until, I guess, he only had two left.
And those two words were: “froot loop.”
When I said I spent too long trying to make this story funny, I didn’t just mean this piece of writing. I meant this whole experience of facing the reality that hordes of people don’t want me to exist. Even though there’s nothing funny about that, I needed a way to look it in the face and laugh.
So when I told my partner what was going on, the story sounded like this. “I need to tell you something,” I began somberly. “This transphobe on the internet called me…a Froot Loop.”
My partner looked puzzled. “Is that funny?” he asked.
I started laughing. “Baby,” I said. “That’s hilarious.” I laughed harder. “Like. Froot. Loop.” I held my belly as I giggled. “I mean, he thought that was an insult. FROOT LOOP. Froot Loops are amazing! Do you know how much effort I put into looking like a Froot Loop?”
My partner started laughing, too. “I do, actually,” he said.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said. I was crying a little but I was still laughing, too. “It’s even gender neutral! I don’t need to wish I could call myself a ‘nasty woman’ anymore, because this dingus just gave me ‘Froot Loop’! And you know what the best part is? Kids love Froot Loops. There’s no more contradictory way to say someone shouldn’t be around children than to call them a Froot Loop.”
Around then I decided I needed a stiff drink, so we retreated to the kitchen and made a toast inspired by a musical we like. “To Froot Loops,” we said. “To no absolutes.”
To Froot Loops.
I used to not know why I loved it so much when members of my trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming community read to children in libraries. Now I know it’s because we’re all Froot Loops. Our gender presentation is expressive, it’s wild, it’s unashamed. It tangles itself up with the work we do and the art we make. It can look like rainbow makeup or black tattoos or a homemade unicorn wig, but it always looks like magic. Especially if you haven’t seen it before. Especially if you’re a child.
If you’re out there reading this, and it’s stirring in you what Harmonica Sunbeam and Laura Jane Grace did in me, I hereby welcome you to the Froot Loop Alliance of Library Alicorns. FLALA for short; pronounced “fa-la-la,” obviously. You need not self-identify as an alicorn, a unicorn, or any other magical beast; but I promise you have wings. You shall be at your happiest when your gender identity shines bright like a beacon, lighting your universe from the inside out and drawing forth all who need you most. Sometimes, terrible people will also find you. But we’ll always find each other.
And we’ll keep each other bright.