It first happened around 10 on a sunny Texas morning at a little suburban elementary school located on the outskirts of Dallas. The bell rang, signaling the time for Ms. Dickenson’s second-graders to line up for gym class.
I rushed to the painted concrete wall underneath the Texas flag to make sure to secure a spot next to my two best friends, Matt and Jared. Minutes later, we were marching to the school gym. I was always a jubilant and loquacious student, and while we bounded down the blue-painted hallways, my friends and I talked and laughed as we rounded the glass walls into the tiled foyer.
Just as our class was about to begin our hour of sweaty freeze-tag and jump rope, a group of bigger kids, who I estimate were probably in the fifth grade, were exiting the gymnasium. And just as my friends and I passed a gaggle of girls from the older class, they must have heard my voice above the rest, because three of the girls pointed at me and asked, “Is that your real voice? What are you, a boy or a girl?"
This not only embarrassed me, but it made my friends uncomfortable to be standing by my side. Freeze-tag sucked that day, and at age 32 years, that memory is still pretty fresh.
I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, that it was some fluke of my perfect apple-pie childhood, and that’s why I can recall it so well. But while my parents did provide me with a fairly sunny upbringing, all things considered, I can’t remember one day of school after that day when my own “sissiness” wasn’t shoved in my face by someone who didn’t like me for things I couldn’t change. I know, because I tried to change them almost every day.
Taunting. Bullying. Violence. This all happened because I was different in a community that valued conformity. This is why I created a hero, both for the many children who are made to feel "less than" for being different today, and for the adults who can still recall similar memories of bullying. I needed Peter the Peacock then, and I still need him today.
A Peacock Among Pigeons is an LGBT-themed book that has less to do with being LGBT and more to do with being raised or placed in an environment that can make you feel like you don’t belong. Illustrated by my brilliant friend and creative partner, Clarione Gutierrez, the book is about a young peacock named Peter who was raised within a flock of pigeons. Peter is taunted and teased for being different from the pigeons, and even though he tries to fit in, there’s no changing his bright colors and flashy feathers. So he decides to venture out on his own. On his journey, he meets a host of new birds, each special in their own way. It is through their differences that Peter learns to see himself in a new light and love the feathers he was born with.
When you grow up with no one else like you around, it can be hard to believe in yourself and easy to believe what others say about you. That’s why I created Peter, so that a young gay boy, trans girl, or anyone else who can’t seem to fit in can have a hero who is just like them.
Even as adults, it can sometimes be easy to forget to love yourself. We can feel embarrassed or betrayed by the feathers we were born with. But it is not through our similarities, but our differences, where we find our version of beautiful. This is why I hope A Peacock Among Pigeons isn’t read just by kids but also by the kids-at-heart who sometimes need a reminder that they are beautiful and worthy of love and acceptance, just the way they are.
Whether are you are too short or too tall, whether your skin color is different from those around you, whether you are a child with special needs, or even a girly boy or a boyish girl, you are valuable and worthy just as you are. I hope Peter can be a hero for you just as he is one for me, because we all deserve a hero who learns to stand out and shine when it becomes impossible to fit in.
As Peter the Peacock so proudly states, “So embrace who you are, from beak to bird feet, and never let anyone break your stride. And always remember to love the feathers you were born with.”