Cory Silverberg is a sexuality educator, author, public speaker, and was a founding member of the Come As You Are Co-operative. He received his Masters of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He served as the chair of sexuality educator certification for the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and trains professionals across North America on social justice sex education, inclusion and access, working with gender diverse young people, sexuality and disability, and pleasure. He also runs About.com’s Sexuality site (@aboutsexuality). He initially self-published What Makes a Baby after raising over $65,000 in 30 days through Kickstarter, at the time the highest amount in the site’s history for a children’s book project. He is now writing a series of three books for children about sexuality for Seven Stories Press.
What motivated you to write a book(s) that is specifically inclusive of LGBTQ families/issues?
It sounds a bit selfish but the motivation was definitely personal. I’m queer and about six years ago a lot of my friends started having kids. I joke that the only reason I was able to write What Makes a Baby when I did was because I didn’t have any children at the time (most parents don’t have time to write books!)
In fact the first draft of What Makes a Baby was written for the 4-year-old son of one of my closest friends. My friend is trans and he and his partner were about to have a second child and eventually their 4-year-old started asking questions. While there are a few books that talk about gay and lesbian families, there were no books about how babies are made that work, not only for the LGB community but for trans, gender non-conforming, and queer families. Simply put there was no book that would let my friend tell his son the story of how he came to be. So I wrote one.
From then it was two years of revising, editing, working with dozens of families and kids before I came up with the version that was published by Seven Stories Press.
I don’t have one answer for this, mostly because I tend to think about these questions from the perspective of the young children I write for. Kids of that age don’t have the freedom to choose families.
So there is the idea of what I want a family to be: a place where you are loved and supported and challenged, where you have the time and space to figure out who you are, make mistakes, try again, with the security of people who have your back, your front, your whole body.
But I’m keenly aware of how an ideal description like this can seem to really dismiss the families we actually live in. Where we aren’t always supported, where we can be judged and hurt and dismissed and ignored AND where we are loved and accepted. I don’t think any family is all good or all bad.
So when we talk about a family we make I would say what makes a family is intention (to love and support) and showing up to do the work as best we can. And when we talk about the families we are born into or placed into, I think we need to acknowledge that just being with a group of people for a period of time creates bonds that are complicated but meaningful.
What does “equality” look like to you?
I can’t think about equality without thinking about access. To me equality means that we all have access to the things we need to survive and grow. Whether that’s housing, employment, and food, or kids books that reflect how we feel, who we are, and the communities we live in, equality looks messy and beautiful.
Whose books do you admire and why?
There are so many! To keep this list manageable I’ll just mention three people who write for kids.
Maya Gonzalez (http://www.mayagonzalez.com/childrensbooks/). I don’t just admire her books, I love them. I love them first and foremost because they are beautifully told and beautifully illustrated. I grew up with a mother who was a children’s librarian, so I find it hard to sacrifice the reading experience just for politics that I agree with. In Maya’s work there is no such sacrifice. Her books are joyful and inclusive and kids absolutely love reading them.
Another author whose work I came across recently is Samhita Arni. Her newest book is called Sita’s Ramayana (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11097473-sita-s-ramayana). It is a retelling of an epic Hindu poem from the perspective of the main female character, Sita. It is a graphic novel of sorts and not for young children but what I love about it (other than the exquisite illustrations by Moyna Chitrakar and Samhita’s text which is at turns playful and scary, and entirely appropriate for an epic poem translated for young adults) is how the book itself leads to conversations about gender roles, gender expression, justice, violence, and love.
The YA author who has had the biggest impact on me is without a doubt Francesca Lia Block (http://www.francescaliablock.com/). Her books were the first experience I had of finding my own strange queerness represented in a way that felt not only okay but exciting and full of possibility.
What’s coming up next for you?
The follow up to What Makes a Baby is coming out this fall. It’s for kids 8-10 and is called Sex Is a Funny Word (http://catalog.sevenstories.com/products/sex-is-a-funny-word-a-book-about-bodies-relationships-and-you). It is the same inclusive, LGBTQ centered approach to sex education although this time we don’t talk about reproduction at all. It’s all about bodies, gender, and touch.