5 weeks of expanding the mind and beautifying the world with Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness!
**NOTE: I turned this blog series into a FREE Online Course available through The Gender Wheel website. View the course>>>


5 weeks of expanding the mind and beautifying the world with Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness!


I’ve been studying and living my queer culture for over 30 years. There is much wisdom and beauty within it, great artistic expression and brilliant scholarship, small intimate stories and large sweeping narratives. This series is rooted in my community and meant to bring into greater light some of the basic truths of queerness in the world around us.

Since the 1990’s there’s been a noticeable uptick in queer scholarship in the areas of history, science and more. Not surprisingly, holding an outsider perspective lends itself to seeing through the dominant culture’s deeply held prejudices in numerous fields. Queer scholars have the tendency to expose what is and always has been in nature, in society, in history, in humans, with less filter and a queer lens. This leads us to what is truthfull, while teaching us more about LGBTQI2S+ falsehoods and how and why they’ve been perpetuated in our current culture. Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.

Understanding how these larger societal systems function and getting current on this kind of scholarship helps us mediate between what is real and what we and our kids have been and are being taught in the world at large.

By stating what is, the need to defend, prove or convince others eventually becomes moot. We simply are. We can all stand in the truth of what is and grow from there. This has an enormous impact on our hearts and minds and bodies as queers/trans/intersex, and changes the ways that we move through the world inside and outside. Instilling confidence, belonging, respect and value are not something we have to work on or prove that we deserve any longer, we simply are. Allowing an internal shift to take place in view of this kind of information is key. The truth of what is will set us freee! We are and always will be, Queereternal, Gendernow!

The foundations of my gender work are the same ones that reverberate through all of my work, whether it explicitly addresses gender or not. Holistic, nature-based, rooted in self and community love, truth speaking, IPOC/LGBTQI2S+ centered, fully inclusive and meant for practical daily application.

Gender Now Coloring Book published in 2010

I began gathering resources and sharing my gender work for kids and families in 2010 with my Gender Now Coloring Book. I wanted a solid go-to resource that I could use with my kids that would also be valuable for other families. It’s loaded with information. TONS of information! (There are a lot of games and play too!)

I’ll be teasing out some of the resources and details of Gender Now as we move through this series. I just have to say, everything is jammed with love! I hope this serves as a call to more and more truth and love centering and listening to the LGBTQI2S+ community, especially Indigenous and People of Color (IPOC). Our gorgeousness abounds! We must share OUT!

What’s in store each Week

Each of the next 5 weeks will focus on a different theme: Nature, Multicultural Awareness, Indigenous, and US history, and finally the Gender Wheel. The series is appropriate for grownups and young adults, but is ultimately about bringing greater awareness and support to our kids and families.

Each week begins with an introduction to books by queer scholars and goes on to include the following sections: Imagine for a moment, What is commonly taught and thought, Back to the truth and Practical daily application with 4 areas where you can put truth to action. There’s also coloring pages, children’s books, scholarly books, videos and more.

A Holistic frame is used throughout the series. Mind is not separate from body, and sexuality is not separated from gender. This perspective is developed through the course of the series culminating in the Gender Wheel. Consequently, gender is seen relative to the LGBTQI2S+ community.

This series is just a beginning and is not meant to be a sole resource. It is a glimpse into a fraction of the research I’ve done. It is explicitly meant as a doorway to further study and play. The more we lift up and use the brilliant scholarship from our own community, the sooner truth will support us in creating a more equitable world of love and respect.


In PART ONE of the series we open our eyes to the natural world all around us, remembering that we too are a part of nature.

We begin by looking at two highly praised books that represent a slow and growing trend. They document the reality of animals. As a consequence they also highlight how Western culture has suppressed the truth of queer/trans/intersex expression and presence in nature. While it will take years, perhaps even decades for the professional field to create overarching academic frameworks to accommodate this shift in thinking, the information is out there now and its strength is growing.

As parents, educators and activists we can support a shift toward this kind of truth telling by keeping ourselves abreast of this developing scholarship and exploring how to put it to practical daily use, especially in the classroom and home.


Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural DiversityAfter 10 years of research, Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance/Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was published in 1999. Nature/International Journal of Science said, “This book should surely become the standard reference work for research on the topics covered.” It gathers in once place a staggering array of over 300 mammals and birds, documenting same-sex partnering and extensive gender diversity.

Bagemihl writes:

“The animal world—right now, here on Earth—is brimming with countless gender variations and shimmering sexual possibilities: entire lizard species that consist only of females who reproduce by virgin birth and also have sex with each other; or the multigendered society of the Ruff, with four distinct categories of male birds, some of whom court and mate with one another; or female Spotted Hyenas and Bears who copulate and give birth through their ‘penile’ clitorides, and male Greater Rheas who possess ‘vaginal’ phalluses (like females of their species) and raise young in two-father families; or the vibrant transsexualities of coral reef fish, and the dazzling intersexualities of gynandromorphs and chimeras. In their quest for ‘post-modern’ patterns of gender and sexuality, human beings are simply catching up with the species that have preceded us in evolving sexual and gender diversity—and the aboriginal cultures that have recognized this.

Intersex and Trans Animals in Nature - Bears, Monkeys, Whales

Evolution's RainbowIn 2004, Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow/Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People was published. Nature/International Journal of Science weighed in again saying, “As a compendium of information on sex and gender diversity in the natural world, Roughgarden’s is the richest and most authoritative book available,” making it a perfect companion to Bagemihl’s book.

Roughgarden’s compilation shows wide variations of gender expression among vertebrates, demonstrating that several stereotypes about gender are simply incorrect, she maintains. For example animals aren’t just male or female; individuals can be both male and female at the same time or be one or the other at different times. Males are not necessarily bigger than females, and in many species, it’s not the females who give birth but rather males that incubate eggs in a pouch. And like the Bluegill Sunfish, many species have three or more genders.”

Intersex and Trans Animals in Nature - Butterflies, Clown Fish, Snails

And the scholarship continues. These two books don’t reflect the work of one person, but literally hundreds of people working in their field.

A 2009 study says, “Same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds, concludes a new review of existing research.”(1)


Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine that everything you see around you in the natural world is queer/trans/intersex, similar to humans. Every plant, every animal, every insect and bird, flora and fauna alike.

Imagine the natural, exuberant expression of everything, visible everywhere you look. Feel yourself as an integral part of all of this. Couple this with the idea that all of this diversity and expression is appreciated and valued as important and necessary. Nature and all that it is, is seen as perfectly natural.

‘Queer’ is no longer other. Queer! is everything.

Finally, imagine growing up and being taught this in school. Imagine your parents, family and friends speaking casually about the queer/trans/intersex-ness of all nature as if it’s normal and necessary and encouraging you to learn about it too.

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)

At this time and for a long time, Darwinism is the name of the game. Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) is considered the father of evolution and described as one of the most influential figures in human history. The impact of his work cannot be denied or diminished, despite the fact that there is a lack of evidence for most of his theories.

Beyond his basic thoughts about evolution, he included that nature is inherently competitive, the purpose of sex is procreation, females of a species are small and coy, while males of a species are large and aggressive. Anything and everything falling outside of these parameters is aberrant according to Darwin. And coupled with his belief that man evolved from apes was the belief that the white race was the most evolved thus superior, with all other races falling in graduated ranks below. (This last one continues to be knocked down through genetics that state there is only one race. All humans are equal.)

Now I don’t pretend to know everything. In fact, what I’m sure of is that there is still much to learn and synthesize in ways that I cannot know, possibly ever. But I do believe there is much that can be known. For example, it is always valuable to look at what is, especially when it comes to that kind of influence attributed to one person. Looking at Darwin’s context, what his theories explicitly and implicitly foster and/or promote and how they’ve impacted our LGBTQI2S+ community can be known and can shed light on a larger perspective of how Darwin’s theories still function in our society and why.


Queen Victoria

Here are some extremely general sweeps to place Darwin in context. He predominantly lived and worked during what is called the Victorian age in England, 1837-1901. This era is known for hypocrisy and repression, sexual restraint and a strict and limiting moral code. It is also a time of great transformation, including a shift from a highly religious social frame to a more secular one. Until 1861 homosexuality was an offence punishable by death. Slavery was legal until 1833.

Darwin’s theory of evolution was seen by some as a threat to traditional creationist beliefs. Still it was widely accepted by the 1870’s by the scientific community and a majority of the educated public, marking a secular shift in consciousness at the time.

Queen Victoria reigned and is the namesake for the era, however the British Empire was a patriarchy and sought to expand across the globe using violence, particularly in Asia and Africa.


Some of the fundamentals of Darwin’s theories will sound familiar as they’ve either been subsumed into Western culture or rise from it. These beliefs can become invisible, creating an implicit back drop that constantly promotes and supports the patriarchal Western Culture from the inside out.

These include but are not limited to, man over nature. Women are inferior. Man over woman. Nature is competitive, not cooperative. Survival of the fittest. White supremacy. Sex is for procreation and the survival of the species. There is only male and female. Everything always partners in heterosexual pairs.

On LGBTQI2S+ Community:

The impact on our community begins with the erasure of queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies from nature through the exclusive focus on heterosexual males and females. Our invisibility makes it easier to control the dominant narrative about us, maintain judgment, as well as avoid talking about bodies and sex.  When queer/trans/intersex experience and bodies do come to light they are positioned outside of what is considered normal and positive, because sex without the possibility of procreation is considered fundamentally wrong, even unnatural.

Joan Roughgarden

The more we look at nature and how it’s talked about the more we can see the layers of impact Darwinism has had on science, Western society, and our community in particular. In contrast, Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.

Her perspectives and those of many more like her, propose that there is another, more authentic way to include all expressions of gender and sexuality throughout the natural world in ways that do not encourage dominance and prejudice.

Joan Roughgarden’s work upends much of Darwin’s impact by exploring the prevalence and consequent value of queer/trans/intersex expression and bodies in nature, while framing them within the context of the natural world as largely cooperative.

You can learn more through her TED talk:

And these resources:
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
  • 1. Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of Darwinism. This includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about ‘understanding or explaining gender.’ It’s about looking at everything and seeing how gender is naturally expressed everywhere all the time around us.
  • 2. Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded understanding of nature and gender. For example, stop saying ‘boys and girls’ and instead say people or kids. Become aware of more and more gender assumptions. For example, excusing boys for physically rough behavior while assuming or encouraging girls to be less physical or physically smaller. And so on.
  • 3. Interrupt falsehoods. Speaking truth is awesome, but it has to be coupled with interrupting untruths or it has no power. We must also take the time to say what is not true and acknowledge that almost everything around us is saying these untrue things about nature and gender, but that doesn’t make them anymore true. If we don’t model this for our kids, no one will. We can embrace the truth about nature now. Some simple examples are kid movies. Speaking the truth about Clown Fish, bears, snails, whales, and so on. Snails are not girls or boys. Some lizards are lesbians. Some animals are both girl and boy.

4. Educate toward truth/children’s books and adult resources. These are what I consider my absolute basics to date.

What Keeps Me Strong in These Days – Checking IN and Blessings OUT

Children's Books as a Personal Practice

These days, these days, these days. Everything changing. So much discomfort. Everywhere hope and courage. So much waking up as the children take to the streets speaking truth OUT loud.

So much more waiting in the wings.

These days, I close much of my correspondence with “take good care through these bumpy times.” I can’t not acknowledge the world shaking around us, within us, reality shift, shift, shifting about. I personally feel compelled, driven, but always looking to soften and slow down to stay strong for the long dance and the ever moving earth.

Last year feels like a blur. It was a deep and challenging year and I’m damn happy it’s over, although there were some pretty fantastic times too. This year feels different. I feel strangely seasoned, knees bent, head up. Blowing in the wind like a tree.

So, what keeps me strong as I continue on…

Children’s Book Anthology Trilogy

The last book of The Heart of It trilogy is complete.

Unfurling, Voice Is a Revolution

It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths.

It was a phenomenal journey that began in 2015. As I look at the three books and the 58 artistauthors who shared their work over this time, I’m humbled and perfectly blown away. They prove to me what I know in my heart. Everyone has a story. Everyone is an artist and it changes us when we express.

It’s vital that our kids see adults creating books, investing in their own voice, expanding OUT into the world with their own stories, histories and truths. I love indigenous, POC, LGBTQI2S+ narratives unbridled by limitation, valued from the heart, and not just included, but centered. I love creativity allowed to flow in service first to ourselves, and then overflowing out from there into our communities, changing the world.

Voice Is a Revolution mini-course in School of the Free Mind

The Holistic Self by Maya GonzalezThis last year I dropped deeply again into the practice of children’s books. I wanted to share through posting a few videos to the school, but much to my surprise it resulted in a mini course just added to School of the Free Mind called, Voice is a Revolution: Writing Children’s Books from the Holistic Self.

It validates that it can be personally challenging to come more powerfully into voice, which leads to sharing what practices supported me most during this last year and finally a series of guided worksheets to support coming into a more holistic voice. This last piece is connected to a workshop I got to do during my Fresno residency. I’m excited because this holistic piece resonates throughout my work and one of my goals is to make it as accessible as possible to folks. It expands who we are! Of course I’ve got a picture book in mind.

For me personally, a strong voice and a holistic self are fundamental to staying strong while having my own indie press. Everything I do in some way points to folks starting their own presses and expanding beyond the traditional systems. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to turn the tides of our culture, but the time is clearly NOW. Make Books Now!
They She He Me and The Gender Wheel by Maya Gonzalez

Books and Gender

Fall 2017 saw me and Matthew’s first book together, They, She, He, Me: Free to Be!, which got an SLJ starred review and The Gender Wheel, A Story about Bodies and Gender for Every Body.

I’ve got a number of more books in the makes this year. I don’t want to say what, when, where, how–too much until the time comes, but there are some fabulously marvelous bits!!!! And this Fall I’ll be sharing something I’ve never done before and it is moving me toward one of my secret dreams.

I’ve also begun a partnership with two fabulous activists, Laurin Mayeno and Mauro Sifuentes. Already deep in the mix, we’ll be doing a private presentation soon, and then present again this summer at Gender Odyssey in Seattle. Aligning our work and standing together feels revolutionary and comforting. I am beyond excited to push beyond the binary with these two.
imagery from They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya and Matthew

Counteracting Bias with Action

The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI children’s books by non-LGBTQI authors communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth.

I’ve also begun sharing my new worksheet, Vetting LGBTQI Children’s Books with Love at the North Bay LGBTQ Family Symposium last month. After two rounds of plagiarism this last year and seeing firsthand the kind of distortion and damage that can be done by non-LGBTQI people speaking about our lives and realities, I felt I had to do something.

I consolidated the framework I use to review LGBTQI children’s books with a queer-centric perspective into a worksheet to open the conversation (you can see this in practice at our School of the Free Mind/The Heart of It LGBTQI book reviews). The unconscious, implicit bias in some of the LGBTQI books by non-LGBTQI authors I’ve come into contact with communicates on a much deeper level than the “main” story and perpetuates systems and perspectives within our culture that are damaging to our LGBTQI youth. I’ll be sharing this worksheet next month as part of my Gender Month (read more below).

There are an abysmal amount of children’s books for our community. We need MORE QUEER VOICES and stories rising from QUEER WISDOM and LIVED EXPERIENCE. WE need to lead the narratives that are connected to our lives and families and LGBTQI2S kids.

Book Festivals, Interviews and Reviews

Maya and Janine MacbethMarch I’ll be at the Tuscon Book Festival. Feel free to come make art with me at one of the workshops if you get a chance. I’ll also be on a number of panels with other amazing artists and authors who have received the honor of a Pura Belpré Award. And I get to share the stage with Peter Reynolds in one panel, another favorite of mine.

In April I’ll be addressing gender again at ACL’s annual Institute at the San Francisco Public Library, Beyond the Binary: Embracing Diverse Gender Identities, with Lourdes Rivas, Alex Gino, Leslea Newman and more.

Out in the world, I’m ALWAYS grateful for those who play with me! Here are a number of folks who blessed me in different ways. Thank you, thank you! Every convo was a blast!

Up, Up and Away! GENDER MONTH is MARCH!

Ok, like I say in my workshops, I’m going to shut up now. I have literally a thousand or more things to bring in but there’s more serious play to attend to, like next month. March is Gender Month on my blog. Every Friday I’ll be sharing a big chunk of my research here and how it ties to The Gender Wheel and much, much more. There will be articles and videos and reviews, as well as coloring pages, curriculum and play!

There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work.

Lots of information for grownups and kids. Just like with children’s books where I share everything I know from 20+ years in the biz, I’m going to share all the extra fabulously nerdy research that lies within my gender books for kids that I’ve accumulated over 30+ years of queerdom. This is an inside story. There’s some gorgeous queer scholarship out there and I want to shine the light on who has informed my work. I can’t wait!

Alright darlings, love. Love and love and love and more love.

Make it strong, make it aggressive and sure footed, aim for your own heart, your own spirit. Dive into loving your truly valuable self. We need you. We need your voice, or we are not a whole people. Together, we are the revolution. The world is changing right now. It’s going to be a long dance, but with deep self love spreading out to community love, WE ARE THE WAY. Voice is a Revolution.

Take good care through these bumpy times my love, xomaya

Self-Publishing Journeys

School of the Free Mind Student Spotlight: Sandra Gonzalez, Skillful & Soulful Press
Maya, Julia Rae and Sandra at LA Times book festival
Maya with Sandra (right) and her daughter Julia Rae(middle)

When Matthew and I changed the format of our School to be independent study as well as more financially accessible, our hope was that folks would take full advantage of all the numerous materials to support them and their publishing endeavors.

Publishing a children’s book, whether through traditional means or self-publishing, can be huge. Not just the physical creation but also powerful for the body, heart and mind too. It’s why I teach the way I do and why I focus on a holistic framework.

We weren’t quite sure whether our hopes and changes for the School were manifesting. Many times we don’t hear how the work affects people until years later. So we couldn’t have been more pleased when after a school check-in email we were contacted by Sandra expressing how much she was getting out of the school.

Sandra was using the materials in exactly the way we had hoped, self-publishing a book and starting her own press! She was taking action and she was bringing her whole family along for the ride. We were lucky enough to connect in person when I was at the LA Times book festival and I of course had to ask if we could do a short interview to hear more about her, her book and press, and how the School has supported her on her journey.

It’s with my great pleasure that I present the first interview in my Self-Publishing Journeys series. I hope this will be the first of many student spotlights!

Maya: Welcome, welcome, so first off I always like people to introduce themselves.

Sandra: Hello. I’m Sandra. I’m an author of bilingual children’s books. I write books to share with families, English and Spanish words that tickle the tongue, words that enchant the mind, and words that tease the ear. I proudly parent two kind-hearted and creative human beings. I am the daughter of brave Mexican parents who brought me to California when I was 3 years old.

I am a community activist for social, economic, and racial justice…

I was raised with the deepest love, respect, and encouragement that a child could have. I am a Danzante – Aztec Dancer. I connect with Tonantzin, Mother Earth, through this “kinesthetic prayer” that has been practiced for centuries.  I am a community activist for social, economic, and racial justice because the balance on our wonderful planet that promotes love and happiness is off. I am a professional in the early childhood education field. I am passionate about family literacy and early learning where young children of color expand their vocabulary with sophisticated words because this enriches their life.

Maya: Exactly the kind of person we had hoped would use the school and materials! So, what led you to join School of the Free Mind and what courses are you focused on?

Sandra: I learned about you in 2013 when I was researching bilingual children’s books written by Latino authors to develop literacy tools for families during my graduate studies. I created a Family Conversation Guide based on your book, “My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo” because the robust vocabulary words in your book aligned perfectly with the goal of my school project.

The way the action steps were set up seemed doable for me and I could not have been more convinced that I’d finally make progress on my goal to self-publish.

Late in 2016, as I sought resources for publishing my book, I went to your author website. It was then when I first learned about School of the Free Mind and I signed up for your mailing list. I was enthralled to read the details of all the courses you offered.

In January 2017, I signed up for the School and specifically for your Make Books NOW! course. The ten-step action program caught my attention immediately because it had been about two years since I was “working on” publishing my book, but wasn’t getting past Step 1! The way the action steps were set up seemed doable for me and I could not have been more convinced that I’d finally make progress on my goal to self-publish.

In addition to focusing on the Make Books NOW! course, I have also spent quite I bit of time on The Heart of It course. My favorite part of this course is how incredibly inspiring it is for authors to create children’s book that truly do have the potential to change the world. And it does so with such lovely language!

Maya: I have to say this definitely makes me smile. So from your perspective as a person of color, what did you find at School of the Free Mind that you didn’t find elsewhere?

I found recognition and validation.

Sandra: I get a warm sensation in my chest and my eyes are watery as I answer this question…I found recognition and validation. Recognition that my voice, my intentions, and my ideas are meaningful, powerful, and beautiful. Validation that my work, my book, and my message need to be shared with community because lives can be transformed through strengthened bonds between parent and child.
Other “schools” I’ve learned from provided important content and resources to publish a book – basically how. With School of the Free Mind, I found that the information and resources, while they are exceptional, were almost secondary. In my perspective, I found that your School is very intentional with sharing the why I should publish my books. As I perused your School’s website, my motivation to set specific action steps and deadlines grew because it almost felt like I was doing a disservice to my community by not taking steps! The more I read the goals and objectives of the courses you offered, the more enthusiastic I became to be part of the movement to bring more books authored by POC – and I understood why this is so crucial.
Other sources gave my brain information I needed to publish a book, but your School gave me what was missing. It gifted my heart and my soul the purpose, the inspiration and the affirmation I needed, precisely, to bring my book to life.
Maya: So my “evil plan” is working, lol!  I know you’re working on publishing a book this year and starting your own press! How have the courses supported you in this?
Sandra: For the first time in my very-long-children’s-book-publishing-journey, I set a date for the release of my book! The reason my book will be published November 2017 is because I am following the 10-month timeline that was set by Make Books NOW! We are on track to self-publish our book because of the support from the course. For example, the manuscript was pretty close to complete when I enrolled in January, but I didn’t have a clear understanding of the editing process, book layout, or illustration details. I do now.
I knew that my book would be published somehow, someday, but it never crossed my mind that my press would be the one publishing our book! Forty-hour work weeks and Danza take up much of my time, leaving very limited hours to work on the publishing process – never mind having time left to actually research the information you need to establish a press.

The manuscript was pretty close to complete when I enrolled in January, but I didn’t have a clear understanding of the editing process, book layout, or illustration details.
I do now.

What I appreciated the most is the very detailed outline with sequential steps needed to advance on my publishing journey. All the tasks are listed clearly, all the links you’ll need (and then some!) are provided, vast resources are laid out in the simplest form. The videos keep me engaged, the infographics within the course are amazing, and when I have questions, Matthew is more than generous with his time answering my inquiries. Many nights, I’ve said to my family, “Oh my God! I could not have figured this out myself. Matthew and Maya saved me so much time!” It’s true.
In particular, Step 4 taught about the business aspects of publishing a book and establishing a press. This was my favorite step because I felt so supported with understanding the process and it wasn’t frustrating at all because I had all the tools at my fingertips. I can’t imagine how many hours were spent collecting the information in the course manual and then creating such an attractive tool for the user.  Thanks to Step 4 of Make Books Now! I had an ISBN for my book and all the required licensing for our press. (Geez, Matthew and Maya, seriously you two are amazing! Take a bow please.) 🙂
Maya: That’s so sweet Sandra. We’ve always felt compelled to share anything we learn with our community. We felt like if we could do it, then others could too.
Speaking of which, since the school has an independent study format and publishing a book is a big endeavor, I’m curious if you have advice about how you stay focused and motivated on your path?

Sandra: A HUGE endeavor indeed! Since I work full-time outside of my home, balancing my time and maintaining a strong focus has been a tremendous challenge. However, I did implement a few strategies that helped. This year, colleagues at my office started somewhat of a “self-care club”. During the week, we practiced five minutes of meditation and three minutes of visualization each afternoon. My visualization was dedicated to seeing my book published and out in the world! I even planned my book-launch party during those three minutes!

Definitely, being accountable to my word is keeping me motivated.

Another strategy was to share my release date with as many people as I could. Definitely, being accountable to my word is keeping me motivated. It also helped that my colleagues asked me to do a read aloud of my manuscript and give a small presentation on my self-publishing journey. My smile shines with encouragement when I have people asking if I am taking pre-orders of my book! Also, I made a promise that I would not skip my lunch break and I use those hours during the week to view the course webinars and read the material. Finally, I scheduled every Sunday as an “author work day” on my calendar. It doesn’t always unfold as such , but I still appreciate the notification on my cell every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. because it reminds me that I’m on a mission!

Maya: Fabulous suggestions! I’ve always been very disciplined myself but I know it can be tricky in the mix of life so hearing strategies from others is always helpful. You’ve shared with me that your kids have been involved in the process in different ways too, can you tell us more about that and why you think it’s important to have them be a part of it?
Sandra: The first book that we are publishing is co-authored by my 10-year old daughter, Julia Rae. The story is inspired by her and a heart-warming conversation we had when she was about 4 years old. The entire writing process was completed with her input and approval. All our books will be bilingual and they will feature a robust vocabulary because I know, firsthand, that this is a need in communities of color. Each book will have a glossary with child-friendly definitions, created by Julia Rae, that parents can use as a tool to teach their children the words found in the book. My children have always been word lovers and word teachers. My son, Cristian Gabriel, who is now 15 is phenomenal at helping us explain the meaning of fancy words to preschoolers in a very child-friendly way. He is also our IT guy.

It’s important that they hear the truth. It’s important that they know their role in helping this world become one where many other worlds fit.

Since they were very little, both Julia and Cristian listed “publish a chapter book” on their bucket list. I know that they will one day check that item off the list. I am ecstatic to know that their books will be added to the total books published by Chican@ authors. I’ve learned from you how important this is. My children heard you speak on the panel at the Festival of Books in Los Angeles this spring. They heard the facts and the sad statistics on the number of books that POC need to publish in order for us to be equal to the number of books being published by White Americans. It’s important that they hear the truth. It’s important that they know their role in helping this world become one where many other worlds fit. In our family, we do that through community activism, through education, and through sharing with others what we know.
Maya: The statistics are sobering which is what makes me so happy to see you and your family taking such amazing action. So, tell us more about your book and press and how people can find out more and stay in touch.

Sandra: The name of our press is Skillful & Soulful Press. Our family created the following vision and mission statements:

Vision: A world where parents and their children are creators of social change and community well-being.
Mission: To inspire families to live courageously, learn endlessly, and love passionately so our world is better.

The books we publish will promote the Skillful & Soulful Movement. This movement is about living a balanced life. Skillful refers to living in a logical and analytical way – fully in our masculine energy . Soulful refers to living in tune with our intuition and creativity – fully in our feminine energy. We believe that our best, most blissful, experiences as human beings will be lived when we master the art of living in a way that is both skillful and soulful.

The name of our press is Skillful & Soulful Press. Our first book, “Mommy, Tell Me Why I Am Radiant” is a bilingual picture book.

Our first book, “Mommy, Tell Me Why I Am Radiant” is a bilingual picture book. The book highlights a delightful mother-daughter conversation reminding moms that children will often grow up to be just like them. When moms live a joyful and radiant life, their children learn to live equally as joyful and radiant. The positive words help increase little girls’ self-confidence and self-worth (and perhaps moms’ too!). The robust vocabulary helps close the “word gap” which is the difference in the number of words children from families of different socioeconomic backgrounds hear. Reading experts say that young children who hear new and interesting words are better prepared to succeed when they enter school. This also promotes a love of language that helps children become stronger readers. Finally, the awe-inspiring similes in “Mommy, Tell Me Why I Am Radiant” inspire a family’s deeper appreciation of nature and our Mother Earth.
Reynaldo Mora is the artist illustrating the book. He, too, is a community activist and Danzante who shares the same political values and societal beliefs as my children and I, so the energy that he brings to this book series is simply extraordinary. We can’t wait to see the final art! The book will be sold through Amazon and indie book stores in late November. Our website will be and should be live in September or October.
Maya: Sounds amazing and powerFULL. I can’t wait to see the final book in print and I anticipate many more to come! Is there anything else you’d like to share about you or the journey so far?
Sandra: I want to share words of gratitude with you, Matthew, and Sky too! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, for your super powers! The work that you have done and continue to do is magical. Please know that your effort is changing lives and the values guiding your School of the Free Mind are transforming the world to be more wonderful.
Maya: Thank YOU for sharing and for giving us a window in to your process, Sandra. I look forward to checking back in again once your book releases and your website is live!

Definitely keep an eye out for more from Sandra and Skillful & Soulful Press. And get her debut book “Mommy, Tell Me Why I Am Radiant” when it hit shelves in November!

For more about School of the Free Mind, take a look at our school website, view sample course materials and join the classroom.

We’ve reduced the registration fee for these last 5 months of 2017.
A great time to get started on your book and get the creative juices flowing!

School of the Free Mind

The Ghosts and The Writing

My first novella

OK. That was hard. And to be honest, it’s still hard. And I’ve barely sent it out into the world yet! Writing my first novella changed me. I am not the same. Actually, I have no idea who I am right now. And for someone like me, that’s always a good sign.

In writing Ma Llorona, ghosts I had long forgotten came home to nest. They came home to speak and remind me of who I am. They came home because I am home. And I need home. Like Coyolxauhqui’s Stone rising from the bowels of Mexico City, my torn up self rose to remind me of how sacrifice, both personal and historical have been profound points of lesson, and that to become whole again, I must call in ALL of me. I am going through a time in which I am finally ready to face who I am in the world and the level of risk that has always been close at hand. I am able to see from an empowered place how I have been repeatedly sacrificed and how I have sacrificed myself. I know I am not alone. I know that there are many more folks out in the world like me and I know there are many young people who are like me too. Silenced. Watching. Waiting.

Ma Llorona marks a shift in me. My voice and my vulnerability no longer frighten me. Or at least not enough to quiet me right now. So I’m going to lay it on the line. I’m going to share some of my ghosts and how fucking hard it was to face them and write this novella. I’m sharing because I believe in me. I believe in my voice and my creativity to heal me. Which means I believe in you too. I really believe if someone as messy as me can make it through, you can too.

So here’s to ghosts! Here’s to vulnerability! And silence and voice! And everything we have to learn together. And sacrifice.
And here’s to the stories that want to flow through us.

I write not because I’m good. I write because it heals me. I publish myself not because I’m good. I publish because it could heal others like me. But writing is veryveryhard for me still. Silence and nonverbal communication have been my saving grace. If not for painting I don’t know how I would have survived. But there’s something to writing that I must face. I’m compelled. Since I was 13.

When I was 7 I had a head injury. Coma, brain damage, seizures. They decided to heavily medicate me for 2 years on Dilatin and Phenobarbitol. I have no idea what the lasting and real impact of all of this is. I do know that as I began working on the numerous drafts of my manuscript I was faced with an electric, multidimensional choppiness. I felt like I was at sea and any moment the huge ship I was steering would tip and disappear beneath an uncontrollable pattern. I felt damaged and messy. From a distance I could sense the places that wanted to throw everything down and be silent again, but instead a new voice lifted me up from inside. You can smooth these stormy waters. You can sail free and easy. You can be heard. It’s ok to be learning. It’s ok to be seen in process. You have only to relax and let the story find its way. Stay the course. You can do this.

I have a storyteller self that began rising a few years back. I won’t reveal her name yet, but she’s been a great teacher. It was her voice that I heard when I began writing Ma Llorona, but I had to look up what perspective I was using in order to maintain it. I realized I had no idea what I was doing, just that I was doing it. What kind of crazy confidence is that? And why did I suddenly have it?! I don’t have a BA. No MA. No PhD. And here I was using 3rd person omniscient, which makes perfect sense, but apparently is very difficult to maintain and not very many people use it. I could easily fall. But I didn’t care. I continued to walk that tight rope with a ferocity that shook my tutu!

Brain damaged, uneducated. Precarious.

University was a tragedy. Being disowned by my family for being queer aligned with other past abuses. When I lost my funding I dropped out of school and began my lifelong healing journey. Eventually I ended up homeless, sleeping on the garage floor of someone I barely knew at the time. Until finally me and my partner at the time found a condemned house nearby and convinced the owners to rent it to us. Home. It’s been like that all my adult life. Living on the edge. Difficult to rest down. Nowhere that belongs to me. I’m not as close to the edge as I once was, but it’s still near. And now I have a kid! And living in San Francisco is crazy!

Homeless past, poor, artist. Never going to make it. Always on the edge.

Every time I felt a ghost rise, a voice as loving and kind rose with it. Like partners they danced through me. Ghost. Love. Ghost. Love.
I did a lot of crying, but it felt like a new dance. A new kind of embodiment. Not the cheerleader I’ve been in the past, always positive, always willing to go the extra mile, find the beauty. I watched that part of me die. Now I am more angry. More present. Stronger in a way that feels unfamiliar and less charming.

More than ever, I don’t want to be perfect by outside standards. I don’t want to tell stories that have to hit marks that were never meant to be hit by someone like me. Queer. Chicanx. Cis woman. Femme. I want to be strong, but I want to be me. And I want to inspire others like me to be their selves.

Damaged. Uneducated. Unwanted. Homeless. Queer. Poor.

Because coming into voice isn’t about the arc of the story. It’s not about the punctuation or maintaining perspective. It’s about letting our own power flow through us for our own good. It’s about listening to ourselves and believing that we deserve to be heard. It’s about self. And power. And truth.
I can’t explain how challenging it was for me to smooth this story out.

Repeatedly I had to face myself. I had to own my experiences and my limitations. I had to invite my vulnerabilities in and say, well hell, here I am.

By the end I had become familiar with my own crazy internal terrain and some kind of WALL that I had built up to keep part of me from telling my story and getting it out into the world. There’s a scrambling system that I’ll probably still have to negotiate for awhile, but that’s ok.

I’m learning my way around. My heart is strong with me now and I believe this day is mine.

Thank you Ma Llorona for flowing through me. Thank you creative force for showing me my vulnerabilities and honing my greatest art, myself. Thank you Western Society for rejecting me until I understand that only true power rises and the time for change is now. Blessings OUT, xomaya

Ma Llorona is available through Reflection Press.

remembering orlando

one year later...

How do I begin to talk about Orlando? Or about this last year? It hasn’t been an easy one. It has been a year of waking up in the challenge, a year of marching and leaning forward enough to maintain momentum. No longer necessary to seek the journey, it has rushed into our faces. We must become the journey if we want to go forward in this political climate. We must embody our path.

So to speak of Orlando is to speak of self. And as a queer Chicana when I speak of self I must also speak of love. I must carry my own supply, because this world has little for me. Orlando made that clear, again.

And my love, even my self love, I know is not mine, but part of the greater flow. As I love my self, I send love to the families. As I love my self, I send love to the lost. As I love my self, I change the world in which a massacre like the one at Pulse can happen.

I must hold self love up high enough to see through the lies of this land and keep my self alive, embodied.
Moving forward.
This is the revolution.
This is the epitome of being queer to me.

Creativity has always been my modes operandi. When the going gets tough and the going is definitely  tough, the creative start making art! The portraits of those lost are most moving. They serve not only as a memorial, but also as an act of respect. Art is a way to commune with a subject. As artists, we take them in and then express out how they move us. They literally move through us. Through our eyes, our heart and finally out our hands onto the canvas or page. Artists re-embody their subjects through themselves. And again I come to love.

The more we love ourselves, the more we express love through everything we create, the more creativity is an act of love both self and communal. Self. Community. Creativity. Love. This is life to me. This is political. Our creativity is within to heal us and those around us. That’s why it’s suppressed.

To unleash our creative power is one of the strongest acts of self love there is.

In April, I spontaneously began writing my first YA novella, Ma Llorona. It hit hard and fast. Unexpected, even disruptive. I got the main body of it but eventually learned that what I thought I knew I didn’t. Numerous times I thought it was ready for final edits, but as I do with my creative work, I prayed into it instead of looking for closure. I asked for insight and healing every step of the way, especially since I had never done anything like this before. And in perfect order, my creative prayers delivered again and again and the story expanded, deepened, healed more and more of me. I didn’t know how much of me would be held or healed by this story. I didn’t know that I had the ability to let something like this pass through me. I’m still rattled, still a bit shaky.

By the time the manuscript was complete, and I’ll be honest I’m still on final edits, Orlando had become part of the story. It wasn’t my initial intention. It was a deeper, intuitive healing. The kind that sneaks up on you because it’s so deep it can’t be consciously courted. As I worked through the timeline with the calendar I realized that Orlando occurred at a key moment. It was there, embedded in the story already, waiting to be included. When I looked at why it would be there, it fit perfectly. It made sense. It was only a matter of me opening my eyes and accepting it.

So today as I actively work on completing and submitting the second proof to my printer, as I love my self and send deep love to the families and those lost in Orlando, I howl out to our ancestors and I howl into the power of creativity to heal us through these times.


 The ancient river ghost, La Llorona guides me to speak however messy, to step forward however clumsy, to lean into my own ghosts both personal and ancient and find a way through the shadows.

I reclaim La Llorona as an indigenous, queer, MesoAmerican reflection. She is ours now. She belongs to us queers. We need her to howl with us, to teach us about grief. But more than one ghost, I claim all of our ghosts. I claim all of our stories as valuable, all of our history as necessary, I call out all the healing waiting to be unleashed through the power of our voices. As queer Latinx/Chicanx we can heal. We can change the world. We can paint, write, express. With love we can re-embody and transform this world. It’s ours. I claim this world as queer. Now.

It makes sense that Orlando is a part of Ma Llorona. Orlando is very deep for us as queer Latinx/Chicanx. It is part of our story now. It is ours to heal. It is ours to see that it rides not only on the moment it happened, but on everything that led to that moment. From MesoAmerica to Mexico City to San Francisco to Orlando, the ghosts are calling.

Tonight, like last year we will gather in the Castro and fill the sky with our love, and our grief. We will stand with the ghosts and we will tell their stories. Our stories.

Tonight, we will change the world, the way queers always do.
By loving ourselves and using our voices.

Tonight we stand with Orlando.

Blessings OUT on this one year anniversary. Queer Eternal.

The time is now

Let's flood the world with our voices

The act of telling our own stories is a radical act.

I continue to stand humbled by the power of creativity and its ability to heal us and change the world we live in. It’s with a sense of urgency that creativity flows through me these days. Sometimes it feels like the only realness in a mad, mad world. I know for myself going through my own personal challenges, creativity has been the anchor, the teacher, the expression I needed to heal and further myself on the path of life. I have said for many years that I sit at the feet of the creative force, a devotee open to learn. Unleashing the creative force within myself and allowing it to flow with greater and greater power is one of my primary goals in life. From this all else flows.

In that flow, I just spent the last 3 weeks writing my first novella. It was unexpected, and overwhelming at times. As I step away and begin final reads and edits, I find I am more committed to the power of voice as a revolution to heal us, to reclaim our history, to change the vision we hold of ourselves… I could go on forever! Instead I’ll land on this.

WE NEED YOUR VOICE. WE NEED YOUR STORIES. The weight of silence is very real. It has affected our hearts and our minds. The world has changed without our voices in it. We must find a way to step forward and reclaim storytelling.

For over 20 years I have been citing CCBC’s statistics to portray the sobering vision of silence for POC and Indigenous people. But the last few years I began focusing on what else those statistics are telling us. When we look at them from a creator’s perspective, we see how many more books we need to make to step forward into our voice in the world. We see the power that is ours to rise into, the spaces where our voices are needed.

Look at the graphics below. See where your community stands. I follow the BLUE statistics to see where Latinx like me stand. Our numbers are stunning. Looking at the enormous silence and invisibility we live with as a community. I can literally feel the courage it has taken me to step into voice. It’s been a deep and healing challenge, a 40 year journey, ever since I was 13 when I first decided I would write.

Statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC).

Where we stand as of 2016 in U.S. Children’s Book Industry:

Where we should be if POC&Indigenous authors were telling our own stories:

How the last 11 years (& beyond) has impacted us:

What can we do about it now?

Voice is a revolution. For you. For me. For all of us. We need your voice. We need your story. Now more than ever.
There is an urgency to step forward and a knowing now that we must do it for ourselves.

I’ve provided everything I know along the way through School of the Free Mind and will continue to share stories, book templates, statistics and everything imaginable on our collective journey toward presence and voice.
In that spirit,
Reflection Press will be releasing my next book, a ghost story novella, fabulously soon! And several other children’s books are in the works. We also have plans to offer anthology submission opportunities and are preparing to open up scholarships again for School of the Free Mind.
Join our Mailing List to stay in the loop!
More details coming soon. Stay tuned!
The Time is Now
(Note about the statistics above: Simplifying statistics helps us identify overall trends but does not represent the nuance of our communities. Also every effort has been made to show accurate numbers, however our goal is not to get caught up in the specificity of the numbers but bring awareness to the reality of the situation and inspire effective action.)

Releasing for President’s Day: When a Bully is President: Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times

Seeding the journey out

When a Bully is President: Truth and Creativity for Oppressive TimesToday is the official release of my new children’s book, When a Bully is President: Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times.

Decolonization. De-escalation. Disengagement.
True power. Resilience. Creative force.
Equity. Inner authority. Self-care.
Community respect.
Self love.

I didn’t pause. I sat down and wrote the truth book as soon as Matthew suggested I create something in response to the 2016 election, because I know. I know what it’s like to be bullied in big and small ways. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t have any power in a situation. I knew this is how kids were feeling. Not because I was hearing it on my social media, but because I know.

I immediately wrote the book because in my imagination I could see the faces of all the kids I’ve worked with over the last 20 years. I reached toward them like I always do, because I know. I recognize myself in them which is why I continue to share what I use to strengthen myself and firm my own resilience in a larger framework that does not want or welcome me.

This book is not your usual children’s book. It’s more of a self-care book for kids using truth and creativity as tools to deal with bullying. You might say this is the heart of social justice. The inner work, but for kids.

As social justice activists know, burn out is real. Actively engaging with the world at large about our own oppression takes a toll. Coming face to face with the words they call us, the things they think about us, the eternally clever ways they sidestep equity and perpetuate power over us instead of true power rising can be exhausting and sometimes just heartbreaking. Microaggressions or massive legislation. How do we mediate this for ourselves let alone for our kids? How do we support their education and activism without burdening them with their own oppression, but instead enlivening them to become more true to their selves?

Rising from a Holistic frame instead of a Western one, When a Bully is President does not focus on fighting and resisting, although ACTION and ACTIVISM are supported. It’s about what makes us strong from the inside out. Truth and creativity. Tools like these call in our full self and are often dismissed or diminutized precisely because of their power and ability to make us more resilient and stronger for the long haul.

When a Bully is President is about reclaiming that inner journey for our kids as they participate in today’s activism with the hope that as they develop discernment and self-love, the work toward social justice will continue and evolve tomorrow. True power rises. From the lowest up and from the inside OUT!

The book is available NOW through most online retailers and can be ordered by bookstores through Ingram.

We’re also taking book orders at my press which I’ll sign and ship out next week along with a sticker.

In the makes is the reader’s guide and how to stage a community project. I’ll share those later this week along with a short reading list about few of the pieces at the core of my work if anyone is interested in their own study.

Want to explore creating your own children’s book like When a Bully is President? DO IT! We are in deep need!
Go here to learn more.

The revolution is always now, because darling, you are the revolution! Love you. xomaya

Mother, America

Now I Know

Mother, America

Like my mother
I can never be fully separated
from you.
Born here.
This is where I learned to breathe,
to walk the earth,
love the people.
I know the seasons and the sun,
the way the clouds come
and where the winds go.

You named me a name
I cannot take off
even if I go away.

I cannot deny you.

every minute
you show that you don’t want me,
that your love is conditional
if at all.
And although we are
forever tied
name to name
cannot claim me
as your own.

Without you Mother, America
I had to
the curve of my own face,
the tone of my own voice,
the power of my own hands.

Without you Mother, America
I taught myself
my own love.
now I am
my own mother,
my own country.

So Blessings Mother!

I finally know
your gift.

I will survive.

only a mother’s hate
can prepare you for


VIDEO and DRAWING PAGE for When A Bully Is President, Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times

the revolution is allways NOW

It is with fierce love that I share a reading and arte of my children’s book When a Bully Is President, Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times for today’s inauguration.

In the days ahead we must know the truth of who we are and that we are pure creative power.

Go slowly and carry your pen. Document your life and experiences, your thoughts, your children, the people you know. Write. When you don’t have words, draw. Use your creative power to guide you and know yourself. Let it flow through these days and through your heart.

Because if we’re going to make it through, and we will, we’re going to have to open new paths, dream new worlds, write a whole new story.

Download coloring page for When a Bully is PresidentWe need our creativity more than ever.

Take care today. And tomorrow. Take care during all of these days.

They will test our love, for ourselves, for each other. These days will test our love for truth and our love for humanity.

But through everything, creativity will guide us back to the truth of ourselves.

Voice is a revolution. The time is now.

Blessings OUT,


Pre-orders available through Reflection Press.

Update on When a Bully Is President, Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times

Flying Truth from When a Bully Is President

UPDATE 2017:

As I had hoped my IndieGoGo campaign and private contributions helped jump start some of the big shifts we’re making in 2017:

 from When a Bully is President

We are focused on making books in a big way right now, but even so Matthew and I will continue to share everything we learn about having an indie-press and using children’s books as a radical act. The bigger lessons will be added to the school over time. And I’ll use my blog to give an inside look into some of the more mundane lessons along the way.

First off is a look into our first children’s book.  One of the limitations of traditional publishing is the long, slow turn-around time. It generally takes anywhere from 1-2-3 years to get a book published. In terms of current events, the momentum and depth of a story could be lost in a trek that long. If we are to see and use children’s books as a radical tool, we need to be able to document and tell current stories in real time. Having a faster turn-around time expands our opportunities exponentially by allowing us to be more responsive and relevant in the moment. This gives us the chance to build on current events, activist movements and social lessons through children’s books. In books we can contextualize these current events with larger historical frames so that we have tools to help our kids develop critical thinking and other skills to deal with what’s going on in their lives right now.

The Walk Away from When a Bully is President

The idea to create a children’s book in response to the 2016 election was conceived on November 9. My pie in the sky fantasy was to have it in folks’ hands by inauguration day, January 20. Through life and holidays and travel and all three of us getting fabulously sick and a whole bunch of other stuff, the reality looks more like it will be in hand by the end of February.

Having never done anything like this before it’s super cool to know how fast you can actually get a book out. But this isn’t just a standard picture book. This is a bilingual 48 page book that includes tons of definitions and resources and references in the back matter. This is a hefty piece loaded with truth and creativity. And from conception to completion it will have taken 4 months. That’s radical.

So where are things at right now?

Feeling Through from When a Bully is President

Here’s what’s done:

  • Text written
  • Text translated—thanks Marta!!!
  • Layout designed
  • 9 pcs of arte complete
  • 14 pcs of arte in various stages of completion
  • 4 pps back matter in process

Even though When a Bully Is President, Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times won’t be in hand on January 20 for inauguration day, we will be sharing a video of me reading the full text and showing some of the arte. We will also have a downloadable coloring page related to the book.

Base of Love I AM from When a Bully is President

It has been a heart strengthening exercise creating this book. I feel stronger and bolder in a way I was ready for but had never felt before. I’ve also learned a great deal about both limitation and drive. And I continue to come to terms with how silence and invisibility have always impacted me and continue to create shapes and patterns in my life. Through every step I think about the kids and the adults who will hold this book. I send you love and reflection through these pages.

You are gorgeous.

You belong here.

You are the revolution and truth.


Pre-orders for When a Bully is President will re-open at the end of January.

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