Wilmington transgender teen releases first book, 'My Rainbow,' with Penguin Books
Sarah McBride isn't the only well-known, nationally published transgender author in Delaware anymore.
More than three years after her story was detailed in a Delaware Online/The News Journal series, Wilmington transgender teen Trinity Neal is now an author of her own.
Neal co-wrote a new children's book, "My Rainbow" (Kokila, $17.99), with her mother and fierce advocate DeShanna Neal, telling their true story about love, support and, well, hair.
The book, released Oct. 20, comes at an exciting time for transgender representation and visibility in Delaware.
Not only did Wilmington's McBride become the nation's first transgender state senator earlier this month, but President-elect Joe Biden mentioned transgender Americans in his Riverfront victory speech, another national first made in the First State over the past couple of weeks.
The book's publisher, Kokila, is an inclusive children and young teen imprint of Penguin Books, the British publishing house. Penguin is part of Penguin Random House, the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher.
TRINITY'S NEWS JOURNAL SERIES:A child's journey to 'truegender'
It tells the Neals' family story — Trinity wanted long hair and her mother stayed up all night weaving her a multi-colored rainbow wig of teal blue, dark pink and purple — with the family having input into every aspect of the project.
They insisted that a queer or transgender person of color illustrate the book and Kokila did just that, finding California-based queer artist and illustrator Asharah Saraswati, who works under the pseudonym Art Twink.
DeShanna also wanted a Black woman to narrate the audiobook and got her wish in Robin Miles.
The whole family makes appearance in the book with DeShanna's septum nose ring even intact. Trinity's siblings also grace its pages. There's brother Lucien, 15; sister Hyperion, 9, who is also transgender; and brother Thane, 6. It's dedicated to Trinity's late grandpop, "who loved me and my rainbow," she wrote.
When she first got a copy, Trinity knew what to do. "I read it to my sister and my younger brother," she says. Last week, she did what published authors do and signed her first copy for her grandmother.
DeShanna has been fighting for Trinity ever since she was 3 and first said she was a girl. It was 2003, the same year that the National Center for Transgender Equality was founded amid rampant health care discrimination, which remains a problem.
She's spent endless hours educating doctors, fighting insurance companies and pushing the state to allow transgender people to change genders on their birth certificate without having gender-reassignment surgery, which happened in 2017.
"I tell Trinity all the time, you kind of paved the way for so many kids, including your little sister, to not have to fight so hard for treatment and care," says DeShanna, an outspoken advocate for transgender rights who is now contemplating a future run for public office.
"My Rainbow" started a couple of years ago with a nudge from a friend, who just happens to be a literary agent. She told DeShanna that her daughter's story would make a good book, especially as publishers are making concerted efforts to be more inclusive.
After Kokila beat another publisher at auction for the book, work began on deciding what the focus would be. She told editors their whole family story and in the end, the tale about a little "hairspiration'' became the focus.
Kokila is the same publisher behind last year's "Hair Love" by author/film director/former NFL player Matthew Cherry, which was based on the Oscar-winning short film of the same name. Kokila also published this year's No. 1 New York Times bestselling children's picture book "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi.
The Neals know firsthand how important representation is in media, especially when it comes to transgender children and teenagers, so creating a book specifically for that community has been especially special.
These days, bookshelves have space for books such as "My Rainbow." And not just in stores or on Amazon.com. In schools, as well.
Hyperion goes to the same school that Trinity was barred from attending as a transgender girl, a move that forced her to be homeschooled for years. A lot has changed since then, including a new principal and superintendent, as well as the inclusion of DeShanna on the Diversity Committee for the Red Clay Consolidated School District.
In fact, teachers read "Red: A Crayon's Story" by Michael Hall, a children's book about identity, to Hyperion's classmates when she returned after transitioning.
"There are now diverse books of all kinds in the K to 5 libraries in Red Clay, so kids can find those books," DeShanna says. "If you have two dads, you can now find a book that has a family that looks like yours."
And that's critically important. In fact, DeShanna is writing her thesis about that very subject as she studies for her master's degree in applied family science at Wilmington University.
"A sense of other can really have an impact on their development," she says. "From elementary age to middle school, children are really developing their sense of self: who looks like them, who sounds like them.
"Representation in books for children needs to start young. We can't keep thinking about trans kids and saying things like, 'Well when I was 4, I wanted to be a dinosaur.' Well, that's great. You could have if someone had supported you.'"