A few years ago, Huxley Ren Bunn began having conversations with other people in his life about gender. Some of those conversations went well; other conversations needed to be revisited. The lessons he learned from those experiences allowed him to channel them into his first book, “Stan and Allen: A Book About Gender.”
At first glance, it’s a children’s book with colorful drawings of two alligator friends, but as readers get into the story, they learn about pronouns, gender identity and expression, and how to be more inclusive and compassionate — all things critical in Bunn’s own journey.
“I truly believe these conversations are lifesaving and make all of the difference. Having others respect your gender identity is something everyone deserves. One of the happiest moments of my life was telling my brother about my updated pronouns (he/him) and hearing him say, ‘I love you, brother!’” says Bunn, who identifies as a nonbinary demiboy. Nonbinary is a term that refers to a person whose gender identity and/or expression is neither male nor female, while demiboy refers to a person whose gender identity partially identifies with a masculine identity, but isn’t wholly binary. “I hope, one day, everyone will be able to be open about their gender without fear of rejection. My quality of life has skyrocketed since I have been able to be open about my gender identity. ”
Bunn, 22, lives in San Diego’s Core-Columbia neighborhood and has worked as an artist and painter, in addition to authoring and publishing his book. He took some time to talk about the inspiration for “Stan and Allen,” and why using his art for advocacy is so important. (A longer version of this interview is available at sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-lisa-deaderick-staff.html.)
Q: “Stan and Allen: A Book About Gender,” is a children’s picture book serving as an educational way to introduce conversations about gender. What happens in the story?
A: “Stan and Allen” is the tale of two alligator friends who have a friendly conversation about gender. The book starts with Stan losing their umbrella as a big gust of wind carries it away. Stan’s friend Allen comes in and they go to get coffee and lemonade at a coffee shop. While ordering, Stan, who identifies as nonbinary, is accidentally misgendered. Stan and Allen happily explain what it means to identify as nonbinary, what pronouns are [the words we use to refer to a person when not using their name], how gender and sexuality are different [gender being a social construct for someone’s self-identity versus a person’s sex, which refers to biological characteristics; and sexuality refers to whom a person is attracted and can include numerous orientations], and why it’s important to advocate for yourself and others. The book is about love, respect, and understanding. Everyone is meant to feel included and understood.
Q: You’ve mentioned having trouble starting your own conversations around gender an wanting to create a way to help others having a similar experience. Can you tell us about your early experiences starting these conversations, before your book?
A: I started having these conversations when I was 19 and living in Seattle, and I was lucky to be in such an accepting place when I began this journey. My brother and friends, who were also living in Seattle, were who I talked to first and had relatively easy conversations. They were very accepting and helped me feel confident in my identity. With that confidence, I realized I wanted to legally change my name to better fit my gender identity. This meant telling my parents. My parents came to visit me and my brother and I decided to start the conversation with them. I told them I was nonbinary and their reaction was confusion, with my mom asking, “What does that mean?” and my dad answering, “It means she likes boys and girls.” Annoyed, I went on to tell them, “No, it means I don’t identify as a girl or a boy!” I left the room with them still confused and flustered.
The topic of gender became a sore subject. I tried to avoid talking about it and would tell my brother to not correct our parents when they used the wrong pronouns. Then, my legal name change was finalized. I had to once again share this new information, but I realized how important it was to be calm, understanding, and positive. I told them about my new name and how hard it was; yes, it was my choice and what I wanted, but it was also hard. I assured them that it wasn’t an impulsive choice, and how positive it was for me; about how difficult introducing myself always was and that now I was so happy to. I explained more about the nonbinary identification and we all talked peacefully. Now, we can talk more openly and have very positive conversations around gender. I saw how important it was for me to be understanding, to have patience and love for them even if they didn’t immediately understand, but were willing to learn and respect my identity.
I love living on the harbor and being able to take long, peaceful walks along the water. There is a great gelato shop on the water that has vegan hazelnut flavor! Being able to walk along the water with a nice gelato and listening to music is a lovely afternoon. I originally wanted to live in Little Italy, but am actually glad I ended up in Core Columbia. I love being close enough to walk to Little Italy, but able to go home to a quieter area.
Q: Why is it important to you to help others have these kinds of conversations?
A: A 2021 survey completed by The Trevor Project states that 75 percent of LGBTQ youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime. Seventy-seven percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and 70 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported symptoms of major depressive disorder. Statistics show alarming numbers of LGBTQ youth and adults who struggle with mental health issues. It’s important to note that identifying as nonbinary, etc., does not mean you automatically will develop depression or anxiety — it’s the treatment from others which causes higher rates. I, myself, have struggled with depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Constantly being misgendered is tiring. If we can have these conversations early, more openly and often, maybe those who identify outside the current gender norm of male or female will feel more understood and respected. Respecting someone starts with things as easy as asking about pronouns, asking about a preferred name, and doing your best to use them. We all make mistakes, myself included, and that’s OK. Ask, try your best, ask again. It’s common for folks to update their pronouns, so repeatedly asking “What are your current pronouns? What is your preferred name?” is actually very respectful.
Q: What has your work taught you about yourself?
A: I love being an advocate for others. I hope by being my authentic self that I can be a good role model. It’s uncommon to see someone who presents very traditionally feminine use he/him pronouns; I just want to show that it’s OK to be that. That it is okay to be exactly who you are and that, as long as you are happy with your identification, you can present in any way and that doesn’t take away from your identity.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: I tend to be a perfectionist and always want to give everything I do 100 percent. Some of the best advice I have received is simply that it is OK to be imperfect. Sometimes, the fear of being imperfect can hold you back from accomplishing things. If you’re able to give yourself some wiggle room to be imperfect sometimes, in my experience, that is when the best results are achieved.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: People are almost always surprised to learn that I love playing poker. The first tournament I played was at The Flamingo in Las Vegas; I entered a small tournament and scraped by until halfway through, when I was eliminated. I had so much fun that I decided to enter their afternoon tournament and, with a lot of luck, I got second place! I love playing in small tournaments in Jamul and hope to one day play in the World Series of Poker.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Driving somewhere and singing along to all three soundtracks of “High School Musical” in my car with my best friend, Sofia. One of our most loved things to do is eat at Holy Matcha and walk around Verbatim Books. Holy Matcha has my favorite avocado toast and vegan donuts, and I love their strawberry matcha. At Verbatim, I enjoy reading dictionaries and they always have an impressive selection. One of my most prized dictionaries from there is “The Victorian Dictionary of Slang & Phrase.”
My favorite dinner spot is Cloak and Petal, where I always get their Go Go Ohime Sama roll. It’s the only roll in town I know of that has strawberry compote! It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. Afterward, I love to relax by watching my all-time favorite show, “River Monsters.”
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