WHAT I KNOW NOW: Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, Writer and Professor
By Christine Siamanta Kinori
Karleen Pendleton Jiménez is an American-Canadian writer and academic. Her children’s picture book Are You a Boy or a Girl? was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and was adapted into a film. Her latest book, The Street Belongs to Us, was released in 2021. She is currently a professor in the School of Education at Trent University.
WHAT YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF:
My kid. They’re 12 and they like to draw digital pictures and do cosplay and they’re kind and loving and sarcastic.
3 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOUR YOUNGER SELF:
Eager, political, sweet
3 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOU NOW:
Steady, thoughtful, radical
WHAT YOU WISH YOU COULD TELL YOUR TEENAGE SELF:
I wish I could tell that kid that being both a boy and a girl, and both Mexican and white, are ok. That you’ll be able to make your own home, your own family, that you get to have a lot more control over your life when you’re an adult. Also, that gay people are real and not just an insult and that beautiful women will love you one day exactly because of who you are.
WHAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT COMING OUT THAT YOU KNOW NOW:
That my mom will love me. That I might lose friends, but that I’ll find even more because they can more easily spot me. That just being out as a butch causes some people to admire me, even when I’m just walking down the street. That I can find a job and survive and make a life for myself. That I can have children if I want to someday.
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR AMAZING BOOK THE STREET BELONGS TO US?
There was this one incredible summer when they tore up our street to put in sidewalks. For once, cars could not speed down our street, and the kids got to take over and make it into a big muddy playground. It felt amazing– like when you walk down the middle of a street as part of a protest. You take it over. I think kids like to have these chances to feel powerful since so much of the time adults have power over them.
I also wanted to pay tribute to my grandma’s stories. She told me stories nonstop, and I loved them all. And I didn’t know what she was teaching me at the time– maybe a love of storytelling, maybe a love of adventures and drama. But it gave me such a rich life and inspiration to make my own stories.
I really wanted to make a book about that kid I used to be– tomboy/trans/nonbinary. I wanted that kid and all kids who are gender diverse to know that their bodies are ok and gorgeous.
Finally, I never read a book about Latin/o/xs when I was a kid even though most of us were, nor a book about anybody who grew up in our city. I wanted to write a book about our city, our lives, to show that we were worth something.
YOUR LITERARY WORKS BEAUTIFULLY EXPLORES IDENTITY , HISTORY , EXPERIENCE AND DAILY STRUGGLES, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT NEXT :
Aww, thank you so much for these kind words. I’d really like to write a second book and turn Street into a series. Even before I’ve written much, I feel like the characters are already coming alive in my daydreams. I see Alex and Wolf in junior high, their lives getting more complicated with bigger adventures, crushes, and community politics. I’d like the mom to have more of a story too, and I’d like to show what happens when kids start to have to learn more about how complicated adult lives are.
The other dream would be to write a film script of the book.
YOU TEACH EDUCATION, GENDER AND SOCIAL JUSTICE . WHAT IS THE ONE THING THAT YOU THINK THE SOCIETY STILL DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT GENDER:
That there is no one truth about gender. Our bodies and identities are more complicated than any chart or textbook or science or rules (that attempt to define us) could ever be. And that this diversity is a good thing. Diversity is what makes all living things thrive. And if people could somehow come to understand that, maybe they could stop policing and teasing and bullying others around them for not doing gender the way they conceive it in their heads (no matter what community — queer or straight or trans of any cultural background). I just don’t understand why so much time is spent trying to tell other people how to present their gender in more “acceptable” ways. It never helps anyone; it only hurts people.
AS A TEACHER AND A MEMBER OF THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RECENT LAWS SUCH AS “DON’T SAY GAY’’:
It’s gross and infuriating. Kids understand family and love from before the day they walk into kindergarten. They have no problem understanding gay families. It’s no big deal to them. This law is more about adults feeling shame or trying to make hierarchies between different kinds of people. Please leave the kids out of these adult problems.
WHAT YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT BEING IN THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY:
Better humor, better dancing, better art
PERSON YOU ADMIRE MOST:
I think Sara Ahmed is awesome. She’s a mixed-race dyke poet theorist who thinks about words deeply, who loves words, and the pictures she can make with them to describe ways to take down all the jerks in the world.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE:
Figure out a way to save the environment. Otherwise, we’re toast.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU NOW:
- California passing a requirement that all students must learn about ethnic studies.
- Volodymyr Zelinski speaking with his beautiful mind and passion and guts to save his homeland.
- Joshua Whitehead’s queer Indigenous books — he’s all heart and body and honesty. He’s on fire.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — I can’t wait for her to be president.