This video for a brilliantly designed transgender toy hit me right in the feels.

An ad for a new toy sure knows how to tug at those heartstrings.

It's not usually a great sign if you're crying at the end of a toy commercial, but in the case of Sam, that might actually be the entire point.

First, let me back up and tell you a story. I have a set of nesting dolls I keep on my desk, a gift from a friend back when I first came out as transgender. The doll's nesting layers came to represent who I was, who I am, and who I will be, all contained in one body.

So what does this have to do with a toy commercial?


Earlier this week, I saw "Sam's Story," an animated short by Gender Creative Kids Canada about a transgender boy coming to terms with who he is. The video ends with a call for people to visit The You Inside Project to back a Kickstarter aiming to create what the group is calling "the world's first educational transgender toy."

It just so happens that "Sam" is a nesting doll set — just like mine.

Sam's Story

Meet Sam, the inspiration behind the world's first educational transgender toy. Watch Sam's Story then support our mission to stop transphobia before it starts by pledging on our Kickstarter: http://theyouinsideproject.com

Posted by Enfants transgenres Canada/ Gender Creative Kids Canada on Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When I first watched the video, I was floored to see such a familiar scenario play out.

I broke down in tears about three-quarters of the way through the video, seeing a powerful connection to my own experience. And when the toy's prototype appeared on the screen, I completely lost it.

While the outside may change, the heart represents what really matters: the you inside. GIF from Gender Creative Kids Canada/Facebook.

The reason the dolls have played such an important, lasting role is my life is that they serve as a reminder that while the outer layer may change over time, at my core, I'm still me. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I'd had a toy like Sam growing up. Perhaps I would have understood myself a bit sooner, and perhaps I wouldn't have spent so much time feeling so broken.

A toy like Sam is obviously important for trans kids, but GCKC thinks that even cisgender (non-trans) children and parents will learn a lot from Sam as well.

Annie Pullen Sansfaçon, vice president of Gender Creative Kids Canada, explains that the toy may help other children better understand what a trans classmate may be going through and help start a conversation about gender identity in a way that's accessible to younger children. Most of all, the project hopes to be a fun way to discuss a topic that we don't often talk about.

"Whether the child is transgender, gender diverse, or not, everyone has a gender identity, and Sam can help them discuss it and understand that what matters, is the you inside," explains Sansfaçon in an email. "It can also help adults surrounding a transgender or a gender-diverse child  to open up and discuss gender identity in a playful manner.  It can also be used to discuss gender stereotypes with everyone."

This sweet story has a happy ending. GIF from Gender Creative Kids Canada/Facebook.

This toy, and the message it represents, is sure to help kids who are growing up feeling the way I did.

I know it because I lived it.

And here I am again, crying those happy tears, knowing that the world can be a better and more understanding place.

Thank you, Sam. GIF from Gender Creative Kids Canada/Facebook.

Learn more about Gender Creative Kids Canada at the group's website, about the toy's design in this interview with Applied Arts magazine and about how you can help make the toy a reality (they need our help!) at theyouinsideproject.com.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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