Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brown Bag: S. Bear Bergman

A business card-like post on S. Bear Bergman’s creatively designed website describes him as “author. storyteller, instigator.” During Bear’s visit to Colgate on March 20, he proved that all these labels we true. During his presentation, Bear chronicled the experiences that led him to develop his own publishing company, Flamingo Rampant, which is built on the platform of “feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ positive books for all children and families.”

Bergman’s power as a storyteller is apparent as he weaves the narrative of his activist life into a story that intrigues his audience, balanced in wit and stark reality. Bergman’s journey begins, at least in the context of this Brown Bag story, with his own identity as a “queer trans identifying guy”. In alliance with other transgender and gender nonconforming individuals Bergman became involved with Gender Odyssey’s efforts to support gender independent kids and their families. More young kids were (are) coming out and feeling free in gender independence, and Gender Odyssey enlisted Bear to write stories for the kids to read during camp because they were not represented in mainstream children’s stories. Bergman wrote two “cheekily adorable” children’s books.The books featured gender independent or trans identified kids in full stories rather than isolated episodes. Having published “grown up” books (adult books implies something else, according to Bergman) in the past, Bear was inspired to get the books published after acclaim from parents of gender independent young children. Upon reflection Bergman claims “boy was I dumb.” This is because the world of children’s publishing is largely conservative, a fact that Bear was unaware of. Bergman highlights three points to remember in children's book publishing: girls will read books about boys but not vice versa, people of color will read books about white families, but not vice versa, LGBTQ families will read books about straight families but not vice versa. Such realities become especially disconcerting when paired with the aims of capitalism to maximize sales, not identity representation. Bear was often confronted with comments such as “if you write a book about a straight family…” or “how many nine year old trans kids are out there?” These remarks show how dominant narratives remain dominant. People undermine the efforts of those hoping to engage with and bring attention to alternative narratives.

The undermining of these efforts are seen in statistics about children’s books. In 2014 seventy percent of protagonists in were male. Ninety-three percent of the males were white. Less than one percent of characters were LGBTQ identified and most stories took place in the suburban as opposed to city settings. Knowing that mainstream support was limited, Bear started a Kickstarter through which he raise $19,000 and was able to publish two books. The books sold well, and Bear thought that he had solved the issue by proving that there was a need for these books. He continued to write grown up things. It wasn't until he had a son that he saw how the picture of childhood presented in children’s books did not represent the world that many kids live in. Bear struggled with finding books with two dads and gender independent families. Ultimately, Bergman headed back to Kickstarter, this time with the idea of publishing a set of books to make it easier for parents. Bear hopes that his books will help children see that their stories and families are valid. He engages with the stories of his characters because he wants children to know that their experiences are full stories, not just special episodes.

You can check out the work of Bear’s publication company at
 Bear's personal website is

-Sharon Nicol '17