Leo Is Writing His Own Story

Leo is an energetic and creative transgender boy living in Florida. Through the power of literature, Leo obtained the language to help express his trans identity to those around him and, in doing so, live his truth.

Words by Jose Soto (he/him/his) Photography by Armando Gallardo (he/him/his)

It is a bright, sunny Friday Floridian morning when Leo emerges from his house and takes a swift right on his bicycle toward the neighborhood park. He recently got a haircut, and his short blond locks glisten underneath a blazing sun as he heads toward the jungle gym.

Just minutes ago, Leo was happily playing in a buoyantly decorated room he shares with his older brother, both of them glimpsing up at a YouTube video in between building Legos.

But it’s nice outside, and Leo thinks spending some time at the park is a good idea.

By all accounts, Leo is a typical young boy, except he is transgender.

At 7 years old, Leo enjoys toy trucks, even building a makeshift ramp for one he calls “Golden Wheels Invincible.” He hangs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles drawings in his bedroom and likes Shawn Mendes’ music.

After playing for some time at the park, he returns home and begins working on his volcano model. He is boisterous, silly, wildly creative, and imaginative.

Sitting with the rest of his family for lunch, Leo gets some pizza sauce on his t-shirt. “How do you get more food on your clothes than in your mouth?” his dad jokes. Leo cackles.

Just a few years ago, Leo obtained the right information and language needed to express his trans identity to others through children’s literature—a common communicational vehicle for teaching children about necessary life issues: race and ethnicity, religion, family, and social dynamics.

Leo Is Changing the World

Leo’s mom read “Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope” by Jodie Patterson to Leo when he was around age 4.

“That’s me!,” he proclaimed after being read the part of the book where the main character expresses to his own mom that he is a boy and not a girl.

In that serendipitous moment, Leo clearly understood who he was and how he could begin articulating his own identity.

Quickly, Leo’s mom said, he began transitioning. He began telling everyone he was a boy. He began asking to be allowed to wear traditional boy's clothes. Eventually, around a year and a half later, Leo asked to go by his chosen name. The change in him, Leo’s mom recalls, was fast, even though there were predating signs that aligned with trans identities. But she could see just how happy he was to be himself. Through the power of books, Leo obtained the resources and tools to begin expressing himself more authentically in a way that was true to his being.

Still, she admits that it did spark some concern. She knew that the road ahead would be a daunting one, not just for Leo but for her family. In a state like Florida, which has enacted a record-shattering number of anti-LGBTQ+ measures into law, including a gender-affirming care ban, an anti-trans bathroom bill, and the insidious and infamous “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” bill, Leo and his mom have fought and continue to fight for Leo’s life and well-being, even for mere necessities like Leo using the bathroom aligned with his gender identity.

Recently, the state denied her request to change the gender marker on Leo’s birth certificate after a long-winded battle to do so. Earlier that day, Leo was looking through a children’s book he authored and illustrated and became visibly upset when he took notice of the pronouns she/her that referred to Leo on the book’s back cover. At just 7 years old, Leo has already experienced the disappointment and hurt of the external world not validating one’s identity.

The next day, at a community park, Leo plays football with two other boys and his brother. He genuinely enjoys sports, which is evident in how he smiles while throwing around the football. Later on, Leo and his friends are taken to a nearby ice cream shop. He carries “Born Ready” with him, reading short snippets from the book as he and his mom sit together underneath a table umbrella. There, Leo plays a video of “Gold Wheels Invincible,” finally making it all the way up the makeshift ramp, which he celebrates by giving those around him fist bumps.

In a state like Florida, which has attempted to silence and even erase LGBTQ+ stories through dangerous educational censorship and book bans, Leo is adamantly making his own story be heard by simply being who he is. He is doing it unapologetically, showcasing the brilliance of young trans joy and beauty.

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