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Whether it’s being picked last for kickball in grade school, feeling intimidated in a college lecture hall or enduring a rocky adjustment period to a new job’s work culture, feeling different among one’s peers is possible at any stage in life. And, for those in the LGBTQ community, the role as an “outsider” in certain circles can be lifelong. Though long past his own elementary school days, Craig Pomranz said all those feelings came rushing back to him when his godson came home one day and asked him, “Is there such a thing as a tomgirl?”
“He was feeling awkward. He doesn’t like noise and he’s not so into sports and he was feeling out of sorts with the other kids. I had tried to help him by giving him knitting needles,” Pomranz said.
His godson took to knitting immediately, and soon, his outlet made his issues at school more manageable. Inspired by the experience, Pomranz was compelled to share it.
“Initially, I actually was hoping he’d take dance lessons because I’m a dancer as well,” Pomranz said with a laugh. “But it was an important issue [him not fitting in], and I literally came home and wrote it in two hours to tell his story in my way.”
Since publishing the story in a book called “Made by Raffi” in 2014, it has been issued across 11 countries and in eight languages. And, though the book is not an LGBTQ-specific one, Pomranz said that its message of acceptance is one that resonates across all communities — particularly regarding bullying and growing initiatives to end its influence. Here’s BTL’s conversation with Pomranz on the topic and on the lessons he’s learned since publishing his godson’s story.
Why did you choose to write a children’s book on the subject, and were you surprised by how quickly it took off?
Completely. I think that part of it — it’s a number of things. First of all, I think that as we get older I think we forget how powerful a children’s book can be, how impressionable it is for us as youngsters because we sort of move on. But, if you think about it you go back, you start to realize that all the things you read when you were a kid were important and imposing as well. Because it was so quickly bought, it really tells you that it is a universal story and that everyone struggles with identity and fitting in to some sort of conventional norm. And we have to wonder, ‘Who sets these standards and why do they happen?’
Since it’s become so popular, you’ve received many letters from parents and children’s organizations praising the story and its impact. Is there one instance that stands out to you?
I heard from this man in Turkey who bought the book for his cousin and because his cousin’s son was different than the other kids and he thinks that, particularly in Turkey in this time, they needed to open their eyes to other ideas, and it was difficult for them. It crosses a lot of different issues.
What are some of those issues?
Some parents were writing me and saying that in the book they recognized that their child was, in fact, the bully. That was great, that’s a good thing to know that you can see that and then, how can you help that child change their behavior?
Stopping bullying in recent years has become a strong focus. Do you have any thoughts on stopping it?
I think one of the problems with the whole bullying thing is people try and have this whole concept of stopping bullying. You’ll never be able to stop bullying, so that’s not really the answer. The answer is to find becoming a whole person so you won’t become a victim of bullying, in my opinion. So, obviously, when I was a kid, I was already a professional singer when I was 11, so people thought that was a little odd, but then again I was also raised in a very orthodox community so there were other people that thought that was odd. Everyone has different aspects to them that other people don’t quite see. Mostly because they’re ignorant about it, they don’t understand it, and, once they do, they learn to respect you for who you are and where you are.
You originally wrote the story after your godson asked if he was a “tomgirl.” Why did that pull you to write?
He literally, he was maybe 9 years old when he said that, “Is there such a thing as a tomgirl?” And I immediately thought to myself that tomboy is now a positive thing. [People say], “Really? Oh, she’s assertive!” But if you say “tomgirl” people immediately think, “Oh, tomgirl?” It’s negative. It comes down to, “Why is that? Why should that be?” I’m always taken back to what Gloria Steinem had said once, “We have learned to raise our daughters more like sons but few have the courage to raise our sons more like daughters.” And it resonates so much with me because it’s so true when you think about using the word “girly,” why is that negative? And what does that say to girls? “Oh, you’re girly. That’s bad?” (laughs). It affects me a lot when I see the negativity that goes on around us and the misogynist behavior that goes on around in our world.
What do you hope that the LGBTQ community can take from this story?
I want people to also understand that it is our society and ourselves that put these limitations on people and that it’s very hard for all of us to sort of let go of those limitations. In this case, because I’m talking to your group, I would say every boy who likes to knit or doesn’t like sports isn’t necessarily gay, and every kid who likes sports isn’t necessarily straight. I really hope we can expand our mind to be accepting of everyone and I really, really, hope, especially in the world that we live in now, that we can find kindness. That’s what I hope.
To purchase or find out more information on “Made By Raffi,” go online to amazon.com. To find information about author Craig Pomranz go online to craigpomranz.com.