Who I Am Inside:Exploring Trans-Feminine Heroes Through Multimedia Art

Happiest of Pride months to everyone!  In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Corrie decided to share a lesson plan that she made and presented last year at the Gender Spectrum Conference in Moraga, California.

It is critical that we remember and honor the trans women of color that brought about the modern gay rights movement.  Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and many other activists worked tirelessly on our community’s behalf.

This lesson was designed for 4-6 year olds, but can easily be adapted for older aged groups.  The pictures included were designed as posters to hang up in a classroom or office!  Feel free to use this lesson, and let us know how it goes!!


Overview & Purpose

This presentation and lesson plan involve a multi-media art lesson, beginning with some background history on important trans-feminine figures from history including Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson, Christine Jorgensen, and Lili Elbe. The lesson plan is an adaptable program for a wide range of ages and includes two parts. One part being best suited for grades K-2, and the other building on that basic information and extending knowledge to create a lesson for grades 3-5.  

           The “Who I Am Inside” project focuses on the fact that how we present on the surface, from our clothes to our outward appearance is only one facet of our identity. The art activity centers the idea that we each have qualities that others cannot see unless we tell them; reinforcing with younger children that while it’s important that we are empowered to present ourselves the way we want to be seen, our inner feelings matter just as much. When someone has the courage to tell you their truth, whether it be about liking a “boy” color or not always feeling like a “girl”, it is important to believe them and honor the strength it took to expose a part of themselves they may not be comfortable with. For younger children that could sound like “thank you for sharing, I like you just the way you are!”

           Children are given a human outline, they cut out magazine pictures of “what they are inside” (favorite food, colors, activities) emphasis on things others cannot see (hair color for example, is something others can usually see).

           The “Trans Heroes” lesson extension has accompanying posters to illustrate the individuals highlighted. Younger children’s (grades K-2) lesson has emphasis on positive community impacts, extension for older children (grades 3-5)  involves more detailed vocabulary as well as understanding created community and how these individuals chose their families and helped others that experienced rejection from their biological family.

Education Standards

  1. Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework: Overview of Scope and Sequence, Grade 2: To help students understand that American citizenship embraces all kinds of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and national origin.
  2. Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework Core Concept: In visual arts, people express ideas and emotions that they cannot express in language alone.
  3. Guiding Principles for English Language Arts and Literacy Programs: 5: Students should read a diverse set of authentic texts balanced across genres, cultures, and time periods.


  1. Students will be introduced to various trans-feminine heroes
  2. Students will become familiar with the importance of a strong internal identity that can connect them to the world around them.
  3. Students will become comfortable with vocabulary and concepts surrounding community organization, chosen family and validation of their whole identity-both internal and external.

Materials Needed

  1. Blank human outline
  2. Magazines for collaging
  3. Scissors; Tape or Glue.
  4. Informational posters (provided below)


The activity opens with a group discussion led by the teacher about how there are multiple facets to personal identity, not just how you present on outside but also how you feel on the inside and how you think about yourself. The teacher will start by modeling, and then children will be given the opportunity to identify one thing that they feel on the inside, and how they express that on the outside, verbally, artistically or through their appearance. An example: a student raises their hand and says “My favorite sport is basketball, I show that by wearing my team t-shirt and inviting people to play basketball at recess.”

Teacher shows example of completed collage, highlighting some of the pictures inside the human outline which could include favorite foods, colors, or hobbies.  Students will be given their outline and access to magazines to cut out their own images to express their internal identity. Students that have difficulty with fine-motor skills such as cutting or gluing can be paired with another student to assist, or with an aide.  All students are encouraged to share images to promote the discussion of similarities between classmates as well as materials. Upon completion of collage, students may write what the images inside represent. Examples: a heart representing love for animals or a spoon representing cooking.  

While collages are drying, the third part of the lesson is introduced. A question is asked about why it’s important for people to know who you are inside and why it’s important for people to believe and validate how you feel inside. Students can be asked how they might feel if they weren’t believed when they shared personal things about themselves. The teacher introduces the concept of having to fight to have your identity validated, teacher gives personal examples about how girls were not always allowed to play soccer like boys were. But by finding other people, both girls and boys (and people who don’t feel like a girl or a boy) who believed that girls could play soccer, people got together and made it possible for everyone to play. People who work really hard to change the rules are called activists, and they create their own family with people who love and believe them.

Using the materials and posters included with this lesson plan, the teacher begins outlining the experiences of some or all of the historical trans-feminine figures, in an age appropriate way. The teacher explains:

  • “Biological sex” has to do with private parts, the ones covered by a bathing suit.  This is how a doctor assigns “male” or “female” to a baby that’s just been born.
  • A gender identity” is how someone feels inside (a person can feel like a boy or a girl, but sometimes both or neither).
  • Gender expression is how people show the world how they feel inside.  This is done through clothing, haircut, etc.
  • “When somebody tells you that they are a boy or a girl, you should believe them, even if they don’t look like what you think a boy or a girl looks like, because they know how they feel on the inside, and they know themselves the best”.  Think about someone who grows their hair out, or maybe cuts their hair very short. They’re still the same person they just like their hair long instead of short. It doesn’t change who they are inside, it just helps to match their outside with their inside.  

The teacher continues, telling students that sometimes people may have trouble believing what they say, and that might not feel good, but the important thing is to believe in yourself, and what you know is true. Emphasize to students that they will find people who believe in them, and may already be family or friends, or they may be people you meet in your life who become like your family. You might call your mom’s best friend your auntie, but she’s not related to you, but she is very good friends with your mom, so she is a part of your family. The family you choose is just as important as the family you were born into.  

These activists fought for what they believed in, and helped people looking for their “Chosen Family”.  These women helped people in many ways; having a house where lots of people lived together, everyone had enough food and was loved and accepted for who they were.  All of these activists also had to change some things about their outside appearance to match their insides, and that’s ok. What matters about a person is that they are happy.  

Wrap-up: How can you be a good friend when someone tells you something about themselves?  What might you want a friend to say to you when you tell them something important about your inner-self?  What can we do everyday to make others feel comfortable to express who they are? Where are some places we could look to help us answer any questions we may have about any of these activist women we learned about today?


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