MONTREAL — The young school-age puppet named Julia feels in her heart she’s a boy and wants to be called Julian.
Trans advocates say for many very young children and their families, tackling such gender-related questions are real and can be complicated.
Enter Julian, the marionette at the heart of three bilingual videos designed to help provide youngsters and their families with the necessary tools to navigate such questions.
Julian (the puppet goes by Julien in French) is the brainchild of the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation, a Montreal-based organization dedicated to fighting bullying, which unveiled the free video capsules and educational booklets Wednesday.
The videos, which tackle issues like gender identity, self-expression and acceptance, star Julian and his fellow puppet friends Leo and Annie in addition to a human female character named Alex.
The foundation’s Jasmin Roy said the intended audience is very targeted.
“We need to develop emotional and social skills for educators, parents and other children who are around those children exploring their gender or expression,” Roy said.
“Now, every time you have a child in your community who’s dealing with that reality, you’ll have a tool to help you.”
Roy said the inspiration for Julian came in part from Sesame Street, the popular children’s television show which introduced an autistic character named Julia in 2015.
“I said we should do the same thing for a child who is exploring because some children will just explore, and that doesn’t mean they are going (to grow up) to be trans,” Roy said.
But a child expressing that need to explore shouldn’t be ignored either, he added.
A survey commissioned by Roy’s foundation about the LGBTQ community last year found that 98 per cent of trans respondents had periods where they felt helpless, lonely or discouraged in relation to their gender identity or expression.
Julien Leroux-Richardson, president of Aide aux trans du Quebec, a support organization, added that 43 per cent of the trans community will attempt suicide.
Leroux-Richardson, for whom Roy named the Julian puppet, said the trans community’s position has evolved considerably, but the foundation’s initiative is about continuing that trend.
“They (kids) always asked but, before, we didn’t talk about it,” Leroux-Richardson said.
“We’ve stopped being blind about it and we said let’s create resources to help people, to interact, to know what to do if people have a gender variance or are just exploring their gender identity or expression.”
Roy recounted meeting an Indigenous couple in Sept-Iles who were at a loss as their young daughter was exploring her gender issues.
That’s where the resources will come into play.
“Maybe if you have a child (going through this) you can show them the videos and say, ‘Is that how you feel? What do you need? How can I help you?’,” Roy said.
“And, I love you.”