Story Update: Antonio Cerna Discusses Family, Gender Expectations & The Arc of Progress In The LGBTQ Movement.

by Antonio Cerna

Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. This week is especially special because we’re speaking with the second storyteller ever on I’m From Driftwood, Antonio. So first, let’s take a look at his story.

Antonio: My name is Antonio Cerna and I am from Dallas, Texas.

I was filling out one of those online surveys recently. Like, my cousin always like spams us with, like, all these emails, like get to know your family and you fill out a questionnaire. And one of the questions was what was your favorite toy growing up? And so I had to think about it because the memory of the toys that I had growing up was very, like, vague.

What I do remember is my sister’s Barbie dolls. And when I would – and she would have tons of them. Like, she had like black ones, Asian ones, Latina ones. She had like all different, like Barbie ethnicities. And I was intrigued by them. I was intrigued by these little like humanoid things that we were playing with. These like, you know, little people.

And I would, like, design fashion lines for these dolls for my sister out of my mom’s old pantyhose, Like, entire collections. Like it was like, this is like the evening look. And this is like the, like, you know, like, summer afternoon look. You know, whatever. And so it was always a fall collection because the… because the pantyhose were always brown or like a nude color, you know, so it was always very like, you know, subdued color… color… color palette.

Then I went to go visit cousins and I realized and I learned that little boys are not supposed to play Barbies. Like, I didn’t realize that that’s not what little boys are supposed to do. I was just going with the flow and the flow was, I liked these Barbie outfits. So yeah. You know, it was like, I was the cousin. I was the little cousin who plays with Barbies. And now I’m gay. Thank you, Mattel.

Nathan: Okay, welcome back, Antonio. It’s been 11 years since you shared that story. How’s it going? How are you doing?

Antonio: It’s going great. All things considered, you know, besides the pandemic, I think everything is okay.

Nathan: Besides that little thing. So, I want to talk about something specifically in your story about, you know, you playing with Barbie dolls when you were a little kid. And I feel like, you know, especially in the past decade since we last got your story, that things have been changing a little bit for the better. And I feel like toys and clothes, they’re becoming more gender-less and more accessible to anyone, no matter what your gender is. Do you… what’s your take on that? Do you agree? Do you feel like it’s not gone far enough or what’s your overall idea or feelings about that?

Antonio: Well, I… I find it kind of exciting, you know, it’s like. I was just thinking to myself how, like, in the Victorian era, if you were pink, it was considered, like, a very masculine color. And so like, little boys would be worn – would be put into pink because that was like a very strong, bold, manly color. And little girls would be put in blue because it’s soft and frilly and, like, and so I think that’s really fascinating that the… that the tides have changed since then. And I think it’s just showing that more change will come and it’s… we’re kind of – in so many ways, we’re like on the, like, point of a lot of changes, it feels like. Not only in – with this area, but, like, in so many areas of our culture and our country. And so I don’t know… I find it really exciting.

My only thought is that I hope it doesn’t just mean like a lot of gray stuff for kids. Like, hopefully, the gender neutral color will become like a very bright color, like an orange or yellow or some kind of, like, really exciting, fun color. Because I just remember growing up and loving color. So, we’ll see.

Nathan: Well maybe, hopefully it’s not even assigning genders colors. It’s just like, here’s every color of a onesie and just get whatever color you like and that’s it. And pink doesn’t mean boy or girl, it’s just like Here are colors. Wear them. 

Antonio: Right. I was listening to this podcast called Radio Ambulante. It’s, like, on NPR, it’s in Spanish and there was this mom who’s I think she’s Argentinian, I want to say. And it’s a story about her having two children and really coming to understand her child’s gender, when her child decide, you know, kind of was expressing a gender that was a different gender than… than what the child was born with and its biological gender. I don’t want to get the terminology wrong, but what I want to say is that I thought it was a really interesting story of a mom who really listened to her child and let the child kind of guide her a little bit. And so maybe there’s some of that there, you know, like let’s let the kids decide what color they want.

Nathan: Yeah. That sounds amazing. Yeah. And until they can actually communicate that, then just don’t force kids to wear certain colors based on their sex or… yeah, I think it’s just like the takeaway is just relax. And if you like this color, then have your kid wear it. And if not, then have them wear something else. And it shouldn’t be that complicated. What would you –

Antonio: It really shouldn’t be.

Nathan: Yeah. What would you tell someone who is, let’s say, you know, cognizant and aware and, you know, they’re… they’re playing with girl toys and or Barbies if they’re a boy, or like masculine…  more masculine toys if they’re a girl or anything in between and they feel guilty about it, what would you tell them? Or a similar question – what would you… what do you wish that you heard when you were younger and playing with Barbies?

Antonio: It’s such a complicated answer. Such a good question and the answer will probably be very complicated in the sense that like, I think… I think if I could look back, I probably would have benefited from having parents that were a little more open to the idea. Because I think I was playing with these toys in secret with my sisters so that, like, no one would know that I was playing with Barbies and it would never be discussed at school with other kids. Like, you would never want to be outed as like the little boy that plays with dolls.

I remember I was outed once – one Christmas, I was outed because I was helping my little niece build her Barbie doll car. It was like a car with everything in it. Like it was like a little SUV. And I remember one of my boy cousins came over and was like, “What are you… why are you helping? What are you doing? Boys don’t do that.” And I think I would have benefited from a little bit more openness – everyone in my families, not just my parents but my aunts, my cousins… just a little bit more openness and understanding and just a little bit more “go with the flow.” Because honestly, like, I can’t really tell that it,  I don’t know, I don’t feel like I was doing anything really wrong. You know, I was just trying to be creative and express myself and, you know, play with color and design.

And, you know, so I think – I’m hoping that the next generation is already more attuned to this than when I grew up. Especially families that are Latino, families that are… immigrant families, you know, where I think you’re not…  there’s a kind of different approach to how you raise your kids. Does that make sense?

Nathan: 100%. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s so different based on from culture to culture and community to community, but I think based on what you’re saying, the big takeaway is let kids lead about who they are, let them tell you who they are. And the parents, you know, obviously guide them to be kind and good and generous and thoughtful, but in terms of who they are and how they identify, they will let the parents know and try not to force your own ideas of what a man or a woman or any other gender is onto your kids. If I am hearing you, right.

Antonio: Yeah. I agree with that. And I think it’s okay to mess up, you know, like there’s no rule book for how to, like, raise your kids in a way that’s the perfect way. And like every parent, no matter what you do, like, and no matter what you do, your parents, your kids are gonna hate you, like when they become teenagers, like, no matter what. It’s a part of being a teenager. But I think that there is something, like you were saying, about letting the kids lead. I think that’s a beautiful way to put it.

Nathan: Yeah. And we’ll have to… we’ll have to get Mattel to sponsor this, you know, this video. So, what’s going on? We, you know, last time we spoke, it was 11 years – or we’ve seen each other since then, but you know, last time we talked about this story, it’s been 11 years. What’s different in your life these days from of the past 11 years?

Antonio: You know, I was thinking about this the other day and I thought, and I was remembering that – and I take this for granted now, but 11 years ago there was no marriage equality. And that’s a topic that I feel like you and I on our own platforms, in our own way have been fighting for so strongly through, you know, thinking back. So now I’m married!  So, you know, in those eleven years, I’m married and it’s like, that was something that wasn’t really a possibility before. And it was something that I hadn’t even thought of, like something that I would do because it wasn’t – I wasn’t allowed to. You know, growing up, I never thought, you know, as a 17 year old kid, I never thought I’m going to get married. Out 17 year old kids now are like, well, you know, “When I get married, you know, I’ll do this or that.”

And so I think that’s something that’s really powerful that changed. Obviously in those 10 years, like, so much has radically changed with technology and, you know,  in my own… and in my own life, you know, I still work in children’s books, which really the exciting. I am working for a company now that where our mission is to promote marginalized voices.

So queer voices, Black, Latino, indigenous voices, POC voices, voices with disabilities. We’re trying to, like, bring light to those writers who are writing for kids.

Nathan: Antonio, do you want to talk about any of those books that are available now to – because some people watching might want to, like, get those books. So are there any that you – that are available now that you can promote?

Antonio: So one of the… one of them is coming up in August. It’s really great. It’s a really beautiful book. It’s a memoir. It’s a true story about a young Iranian immigrant who was…  who came to Oklahoma as an eight year old boy and kind of had to assert himself and who he was because the kids in his classroom just couldn’t understand everything he was saying about who he said he was. And, you know, they just saw him as this, like, a little, like, brown kid who was just making up stories. And the book is gorgeous. One of the most beautifully written books you’ll read. I think adults will actually really enjoy it as well.

We’re also publishing a book that same day. Another book is coming out by a young woman who is an openly asexual, she’s Lipan Apache, she’s also a geoscientist and it’s a young adult novel called Elatsoe that’s really beautiful and I’m really excited to be putting together the first two books on our list being a book by an Iranian immigrant and another book by a queer woman who is a native American woman, native voice. It just makes me really happy to be putting that energy and those people’s stories out into the world.

Nathan: Wow. That’s amazing. I’m really happy to hear that you’re still working in children’s literature and you know, that’s, that’s great. So I think that ties in really nicely to your story in general and the messages that you shared today.

So is there anything else that you wanted to share about your life or your story or anything else at all?

Antonio: You know, I think so much of the things that are happening in the world today have really inspired me to start wanting to share a little bit more of my family’s stories. So I’ve been doing some writing, which is really fun, and I’ve been writing down my mom’s stories. She’s, you know… our family was… I’m half Guatemalan, half Mexican, and I’m telling the Mexican side of the story, which is really exciting. I am telling the story of my grandmother and my mother and my youngest sister and sort of the intergenerational interplay between their lives. And I think I wouldn’t have felt so empowered to, or felt that this story was so needed if we weren’t experiencing so much of the things that we are experiencing today.

It’s interesting that it took a pandemic to really wake us all up to like what’s really important in our own lives, and what’s important to us as a society and as a culture. And I hope that the next 10 years, you know, when we do this again, that we… we’ll look back on this time as a really pivotal and important time.

Nathan: I think that that’s… that’s beautiful and hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with each other before another 10 or 11 years but I love the way that you…

Antonio: But I’ll be 50!

Nathan: What was that?

Antonio: I’ll be 50.

Nathan: Oh my… you and I both. Yeah. Well, Antonio, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. I’m really glad to hear that things are going well. Congratulations on your marriage. And keep in touch. And also if anyone has any questions for Antonio, leave them in the comments and Antonio, we’ll ask you to maybe check that periodically if you’re okay with that and respond. And for Antonio’s full story and also thousands more, you can just go to or on our Facebook and Instagram. So check back next week for our next Story Update. Thanks.

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