Moral of the Story: Be True to Yourself

March 2, 2019
Jodi Boucher and her daughter Lillian, 9, of Fitchburg listen as First Parish Church Pastor Wil Darcangelo reads from "They, He, She, Me: Free to Be!" SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- Renee Manning knew that she was different since she was 4 years old.

As a child, she found solace in Halloween because it was the one day of the year when Manning could be what she wanted: female. In the 1960s, nobody talked about being transgender and it was a secret Manning kept until adulthood.

“Being who you need to be and being real is the most important gift you can give yourself,” she said.

Manning shared her story and answered questions about being transgender Thursday at the Fitchburg Public Library. Her conversation was part of the “Jazz and Friends” community read that featured books about transgender youth.

Mayor Stephen DiNatale, First Parish Church Pastor Wild Darcangelo, Manning and transgender student Parker Gates read the three books for the program.

The city joined communities across the country that held similar community reading events, an effort organized by the Human Rights Campaign and National Education Foundation.

“This is important to our community and we’re thankful to be doing this tonight,” DiNatale said.

“I am Jazz” is written by teenager Jazz Jennings about her childhood experience being transgender. “Julian is a Mermaid” is about a boy who dresses up as a mermaid with help from his grandmother. The last book, “They, He, She, Me: Free to Be!“is about using pronouns that are in line with a person’s gender identity.

Darcangelo helped organize the event with children’s librarian Nicole Irvin.

When he read “They, He, She Me: Free to Be!” Darcangelo explained that pronouns are a way to share who you are and how there isn’t a right or wrong way to be yourself.

As DiNatale read “Julian is a Mermaid” to about a dozen attendees, he asked the children questions about the story and remarked about the book’s illustrations.

Manning and Gates split the reading for “I am Jazz.” Toward the end of the book, when Jazz talks about her parents accepting her as transgender, Manning teared up.

After finishing the book, Manning read a poem about her own experience that chronicled struggles as a child and eventually embracing her transgender identity as an adult.

The transition cost Manning her marriage and brought on challenges like people deliberately using incorrect pronouns to refer to her.

Despite that, Manning found support from her parents, two children, and the woman who eventually became her wife. She has also been able to help others by talking about her experience as a transgender woman.

It’s been nine years since her transition. Manning chose the name “Renee” from a baby book because she liked it. Later she found out that it means “born again,” which is fitting for her.

“It’s worth the change,” Manning said. “Being Renee is the best thing that happened to me.”

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