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The Story of a Fish's Transition

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Pride Parade

with Marla - June 2023

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Looking for Marla follows the tale of a curious clownfish in transition as they find their way through fatherhood, and into motherhood. In wild clownfish populations, a male will transition into the role of the dominant female of the community when the female of their community is removed. This biological fact is omitted from the iconic movie Finding Nemo and is a story that our book Looking for Marla helps to share and correct. Looking for Marla hopes to inspire readers of all ages on their own journey of gender expression and self-exploration, while they discover the diversity of parental care strategies in the underwater world!

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Meet Paloma, Audrey, & Jessie.

Read about the book's inspiration.

Order your very own book- freshly stocked for June 2023 Pride Month.

Read testimonials about the book.

See a sneak peek of the book!

Looking for Marla Kickstarter Launch!

Looking for Marla Kickstarter Launch!

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The Story of a Fish's Transition

This book is for educators, parents, youth, and anyone wanting to learn about sex and gender diversity in nature and gender pronouns in a fun way! 

Please contact us if you would like to stock these books at your institution:

Motivation for Looking for Marla

Testimonials in support of Looking for Marla


"Looking for Marla takes you on an undersea discovery journey through the surprisingly diverse expressions of gender and sexual identity among marine creatures. I have taught sexuality education classes for ages ranging from kindergarten to senior high school, and this wonderfully imaginative book will be a precious addition to the curriculum. Little kids will marvel at the beautiful illustrations and older youths will appreciate the whimsical rhyming text. For all, the variety of parenting styles and gender expressions depicted in these pages are sure to expand their understanding of the many ways to be human. May they find their own inner Marla."

-  François Bar, Ph.D. | Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education facilitator | Professor of Communication, USC Annenberg Innovation Lab

"Looking for Marla beautifully illustrates how art can help to communicate scientific information and break down social stereotypes. We at the Norris Center for Natural History are proud to have supported this creative and outstanding book."  

- Karen Holl, Ph.D. | Professor of Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz | Faculty Director, Norris Center for Natural History.

"Looking for Marla is joyful, beautiful and informative.  If you are curious about: gender identity, the ocean, its inhabitants or parenting then this is the book for you!  This is revelatory reading at its best."

- Beth Rendeiro, M.Ed | Co-founder, More Than Sex Ed. | Trainer, Our Whole Lives, Lifespan Human Sexuality curricula |  Educator, UCLA Lab School

"Looking for Marla speaks for the often overlooked and misunderstood ocean creatures. With gorgeous illustrations and unforgettable facts, this story will warm the hearts of those willing to undertake a new perspective on our underwater world."

- Roxanne Beltran, Ph.D. |  Assistant Professor, UC Santa Cruz | Children's Book Author



Motivation for Looking for Marla

In wild clownfish populations, a male member will transition into the role of the dominant female of the community when the female of their family is removed, in a process called sequential hermaphroditism. This biological fact is omitted from the iconic movie Finding Nemo and is a story that our book Looking for Marla helps to share and correct.

People may not be aware of the truly vast diversity of sex and gender expression and parental care strategies which occurs in the natural world. The creators of Looking for Marla have observed that these stories, our stories, are often grossly misrepresented or altogether excluded from popular media of today. Thus, we believe that the sharing of these narratives is absolutely necessary and long overdue.We hope that you enjoy learning about the ways in which animals of the sea change between sexes and showcase diverse gender roles in their ecosystems. 

The creators of Looking for Marla worked with the Diversity Center Youth Groups of Santa Cruz and Watsonville to develop the story. We are happy to share their story to uplift the voices of Queer and Trans youth. Our book draws attention to gender pronoun usage and models what pronouns are and how to use them. We hope that this book will provide support and solidarity for those readers whose stories are so often left untold. 


Our Stories

In case you wanted to know a little bit more about who we are and how we got here, the creators of Looking for Marla each wrote about their personal journey to this project, what their hopes and intentions are for it’s impact, and what role they played in creating it. 

About us
Sneak Peek

Sneak peek at some of the scenes in the book:

Facing Parenthood Alone

The first illustration of the book Looking for Marla, where a famous clownfish contemplates how they will manage to be a single father, let alone a single mother in just a few more days. 

They set out to discover the magic that is successful parenting, by seeking advice from a plethora of diverse marine critters... 

The First Mother

The first mentor of motherhood he encounters is a female turtle, who has just laid her eggs on the beach. She leaves them there, hoping for the very best. She doesn't even know what sex her children will be, as it is up to the mercy of a changing climate. 

Progressive Dads

The second stop on the clownfish's crusade brings him to some less traditional examples of parenthood, the mouthbrooding jawfish and belly-brooding seahorse. These progressive dads advocate for paternal leave so they can brood their young, in their mouths or in their pouches, until their young are ready to swim away and greet the world. 

Learning from Threesomes

The clownfish, on a quest to discover the secrets of parenthood, meets a crew of bluestreak cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus) who explain their own fascinating parental dynamics. The male has a semi-permanent cleaning posse of himself and his two lady friends, who run this mom-n'-mom-n'-pop cleaning station.


This ferocious looking eel is one of their many faithful customers. However, if you look closely, one of the females is "cheating" (a legit scientific term), by taking a piece of skin and mucus from the eel. This not only annoys their customers, but also gives the female a nutritional boost that might allow her to grow bigger than her male cleaning partner. If the female "cheats" too much, the female can become bigger than the male and the female will transition to a male, while the male will turn back into a female. Therefore, the male discourages this cheating behavior as it both jeapordizes their business and the male's masculinity.

The Blue Lagoon

In the next scene, the clownfish ventures into the Blue Lagoon, a bustling night club that welcomes critters from all walks [swims?] of life, representing diverse sexual preferences and identities, from simultaneously hermaphroditic sea slugs and sea snails to heterosexual flamboyant cuttlefish, and more! 

Here, our intimidating goby bouncer inspects the sexual maturity certificate of a small snail, assuring they are of age to enter the club. Behind them, a slough of other animals wait their turn, including a photosynthetic sea slug, a flamboyant cuttlefish, and a banded sea krait. A celebrating disco clam lures them into the club with its flashing mantle, while an angler fish calmly sits by, illuminating the scene above a gregarious ribbon eel and its new nudi friend.

The entrance to the night club is based off of the Federal Building at the UN Plaza in San Francisco, where activists chained themselves to this door in support of the HIV/AIDS Vigil, requesting increased allocation of government funds to education and research combatting the epidemic. 


Behold the fabulous & voluptuous puffer queen "Mama", the ultimate mentor of motherhood. Here she is performing amidst the decorative folds of a giant clam at the Blue Lagoon, inspiring the masses with her confidence, warmth, love, and compassion. Her mentorship will allow the clownfish to relax into their newfound role as a mother, and recognize the true, universal values of parenthood. 

This puffer queen, Mama, was a brilliant idea from one of the queer and transgender youth participants of a brainstorming workshop held by Paloma and myself at the Diversity Center Santa Cruz.


Reflection and discovery. The ultimate motherhood mentor and voluptuous pufferfish, Mama, brims with pride as she shows Marla that although she has transitioned to a new sex, her true identity is unchanged.

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