Helen over at Bird of Paradox wrote a great post this morning talking about the lack of trans-friendly books for children, which she has kindly given permission for me to reproduce here. My son is only three, and showing minimal signs of being any specific gender so far, but she has really got me thinking about what information and education on transgenderism/transsexualism is currently available and unavailable, both to help kids who are experiencing symptoms of gender dysphoria themselves, for children of transgendered people as a way of showing ‘families like ours’ in children’s literature, and also as a method of explaining transgenderism to children to try to raise them to understand and challenge cissexism and transphobia.
So here’s Helen’s piece – any comments which you would like Helen to read should be made on her blog, but we’d really appreciate people’s input here as well. Thanks to Helen for her wonderful writing and for letting me post this piece here.
Trans-Friendly Books For Children
By Helen G of Bird of Paradox
Over the past few days I’ve been having an interesting discussion with Ruth and Anji of Mothers For Women’s Lib about the availability (or otherwise) of books that might appeal to quite young children whilst at the same time providing information for them on trans issues. We got on to the subject after reading this post, over at the Raising My Boychick blog, which was actually on the subject of sexism and stereotyping in children’s books, but in which the blog author, Arwyn, made this passing remark:
…what’s a good word, cisgenderism? (One can’t even call it transphobia, for it’s more the complete lack of acknowledgment that gender isn’t always obvious, simple, and binary. Transphobia might be a step up.)
Transphobia a step up? Now that’s a truly depressing thought, to say the least…
There seems to be a comparatively large number of books written around the subject of gay and lesbian relationships but we could find nothing about transsexuality. It occurs that this is an area which perhaps should be given more attention by authors and publishers, given that it’s not uncommon for trans children to know at quite an early age that they have a degree of gender dissonance. In my own case, I can remember very clearly the day when, aged five, I realised that “something wasn’t right with my body”. But I had neither the language nor the resources to say or do anything about it.
Certainly, there’s a range of help available online – the Department of Health has its own downloadable document, Medical care for gender variant children and young people: answering families’ questions; in addition GIRES (the Gender Identity Research and Education Society), Queer Youth Network and TYFA (TransYouth Family Allies) all offer various resources, although they seem aimed at mostly at parents and older children.
Targetting that particular demographic makes good sense, but I wonder if perhaps children themselves should be given access to the tools they need to help them in their own self-identification. To paraphrase Ruth, “I am thinking of something the five-year old Helen could have read that might have helped… but also something that the five-year old Helen would have actually been likely to read rather than have been stuck in a ‘specialist’ bookshop like News from Nowhere whilst Helen read Thomas the Tank and the Hobbit”.
It’s a difficult and emotive subject, I understand that, but my discussions with Ruth and Anji have really started me thinking. And if anyone has any suggestions for suitable trans-friendly children’s books, or wishes to engage in the general discussion, please feel free to leave comments.