Trans-friendly books for children

January 19, 2009

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.

(Cross-posted at Mothers For Women’s Lib)

17 Responses to “Trans-friendly books for children”

  1. Jess Says:

    Pam’s House Blend had a post the other day about a book called 10,000 dresses:

    http://www.pamshouseblend.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=9019

  2. Ruth Moss Says:

    http://tinyurl.com/7up6aq

    “You’re Different, and that’s Super”

    Not specifically a trans-friendly children’s book by any stretchm but it’s about knowing you’re different from a very young age, and the challenges of living with that. My little one likes the pictures (he is 21 months) but I think children (as opposed to toddlers) might be able to take something from it?

    Other than that… think there is certainly a gap in the market to say the least!

  3. Helen G Says:

    Jess: Thank you for that; I hadn’t seen that post at all.

    Ruth: Hmm, ‘different’ may be a bit of a problematic word/concept there, perhaps? It would definitely need to be used with care: cis-normativity definitely ain’t all it’s cracked up to be and I’d be concerned about any book which – albeit unwittingly – reinforced the belief that ‘different’ equates with ‘not normal’. But at least the book looks to be a step in the right direction…

    And I do think the gender dissonance issue would – should?- be quite a central theme.

  4. Ruth Moss Says:

    Yes, that is a good point, “different” and “normal” are subjective, of course, I hadn’t looked at it that way.

    10,000 dresses looks good….


  5. […] Trans-friendly books for children – “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 apparently quite common 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.” […]


  6. […]   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 […]


  7. Hi! I am Shannon Garcia, President of TransYouth Family Allies. First of all, thank you for mentioning us in your post! I would like to let you know that most of our families have children in the age range of 4-10. We work with families from all over the country and have compiled a vast array of resources.

    We do have a “Recommended Reading” list (under the Resources tab) that includes categories for young children, tweens, teens and adults. I suggest that you check it out at http://www.imatyfa.org .

    If you, or anyone else, need support, resources, assistance, etc., please don’t hesitate to contact me at shannong@imatyfa.org.

  8. Helen G Says:

    Shannon Garcia: Thank you for commenting; I’m happy to hear that TYFA have a Recommended Reading list and it’s encouraging to see that all age ranges are covered.

    My concern, I think – following my discussions with Ruth and Anji – is that not only do there seem to be so few books specifically for young children, but that they also seem to be written from a cis person’s perspective. Ruth and I were discussing this in the comments above, with regard to the word “different” and the possible implication of it carrying a subtext of “not normal”, which, as I’m sure you’re well aware could potentially be very distressing for a trans child.

    This is not to criticise organisations like yours, which are much needed and doing valuable work – but it would be nice to find some trans-friendly books for children which have actually had some input from trans people.

  9. Jess Says:

    It seems like there’s not much out there – maybe you should write one, Helen?!

  10. drakyn Says:

    Theres a discussion over at LJftm about books and there are some suggestions in the comments.


  11. […] that was started when Arwyn wrote about sexism in children’s literature, and continued here and here (and also on twitter and by email – if you’re not twittering – why not?) has had me […]


  12. […] own blog, I linked to an article by Helen at Bird Of Paradox where she explored the possibility of trans-friendly books for children (which she kindly allowed me to cross post here at this very […]


  13. […] Thoughts? Wednesday 28th January 2009 Filed under: children, parenting, trans* — Anji @ 10:26pm In one of my recent links posts I linked to an article by Helen at Bird Of Paradox where she explored the possibility of trans-friendly books for children. […]


  14. […] Thoughts on trans friendly books for children. Wednesday 28th January 2009 Filed under: children, parenting, trans* — Anji @ 10:26pm In one of my recent links posts I linked to an article by Helen at Bird Of Paradox where she explored the possibility of trans-friendly books for children. […]


  15. […] 30, 2009 My jumping off point here is a post by Helen G, of Bird of Paradox, Trans-Friendly Books for Children (and some related (and obnoxious, transphobic) discussion here): There seems to be a comparatively […]

  16. Arwyn Says:

    Hi Helen,

    I tried to reply to this when you first posted it, but, heh, life.

    First, I of course was exaggerating (misrepresenting for dramatic effect?) with the idea that transphobia is a step up. Rather, “the complete lack of acknowledgment” of any group is the simplest, most basic form of phobia and discrimination against that group, even if it is not the most overtly hateful or dangerous; but, as the breeding ground and protection for the more overt forms, we ignore the ignoring at our own peril.

    Second, I’ve been thinking about your question. As Ruth says, it has to be accessible, at least as much as, say, Heather Has Two Mommies, and not strictly academic or pathologic. It needs to be reflective of the child’s experience. I was thinking (as were you) that the idea of gender dissonance should be central. I’ve been playing in my mind with ways of doing that that are not strict-gender-role-engendering (hah), which is where I break down, because how do I simultaneously say girls and boys can do and think and wear anything, while acknowledging the experience of those who not only strongly gender identify but do so for the gender they are not socially assigned to? The risk of breaking down gender barriers as a feminist is to display cisgender privilege and dismiss and ignore the experience of trans people, especially children. I haven’t figured out how to navigate that yet.

  17. J. Aiden Says:

    I wrote and illustrated a book about a transgender child last year. I will be selling a limited edition on my site by May, and in the future hope to have it re-illustrated and published. You can see the book at http://www.jaidensimon.com/butimaboy.html


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