This winter I read a couple of books that really made me think about gender and sexual identity. Both are intensely personal accounts, written by teens who grew up within miles of each other. If we are truly going to embrace diversity in children’s and young adult literature, then stories like these must find a home.
What happens when you’re born into the wrong body? For Katie, that realization came at a young age. As a toddler, she knew something was “off”, but at that age a kid’s gender isn’t a serious concern. If little boys to play with dolls and little girls roughhouse, adults don’t think too much about it. As “Luke”, she didn’t fit in. She had a graceful walk, a girlish voice, and no interest in football.
When she started high school, and after reading an article about another transgender girl, Katie finally found the courage to talk with her mom. Fortunately for Katie, her mom became an ally, and supported her (now) daughter’s desire to be called “she” and dress like a girl. There is a lot of heartache in Katie’s story, and a lot of poor decisions, miscommunication, and just plain not knowing where to go – things that would be true in any coming-of-age story. But when your coming-of-age also means realizing you are a completely different person…. that is a deeper story.
One of the transgender friends Katie becomes close to is Arin, born into a girl’s body he never felt comfortable in. Arin preferred playing tag and other active, outside games. But his mother wanted her daughter, “Emerald”, to dance. He loathed those leotards and tutus and bunny ears and fishnet stockings, begging Santa to bring a backpack, legos, anything but Barbies and frilly skirts. What really horrified Arin, though, was the talk all moms give their fifth-grade daughters. When he heard what would happen every month, he burst into tears… that was something that happened to girls. Not him.
Both Katie and Arin speak from the heart. They do not mince words or dance around hard topics; they tackle issues of body image, dating, gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. They write about their feelings. And they write about their relationship with each other – a romance that hit the media as a story about “America’s first teen trans couple”.
Both books conclude with sections on tips for talking to transgender people, and resources for families including books, movies, and helpful websites.
It’s Nonfiction Monday!
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