Why We Need Trans Stories For Kids
Updated: Feb 4
For Pride month, why quality transgender-related children's books are so important (and a new book announcement!).
The woman in this photo, Sarah McBride, State Senator of Delaware—America's first openly transgender senator—is one of my solutionary sheroes.
That's why I'm so incredibly honored that I get to share her powerful story with kids in a picture book biography from Knopf/Penguin Random House, illustrated by the wonderful artist Meridth McKean Gimbel and just announced in Publisher's Weekly:
The fact that Sarah herself embraces our telling of her story, and will be contributing a special foreword in the book, fills my heart. And the fact that this announcement comes out during Pride month 2021—a year when trans rights and lives hang in the balance more than ever—makes sharing this story feel extra important.
Why This Story?
You may be wondering why telling Sarah's story—of accepting herself and coming out as a trans woman while following her lifelong dream of changing the world through politics—is so important to me.
Well, several reasons:
Because Sarah is an incredibly sensitive, smart, socially-conscious and strong role model for kids—who also happens to be a transgender barrier breaker.
Because Sarah and I share an undergrad alma mater and a lifelong passion for creating a more inclusive, healthy, and just world.
Because Sarah's story changed my life.
Sarah McBride was serving her last day as student body president of American University in Washington, D.C., in 2012 when she came out as transgender—and the campus beautifully embraced her. I first read this story through happy tears in our alumni magazine (I'd graduated decades earlier).
Sarah went on to become the first openly transgender person to work in the White House, the first openly trans person to address a national political convention, and the first openly trans state senator in the United States. Her personal journey—including her internal journey—is inspiring and important.
I've thought a lot about how to share my own relation to Sarah's story, and the truth is, my personal connection to it is deep but, ultimately, private. I choose to not center or share publicly many details of my own connected story, outside of the book. I will say that reading Sarah's story in 2012 led me to seek out more trans stories, all of which became pivotal in my own life story, and I'm ever-grateful for that. And I'll say that, for years now, I've been a close cisgender ally within the trans community—a frontline supporter and advocate for a trans loved one, and for trans families—and a member of the wider LGBTQ+ advocacy community. I am living, growing, and learning in this community.
What's important for this story is that, as an author, I'm committed to telling it authentically for Sarah, from a place of proximity, and with deep oversight for parts of her story that aren't in my direct experience—including feedback from her, and from trans readers and leaders, before it goes to press. Our whole team for this book is committed to that. I hope every children's book creator commits to this as we navigate telling stories within and between our intersectional identities (those that are public or private); we simply must.
What's also important is that this story reaches kids who need to hear it. And I do believe all kids need to hear stories of real people embracing gender diversity in various ways, like Sarah's story. These stories act as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors—a concept coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, professor of children's literature, that means kids can see themselves, see others different from them, and enter into new spaces.
Why Trans Stories for Kids?
Some people ask: Aren't kids too young for trans stories?
Here's what I know for sure: my trans loved one, most of the trans folks I know, and the authors of every one of the many trans/nonbinary memoirs I've read, all have shared that their gender identity struggles began in childhood.
This looked different for each person—some knew exactly what the issue was, others had a sense of something deeply misaligned, which they only understood later (often when exposed to their first out trans or gender nonconforming person and the possibility of gender outside the assigned binary). Some verbally expressed their gender identity struggles in childhood, some not until their teen years or well into adulthood. But all faced these internal struggles as kids.
Important to remember here is that gender identity is different from sexual orientation. And experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics confirm that, developmentally, gender identity generally surfaces in childhood—and, critically, that trans children deserve gender-affirming care. (By the way, trans kids are not “new” or a “fad”—we are just now opening the closet on the fact that trans youth and trans people of all ages have always existed all over the world.)
It's quite simple to address gender identity with children without including sexuality, if you want to, and as we do in this forthcoming picture book. (Though I also believe it is incredibly important to show kids that love is love and there are many kinds of couples and families!)
If a child's gender identity in their brain/heart is misaligned with their body parts and/or society's expectations of them, it can cause great distress. It can hugely harm a child's mental well-being and can be life-threatening. Suicide is a major issue in the trans youth community. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with trans youth except that they live in a society with an extremely limited understanding and acceptance of the gender spectrum and evolving gender science.
So, childhood is the perfect time to talk with kids about gender identity, because they are dealing with it anyway, whether we talk about it or not (especially kids who are not cisgender). It is the perfect time to introduce stories and books about gender diversity—accurate, well-vetted stories created by and with trans, nonbinary, and other gender-diverse people.
Just like race: kids are navigating its minefields in this culture from a young age, every day, no matter what we do. So, aren't we doing all kids a service by offering them accurate information, compassionate stories, and portals to conversations that can help them explore, understand, and embrace their and their peers' identities and experiences?
I sure believe we are. And I believe that these inclusive stories can change (and even save) lives.
Stay Tuned—and Read More Trans Stories in the Meantime
So, Door by Door: How Sarah McBride Became America's First Transgender Senator will be birthed into the world just in time for Pride Month of 2023. More details to come as the date grows closer. In the (long) meantime, I plan to keep learning, growing, listening, and supporting trans rights and trans stories.
If trans stories happen to be new to you, I hope this post will spark your curiosity to seek out more of them—told by trans folks themselves and by people working closely with them.
For kids, below is a list of picture books to check out. (Note: While I find the language in some of these titles more affirming and current than others, all provide information about and affirmation of trans, nonbinary, and other gender-diverse people and can spark conversations, so I chose to include them all and hope readers will choose several.)
I'm Not a Girl by Maddox Lyons, Jessica Verdi & Dana Simpson
Born Ready by Jodie Patterson & Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
My Rainbow by Deshanna Neal, Trinity Neal & Art Twink
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff & Kaylani Juanita
It Feels Good To Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn & Noah Grigni
My Maddy by Gayle Pitman & Violet Tobacco
They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya Gonzales & Matthew Sg
I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings, Jessica Herthel & Shelagh McNicholas
Jack (Not Jackie) by Erica Silverman & Holly Hatam
Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! By Joy Michael Ellison & Teshika Silver
The Fighting Infantryman by Rob Sanders & Nabi Ali
Were I Not a Girl by Lisa Robinson & Laren Simkin Berke
They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Maestre by Lourdes Rivas & Breena Nuñez
Sam is my Sister by Ashley Rhodes-Courter & MacKenzie Haley
Ho'onani Hula Warrior by Heather Gale & Mika Song
47,000 Beads by Koja Adeyoja, Angel Adeyoha & Holly McGillis
Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton & Dougal MacPherson
The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya & Rajni Perera
Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown
Neither by Airlie Anderson
Lastly, I hope you will check out and get involved with organizations like The National Center for Transgender Equality and/or these others, which are working every day to open doors for trans rights and collective compassion, dignity, and justice—just like my "solutionary shero" Sarah McBride does.