A report by a group campaigning for science-based teaching in schools has revealed that there are now at least 60 picture books that teach children it is possible to be a member of the opposite sex, 45 of which are marketed to the under-5 age category.
The in-depth report was written by former BBC journalist Shelley Charlesworth and published by Transgender Trend, a UK organization advocating for evidence-based care of gender dysphoric children and science-based teaching in schools.
Charlesworth points out that it “an undisputed fact about child development” that children do not reach the stage of “sex constancy” until around age 6 or 7, meaning that prior to that age children will believe that it is possible for a person to change sex just by changing their outward appearance. To a child, “a man who puts on a long haired wig and a dress becomes a woman,” Charlesworth explains.
Gay or lesbian characters in books aimed at young audiences are always adults, never children, whereas the trans picture books are what Charlesworth calls “primers in how to be ‘trans’.” These books center on children who are supposedly transgender, either told from the child’s perspective or from the parents’.
In all 60 of the picture books (50 fiction, 10 non-fiction) Charlesworth surveyed, the “trans child” character is prepubertal, speaking to prepubertal readers. Charlesworth suggests that authors deliberately steer clear of the reality of post-pubertal transition because that would mean engaging “with the messy world of puberty blockers, breast binders, double mastectomies, invasive surgeries, and the downsides of cross sex hormones, weight gain, acne, continuing gender dysphoria.”
“It’s as if the authors know this wouldn’t play well with their infant audience who are still at the developmental stage of believing impossible things,” Charlesworth added.
The report demonstrates just how recent a phenomenon the trans picture books for children are, with only 6 of the 50 fiction books being published before 2014, which was the year "I Am Jazz" came out.
The most famous and successful of the early books was "10,000 Dresses" by Marcus Ewert published in 2008, which features a key theme so ubiquitous in modern gender identity ideology children’s books that “sex is a matter of belief, expressed by what you wear,” explains Charlesworth.
12 of the books are written by “trans children” or their parents and paint a rosy picture of what it means to grow up transgender. "It’s Okay to Sparkle" is the story of Avery Jackson, who was socially transitioned at an early age and has featured in various media, and Maddox Lyons is the author of "I Am Not A Girl." Maddox starred in a documentary.
But sometimes the inspiring “real life” stories have a darker side that the picture books aimed at young children do not convey. Jazz Jennings, star of "I Am Jazz", suffered serious complications following vaginoplasty surgery, has never experienced an orgasm, and now suffers from an eating disorder. Also, after having been accepted to Harvard University, Jennings was unable to attend, and the family said that Jennings could not be left alone.
Gavin Grimm, a supposedly inspirational “trans teen” who is the subject of "If You Are A Kid Like Gavin," which portrays the young activists as a civil rights hero, suffered several seizures and ended up in a coma for 4 days in 2021, according to Charlesworth, who points out that the publishers went ahead and released the book aimed at 4 to 8 year-olds despite this concerning development.
The bibliography of books is extensive, and shows that many are written by authors with close ties to LGBTQ+ activism. Many have campaigned for children to have access to experimental sex change procedures, others in favour of conversion therapy bans to include gender identity, which critics argue would prevent mental health professionals to encourage children and teens to exist within their own healthy bodies.
There is a heavy reliance on sex stereotypes where effeminate boys are portrayed as really being girls and masculine girls as boys, and sometimes the homophobia is blatant.
"When Kayla Was Kyle" is the story of a little boy who is relentlessly bullied at school for not liking sport and being different. When Kyle is caught playing with Barbie dolls, the bullying increases and he gets called a girl.
“I’m a mistake…I can’t live like this anymore…everyone hates me…I want to live in heaven,” Kyle tells his parents, who realize at that point that Kyle has to become Kayla. Charlesworth says at no point in the book does the author say that boys can play with dolls, or that Kyle could grow up to be a gender-nonconforming gay man.
Charlesworth shows that haircuts feature prominently in books about girls becoming boys, just as they do in online discussions. "When Kathy is Keith" shows Kathy looking in a mirror and seeing herself as Keith, with short hair.
Dresses and long hair similarly turn boys into girls in these picture books aimed at young children still learning about the world and their place within it. The cover of "Be Who You Are" shows a boy looking in the mirror and seeing his reflection with long hair and wearing a dress.
“None of these books would make sense to their young readers unless they utilised the crudest metaphors for what makes a child male or female,” says Charlesworth. “They reinforce sex stereotypes, telling children that the only explanation for why some boys have feminine personalities and some girls have masculine ones is that they are ‘trans’.”
Charlesworth thinks it is not that difficult to produce appropriate books for children.
“Just don’t tell children, who are developmentally too young to understand, that they have an innate gender identity or that their interests mean they might be the opposite sex. Don’t tell them they can change their sex. Don’t normalise double mastectomies by sneaking such images into a book for 5-year-olds,” she concluded.
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