Heather Has Two Genders

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By Meghan Cox Gurdon,

from The Wall Street Journal,

The latest publishing boom: children’s books with transgender themes. Here’s hoping it has an unintended positive effect.

Once upon a time, there was a red crayon that could only draw blue: blue fire engines, blue strawberries, blue hearts—all things we know to be red he could only draw in blue. No matter how hard the crayon tried, no matter how critical the remarks of others, the crayon couldn’t behave in accordance with the label on his side.

“He was red, but he wasn’t very good at it,” Michael Hall explains in “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” a forthcoming picture book that reads like a fable of gender identity.

“I have a girl brain but a boy body,” says a young child in “I Am Jazz,” a picture book by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings that came out earlier this month. In Shelagh McNicholas’s sherbet-hued illustrations, Jazz looks like a typical girlie-girl who likes to dance and play princess dress-up with her friends. She is also genetically male.

It is not a wholly new thing for a transgender person to appear in children’s books, but soon they will abound.

“I Am Jazz” was next and will be followed later this month by two memoirs for older adolescents that describe either side of the much-publicized romance of two transgender teens, Arin Andrews (“Some Assembly Required”) and Katie Rain Hill (“Rethinking Normal”).

Then there is Ami Polonsky’s novel about a 12-year-old boy undergoing sexual transition, “Gracefully Grayson, ” slated to come out in November, followed in January by Alyssa Brugman’s “Alex as Well,” which features a conflicted male-female character. Michael Hall’s red/blue crayon book debuts at the end of January.

So we are entering a miniboom in children’s books about a particular type of sexual identity, or mis-identity.

These are books that seek to engage the sympathies of young readers on behalf of people who believe themselves imprisoned in alien bodies, and, in doing so, to nudge the needle of the culture.

“The window of time in which children are truly open-minded is startlingly small,” Jessica Herthel writes in the promotional material for “I Am Jazz.” Whether the window is quite so small as Ms. Herthel believes seems open to question, considering the speed with which the culture has embraced, say, homosexuality, but we can take her larger point: Inculcating tolerance for people’s innate sexual differences is both kind and sensible. As little ponytailed Jazz tells us: “I was born this way!”

The profusion of books may strike some as out of proportion to the subject under discussion. As noted in these pages recently, according to studies by Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70% to 80% of children who report transgender feelings lose them as the children mature. That might help explain why the adult transgender population is vanishingly small: A 2011 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, which conducts research into sexual-orientation and gender-identity law and public policy, estimated that transgender people make up 0.3% of the U.S. population.

Most children, of course, are born without the feeling that they were given the wrong label at the crayon factory. Millions of boys are drawn from infancy to masculine things; they make revving noises when they play with trucks, they bite their sandwiches into weapon shapes and they gaze with rapture on scenes of roadside construction. Millions of girls are attracted to feminine pursuits, like creating little houses for their toys, engaging in chatty social games and even, dare I say, playing mama to baby dolls. In other words, millions of blue crayons really like to draw in blue, and millions of pink crayons feel happiest drawing in pink. Like Jazz, they were born this way.

Alas, for decades this has put them at odds with the gender-industrial complex, those busy feminist academics and journalists who insist that societal messages, not innate sex differences, make children behave in masculine or feminine ways.

Yet these red crayons cannot help but draw blue. They just can’t. For years, culture warriors have scolded parents and encouraged resocialization to make boys less boyish and girls less girlish.

This brings us to an ironic possibility: The new crop of books for children featuring transgender people may have the effect of validating traditional sex differences. After all, if we are to respect the boy who believes himself to be female, surely we must also respect the boy who feels fully male—and not browbeat either of them to be something other than they are.

In a June cover story, Time magazine suggested that we are on the brink of a new transgender civil-rights frontier. If this is true, perhaps it is one that will have unintentional positive effects for the overwhelming majority of children who are perfectly comfortable with the sex of their birth.

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