children’s books

A positive book review for once!

I seem to only write about books on here when they annoy or anger me. (I do write good reviews when my librarian hat is on, for the record!) Today, you get a reprieve from my negativity!

Ever since I read the trainwreck of a book that was Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I’ve been lowkey on the lookout for a schoolkid-appropriate book that actually addresses transgender people in a thorough and respectful way.

And today I found one!

Identifying as Transgender, by Sara Woods, is part of Rosen Publishing’s “Transgender Life” series (it being part of a series on trans issues is mostly why the title is a little awkward, I think?), and I’m clearly going to need to check out the rest of the series, because this one kind of knocks it out of the park!

Things this book does that I love include:

  • Talking about being cisgender on the same level as talking about being transgender, so transgender people are not actively othered.

    Everyone, transgender and cisgender alike, has a gender identity. A cisgender person is a person whose gender identity is consistent with their assigned gender… Transgender people, on the other hand, have gender identities that do not match the genders assigned to them at birth. (pg. 7)

  • Actively and consistently acknowledging non-binary genders throughout (non-binary people are included throughout, and not just as a side-note which is thereafter forgotten).
  • Acknowledging the diversity of trans experiences generally.

    Some trans women come to identify as women after many years of life, while others identify as girls when they are toddlers. (pg. 8)

    The painful experience of dysphoria has many sources and impacts many transgender people. But it is not universal. Many find that they are comfortable with their bodies as they are. This fact does make them any less or more trans. (pg. 25)

  • Explicitly identifying the book’s primarily colonial North American perspective (it is the target market for the book), and acknowledging that many contemporary societies actively include more than two genders.

    Some contemporary examples of nonbinary genders include the muxe in Zapotec communities in southern Mexico, the waria in Indonesia, and the mashoga in Swhili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast – each of these identities carries its own specific attributes and meanings.

    Here in the United States, and Canada as well, many people fall outside of the binary. [Some explanation of different non-binary genders, genderfluid and agender identities.] In addition, many indigenous people are two-spirit, a term rooted in gender identities specific to some of the peoples indigenous to the continent. (pg. 11)

  • Discussing intersex people while also carefully differentiating between being intersex and being transgender (and defining dyadic alongside intersex in the same way that cisgender and transgender are discussed alongside one another).

    Most People are dyadic, but many people are intersex… Like dyadic people, intersex people are usually assigned male or female at birth. Because the concept of binary biological sex is so deeply ingrained in medical practice, many intersex people have been subject to nonconsensual treatments by doctors and surgeons (pg. 23)

    People often wrongly confuse the meanings of intersex and transgender. While some intersex people are transgender, many are not, identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. Similarly, most transgender people are dyadic and do not have any intersex variations. (pg. 23)

  • Including inclusive definitions of sexual and romantic orientation (in a chapter intended to dispel the myth that all trans people are gay, and that transness and queerness are the same thing).

    Just like cisgender people, transgender people can be gay or straight. They can also be bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, greysexual, aromantic, or polyamorous[*] (pp. 29-30).

  • Discussing intersecting experiences of marginalization!

    All transgender people are vulnerable to transphobia and cissexism. But there are groups of trans people who experience additional marginalization and mistreatment. (pg. 43)

    This section goes on to discuss transmisogyny, and some of the ways in which ableism and racism can combine with cissexism and transphobia to make life even more difficult for multiply marginalized trans people.

  • THIS:

    When it comes to nonbinary people, the dominant terms that we have for sexuality tend to not make much sense. Who, for example, would a straight agender person date? Would a genderqueer person only be homosexual if they dated other genderqueer people? What if they dated a gender fluid person? (pg. 31)

I am so pleased with this book, y’all. Check it out if you can!


*I mean, ok, you may object to this being included among orientations (I am extremely iffy about this myself), but in general the idea here is that trans people’s ways of forming relationships are just as diverse as cis people’s, so I’m giving it a pass.

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.

Other things I’ve been writing: September 2016

A couple of things I wrote for other blogs last month:

Really (truly!) enjoyable books about math

Resources for tough topics: Body positivity for kids

The best advice you’ll ever get: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed


See more of the other stuff I’ve written