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End of Gender: Not Your Mother's Storybooks

The cover of Be Who You Are depicts a "boy" looking in the mirror at herself as a girl.

In 2008, Marcus Ewert's storybook, 10,000 Dresses, offered transgender children their very own fairy tale. The book's protagonist, Bailey, dreams of wearing a crystal gown. Bailey's family insists that boys don't wear dresses, but when Bailey befriends a neighbor with a sewing machine, she makes a dress that fits the girl she knows she is.

Bailey's story of family rejection reflects an experience shared by far too many gender-nonconforming children. But as more and more parents think critically about gender, a new wave of children's books depicts families who encourage their kids to be who they are.

When Jennifer Carr's oldest child confessed that she felt like a girl inside, Carr searched for a relatable storybook that would help her child feel less alone. She brought home 10,000 Dresses, but Carr's children didn't like that Bailey's family rejected her because she was transgender.

Carr needed a book that reflected her child's experience, a story of acceptance and familial support. So Carr wrote that book herself.

In 2011 Carr published Be Who You Are, a storybook about a male-assigned child who tells her parents she feels like a girl inside. Her parents tell her to "be who you are," and Nick grows out her hair, wears dresses, and changes her name to "Hope."

While Carr was struggling to understand her child's gender identity in Chicago, Seattle mom Cheryl Kilodavis was consulting experts about her son, who had taken to wearing princess costumes. At first, Kilodavis tried to redirect her son's interests, worried that his love for tiaras would make him a target for bullies. But pediatricians and child psychologists put Kilodavis' mind at ease.

The photo of Kilodavis' son depicts a "princess boy" wearing a purple tutu and a sparkly sequin hat."The verdict was: He is a happy and healthy little boy who just likes pretty things and likes to dress up," Kilodavis told Parents magazine. "The advice was not to over-encourage it or over-discourage it."

Kilodavis eventually authored My Princess Boy, a picture book about a young boy with an affinity for "girl things." The protagonist, Dyson, isn't transgender, but he certainly defies gender norms. Like Hope's family in Be Who You Are, Dyson's family loves him exactly the way he is.

The book has led some online commentators to question Kilodavis' parenting methods, and Kilodavis isn't alone. Jennifer Carr has also faced criticism for parents who disagree with her message.

"I had people saying wolves should raise my children instead of me," Carr told the Windy City Times.

But most of the feedback that Kilodavis and Carr receive has been overwhelmingly positive.

Kilodavis and Carr are filling a void in children's literature that doesn't only help kids—these books are showing parents what supportive families look like, and for that, these radical mothers deserve some serious props.

To find one of Cheryl Kilodavis' Acceptance Play Groups in your area, visit her website. Follow Jennifer Carr's story on her blog, Today You Are You.

Previously: Paige Schilt on "Genderful" Parenting and Teaching Kids to Think Critically, Raising a Ruckus

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Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

gender non-conforming kids

the times are changing, and the kids are leading. gotta love it.

isn't transgender, but

"The protagonist, Dyson, isn't transgender, but he certainly defies gender norms."

I recognize that the term transgender means different things to different people, but to me Dyson clearly meets the definition of the term. I have come to think of transgender as an umbrella term for one who transgresses the boundaries of gender. This includes amoung others: people who dress or act in ways culturally associated with another sex (It goes beyond that, I'm not trying to reinforce the binary.).

Whether or not Dyson identifies as transgender is important and his call; however one does not have to identify with a term to pariticpate in it. For instance, I am asexual and was even before I knew the term or started to consciously consider myself to be so. Dyson as a child is not likely participating in some sort of queer resistance to gender norms, but expressing himself. In doing this, he is transgressing the norms that we expect from him that we consider a male.

When will we ever allow our

When will we ever allow our children to be children first? If the only way we can speak of gender restriction is through transgender stories then I think we do a disservice which only further confuse our youth. I personally allowed my son to choose what he wanted to wear and his favorite color was pink and he loved to wear dresses, capes and shave his own hair off, until the boys took him down in Kindergarten. If playing dress up for a 3 year makes me a bad parent then so be it. I endured some roughing up by parents. Until we can all be comfortable not knowing a person's gender, we will be imprisoned by insane gender stereotypes. Do we really need to check our genitals before we act, love, decide on work, or dress? Today my son is a normal, free-thinking, 22 year old, who may still wear a sarong and is in love with a female. I would be happy if he loved men but he decided to love women. The bottom line is, gender assignment phobias and restrictions toward our youth the problem. Ann