Why A Children’s Book About Being Transgender Has Sparked Outrage

It's a simple enough premise: some children are unhappy with the gender they're assigned at birth, so their friends and classmates should be taught about this and the best ways to offer support if they decide to go through a medical transition. To us, that sounds like common sense. Especially when you consider that Childline receives eight calls a day about gender identity issues – more than double the number it received in 2014-15. However, a number of conservative politicians and right-wing journalists are up in arms over a new book that will teach primary school children about gender diversity and being transgender.

Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?
, written by LGBT activist CJ Atkinson, purports to be the first book to explain “medical transitioning” to children as young as seven, The Guardian reported. The book follows a character named Kit, a child who is unhappy with the gender they were assigned at birth, and includes factual information about how others, including teachers and parents, can help. “My name is Kit and I’m 12 years old. I live in a house with my mum and dad, and our dog, Pickle," reads the book's introduction. "When I was born, the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me. This is called being assigned female at birth. I wasn’t ever very happy that way.” Kit begins to wear boys’ clothes, use the pronouns he/him and changes his name on his birth certificate. The book also explains that using hormone blockers will stop him going through female puberty and talks about the role of surgery in transitioning.

In its reporting of the book last month, the Mail on Sunday inaccurately said that it advises young children against using the terms "boys" and "girls" to avoid discriminating against transgender pupils, and Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine said the book's target audience is "not even ready to choose their A-level subjects, let alone challenge their own biology". Meanwhile, Lord Tebbit, former Tory party chairman, said it was "damaging for children" and would "introduce uncertainty into their minds”, and the former Conservative Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe described it as "nonsense".

However, in a new interview with The Guardian
, Atkinson, who uses the pronouns they, their and them, denied the accusation that the book advises children against using "boys" and "girls". “I would not go to a seven-year-old and say, ‘You can’t call yourself anything.’ That’s not what I’ve written. If you identify as a girl, assigned female at birth, and you like the colour pink, you like wearing dresses and sparkly things, that’s awesome. But if you are a boy who likes pink sparkly things that’s also awesome." They said it was about making language more inclusive for people who don't identify as male or female, rather than trying to exclude anyone. Atkinson, who went to an all-girls grammar school, said that while their parents were "very supportive" of their transition, not everyone is as lucky and the book is therefore vitally important. “The world is changing. A book like this is needed. People want to help. They want to know. They want to have conversations but they don’t know how. A lot of the time it is not being dealt with or talked about in schools.” Atkinson is also an ambassador for Educate & Celebrate, which received £200,000 funding from the Department for Education to develop a programme to support LGBTQ inclusion in schools, reported The Guardian. The book sounds like a useful way of sparking tricky discussions with children, both in schools and at home, and of promoting a greater understanding of LGBTQ issues.

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