What makes us who we are? What quirks of biology, culture, and personal experience shape how we define ourselves and how we, in turn, define others?
The pursuit of answers to these questions has driven human beings to our best potential. We seek them in the stars, in the oceans, in our DNA. We make art. We build societies. We never stop asking “why?”
Sometimes, what we find along the way changes us. That’s what makes us fearfully, beautifully human: we can always grow. But sometimes that capacity frightens us. Sometimes we flinch away from the things we do not understand – even from each other.
One thing we struggle with the most is gender. Though medical science tells us it isn’t as cut-and-dry as chromosomes or physiology, we still put people into pink or blue boxes, and it scares us when they climb out. Though celebrities like Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and the Wachowski sisters have brought more public attention to transgender rights, fear and ignorance linger.
On February 22nd, amidst a wave of myths and misconceptions about the transgender community, the news broke that protections for transgender students in public schools had been rolled back. Now transgender youth find themselves facing an uncertain future as our government debates the value of their health and safety. We’re punishing them for understanding themselves more than we understand them.
We can do better. We can reach out instead of pushing away. We can empathize in the face of ignorance. We can change.
Below is a list of books for, by, and about transgender youth and their families. Read, learn, grow, and remember – we are all in this together.
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings, is a fantastic autobiography by a teenaged YouTube star and LGBT activist.
The ABC’s of LGBT by Ashley Mardell, is a resource for understanding and learning more about different LGBT identities, featuring Q&A’s from dozens of real LGBT youth.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin is transgender teens in their own words, sharing their own struggles and triumphs.
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt chronicles one family’s journey after one of their adopted children comes out as transgender.
The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper is, like it says, a resource for parents and others who want to learn more about how best to support the transgender youth in their lives.
Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families, and Caregivers by Michelle Angello and Ali Bowman is another resource for families.
Picture Books (Ages 3+)
Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship by Jessica Walton is an adorable story about a teddy bear who feels more like a girl than a boy and how her friends decide to support her.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall is about a mislabeled crayon that eventually realizes that there’s a reason he can’t draw strawberries and firetrucks – he’s blue, not red!
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman is more about gender roles than gender identity, but it features important themes about self-expression, supportive family, and the happiness children find when they’re free to be themselves.
Middle Grade (Ages 8+)
The Pants Project by Cat Clarke is a new novel about a transgender boy who challenges his school’s strict dress code and maybe its assumptions about gender, too.
George by Alex Gino is the story of a little girl who wants to play Charlotte in her class production of Charlotte’s Web. One problem: everyone else thinks she’s a boy.
The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey is about an ordinary 12-year-old boy who loves baseball and graphic novels, and whose life is upended when a bully finds out that Shane is transgender.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky was one of the first children’s books featuring a transgender protagonist and it remains a classic. Will Grayson, the heroine, find the courage to tell the world who she really is?
Young Adult (14+)
If I Was Your Girlby Meredith Russo is an award-winning novel about Amanda, a transgender teen who just wants a fresh start at her new school in Georgia, and the challenges she faces as she tries to keep her past a secret.
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark explores three stories in verse, all centering around Brendan, a star wrestler struggling with a gender identity crisis.
Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity (also) by Kristin Elizabeth Clark follows a transgender girl and her best friend as they drive cross-country to crash her father’s wedding. But are they really just best friends?
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin introduces us to Riley, the closeted, genderfluid child of a Republican senator, who has just started public school and a surprisingly popular blog. A great take on a less-discussed identity under the transgender umbrella.
Looking for Group by Rory Harrison (available April 25th) is a funny, heartwarming novel about two World of Warcraft nerds, Dylan and Arden, who run away to the Mojave Desert on a real-life quest and discover their complicated feelings for each other on the way.