I am honored and excited to continue this week of highlighting two ground-breaking children’s books in the areas of gender and sexual orientation identities (two topics dear to my heart since my doctoral research centered on them) by giving you a chance to meet another author and get to know her work: Connie Dunn is guest posting on my site, today. Welcome, Connie!
Why Gender Identity? Why Now?
by Connie Dunn
In a world where bullying has gone online and children and youth, who act or look different, are more likely to get bullied, is it any wonder that gender identity issues cause those individuals to be at a higher risk. It is concerning and the statistics prove it….
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. Suicide attempts by LGB (Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual) youth and questioning youth are four to six times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Hate crimes continue to grow. In Oakland, CA, a teen, who identified as female, wore a skirt to school last November and another teen at the school set the skirt on fire. The teen had second and third degree burns. In Cleveland, Ohio, two trans-women (MTF or Male to Female) were killed in two different incidents, both were considered hate crimes. Hate crimes in New York, San Diego, Canada, and many other places identify gay and lesbians as the victims. The trend of increased hate crimes now show that anti-gay crimes and anti-racial crimes are about equal, according to Brian Mustanski, Ph.D. in an article published in Psychology Today (June 2013).
When I first introduced my new book When Panda Was a Boy: A Collection of Stories on Gender Identity for K-8, I was joyfully surprised that it was met with:
“This is so needed in the world!” “Where have you been?” “I wish I had this book when I was young.”
I actually was prepared for people’s negative responses over what can be a controversial topic. Instead, I have been pleasantly greeted with open arms, which definitely says a lot about how LGBTQ people of all ages are being met by the larger community. But make no mistake; this is still a “hot button” issue.
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When I first decided to write these stories, it came from my heart strings being pulled. I just couldn’t imagine anyone throwing out a child over their gender identity, whether that be trans (transgender, transsexual, or gender neutral), bisexual, gay, or lesbian. Our gender choices come from our DNA. No one wakes up one day and says, “Hmmm, I think I’ll be a ‘trans’ today.” Instead, it’s something that brews within their core being. Children as young as 2 ½ may begin showing tendencies toward the opposite gender than what their genitalia mandates. It doesn’t mean that they will ultimately be a trans. If a child is supported for who they are in all capacities, they will grow up to be who they are supposed to be.
One hurdle our society must get over is that people who are LGBTQ don’t seek it out as a rebellion; it is part of who they are. It’s in their DNA, which is not changeable. There are no choices to override DNA; it’s simply who you are just like your eye or hair color is part of who you are.
More youth and young adults are supporting trans by identifying as trans, which can be transgender, transsexual, or gender neutral. While most supporting people may be heterosexual; they also want to buck the binary system. There are many people who just don’t want to be “genderized.”
When young children begin to explore who they are between three and five years of age, sometimes as young as two-and-a-half, they explore gender. What happens is that our parents redirect us toward a stereotypical gender based on acceptable societal standards. When a little boy starts to play with dolls, a parent or other adult may say, “Boys don’t play with dolls!” So, they learn: “it’s not safe to be who I am.” These children stuff down these feelings. They don’t really go away; they just get pushed down inside of us. When a little girl wants trucks and cars, a parent will usually say, “Girls don’t play with cars and trucks, they play with dolls.”
Then, when these children go through puberty, another “who am I” comes up for them. This identity extends into gender but also includes their spiritual, religious, political, fashion, virtuous, non-virtuous, and so many other things. Gender is a huge part of who we are and what role we play in family and society. Again, these teenagers explore, but some will again be redirected to stereotypical gender roles. Once again, these youth learn: “It’s not safe to be who I am.” Maybe when these people get into their 20s, 30s, or even into midlife, they will again explore to find “who they are.”
This is also why I wrote When Panda Was a Boy. Young children explore gender, but they don’t often see themselves in storybooks unless they fit into that stereotypical role. Parents do not have the communication skills to deal with these issues, because it just isn’t discussed in most parenting circles. There are few role models in society, so my stories help parents find the right responses to support their children through their gender identity searches.
The stories in When Panda Was a Boy “are gentle stories and I approach the stories in a natural and age-appropriate way.
- In “Amara’s Birthday Request,” Amara asks her mother for a penis. When Mom explores this with Amara, she finds out that Kamal, a boy at school, has told her that girls cannot sail a ship. Her mother assures her that she can do whatever boys can do. That’s all Amara needed to know.
- In the story, “When Panda Was a Boy,” Lisa doesn’t want to have a tea party with Grandma, even though Grandma is wearing her fun tea party hat. Instead, Lisa wants to jump in mud puddles with Panda, her stuffed bear. When Grandma encourages the tea party, Lisa tells her that she’s all done being a girl. Lisa is very adamant about not doing any girl things. She tells her Grandma that she’s going to be a boy. Lisa finally asks Grandma if she will still love her if she’s Max or Fred. Grandma assures her that she loves Lisa even if she is Max or Fred.
- In “Charlie Is a Girl,” we explore some of the obstacles that Christina faces in becoming Charlie. She takes charge in talking with the principal to make it all work out for her to start her school year as Charlie. She even takes a copy of the law that was passed giving her the right to be Charlie, but she finds the biggest item on the agenda was what “restroom” was Charlie going to use? They even worked that out by giving Charlie a key.
Handling things in age-appropriate ways are best, as long as that doesn’t mean stereotypical talk, such as “boys don’t dance, they play football” or “girls don’t play football, they dance.”
These types of statements may seem harmless, but what the child cannot say back to you is that he or she doesn’t feel that gender on the inside. We actually harm kids by telling them what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for their gender. Some crossover is natural. Sometimes it is a sign that there are tendencies toward being trans. Time always tells. Being supportive in this growth is just as important as helping them learn to walk or ride a bike.
When children feel guilty that they cannot be the child that you, the parent, wants them to be, they often cope with these feelings by trying to commit suicide or committing suicide. As parents, we want to help our children to become the best they can be. Why is it so hard to not see being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender as part of who our child is? To ask them not be who they are is to reject them. Our children try, but failing in that, they move on to depression and manic depression and suicide. No one really wants that for their child.
Children who have a bad self-image, which LGBT children are prone to have, are at higher risk of being bullied. This behavior can also be fatal. A fragile child may not be strong enough to battle with a bully. Again, suicide is often what they see as their best choice, “so no one has to deal with the outcast.”
It is my hope that When Panda Was A Boy will help children in grades K-8 to feel normal about their gender choices, both in to whom they are attracted and to what gender they are inside. No matter what gender is on the outside, children as young as four or five may express their inner gender. Parents can help their children by being supportive and following their lead.
Connie Dunn is an author, speaker, and book writing coach. Her book, When Panda Was a Boy: a Collection of Stories on Gender Identity for K-8, is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com (http://publishwithconnie.com/whenpandawasaboyonamazon).
Connie also teaches people to write and publish their books. You can find other information about her, her books, and courses at Publish with Connie (http://publishwithconnie.com/)
To receive a FREE Parent’s Guide: 10 Tips for Parents on Talking about Gender Identity to Your Children Sign up at: http://whenpandawasaboy.publishwithconnie.com.