Repost: End of Gender- Not Your Mother’s Storybooks

Malic White, Submitted by Malic White on April 13, 2012 – 11:25am; tagged books, children, transgender. Originally posted on

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.

Recently I have been playing with the idea of writing my own children’s book. I tutor elementary schoolers at my local library in reading. I have one tutoree in particular who has touched me deeply. She is a first grader who likes black and red and is constantly called an evil tomboy by her classmates and older sister. Needless to say, she reminds me a lot of me. She also likes playing practical jokes and tricking people (my other, more villainous alter-ego is a trickster). My tutoree was very reserved and shy when we first met this January, but now that the program is over we get along famously. Her mother personally thanked me and told me that I really helped her daughter out in more than just reading. She is more confident and is thinking about things in new ways- they want me to be her tutor all next year as well.

I want to write a children’s book about her. For girls like her. Its really hard to find picture books that she’ll find interesting when all of the ones about little girls are like: sleepovers, pink, and stupid. I want to write a book about a tricky girl who likes dark colors. I want to write about how she is not evil, she is just herself. She doesn’t have to like pink or purple to be good. Color preference doesn’t make you inherently good or evil. Only the choices you make and how you treat people determines that.


Once Upon a Time…

… there was a T.V. show by the creators of LOST about fairy tales come to life. Given the fact that it is by the creators of LOST, all the boys and girls who watched this program wondered if it too would rip out their souls and spit into the chasm left in their hearts.

The basic premise of ABC Family’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ is that the Evil Queen from Snow White cursed the fairy tale world as vengeance against losing her happily ever after. If the Evil Queen didn’t get a happy ending, no one would. Before the Evil Queen was able to cast her spell, Snow White and Prince Charming (or James) placed their only child in an enchanted wardrobe so that the curse would not affect her. The curse took the fairy tale world and placed it into a small town in Maine. No one in the town remembers who they were in the fairy tale world, time is stopped, and no one can leave. The main character of the story is Emma, Snow White’s daughter. We learn that Emma had a child when she was 18 whom she gave up for adoption. About 10 years later, the child finds Emma and tells her that she is the only one who can break the curse on the town- Henry was adopted by the Evil Queen who is the town’s mayor. He was given a book of fairy tales that explains what happened- and needs Emma’s help to make everyone remember who they are.

Before all of this Emma was a bail bonds investigator- meaning she tracked down people who paid their bail and ran off. When we first meet her, she is wining and dining a criminal to get him to admit to his crime before kicking his ass. Emma is a rather complex character. She was orphaned (since her parents were, you know, fairy tale characters), and bounced around from foster home to foster home until she aged out of the system. Once she aged out, she got pregnant. Emma wasn’t ready to take care of the baby- she didn’t know how to be a family and didn’t think she could ever give love she had never known. In the actual show Emma explains this is a much better, less flowery way. More like a ‘look, kid, life sucks but we deal with it’ badass way. After giving up Henry, Emma bounced around from town to town, state to state, before Henry caught up with her 10 years later in Boston. Although Emma agreed to help Henry, and it’s been 4 episodes now, she is still trying to hold him at a distance. Their dynamic is almost a big sis/little bro.

Although Emma is Snow White’s daughter, she is also a lot like the Evil Queen. The series is becoming a battle of wits between the two- and they are pretty much evenly matched when it comes to subversion and attacks. Perhaps my favorite counter by Emma was at the beginning of the season where she waltzed into the queen’s/mayor’s backyard with a chainsaw and cut down her prized apple tree. While the Queen’s tactics are subtle (like framing Emma, terrorizing citizens, or sleeping with the man we ALL know is going to fall in love with Emma!) Emma’s are blunt. The Queen can threaten Emma all she wants, but Emma is much stronger and resourceful than these other fairy tale princesses.

Snow White’s character also got a bit of an update. The way the show works is somewhere similar to LOST. We have the main plot in the New England town, then we have flashbacks (and flash-sideways?) of the fairy tale world. In one of the flashbacks, we see how Snow While spent her time when she was on the lamb. In the show, she isn’t holed up in the seven dwarves’ house cooking and cleaning. She is in the woods robbing people and selling the goods to trolls to survive. She ends up stealing from the Prince, who is escorting his fiancee through the woods. He goes after her… and the rest you can imagine. While I sometimes find this sort of thing tedious, I think that ‘Once Upon A Time’ did it well. Snow White had previously been established as a little harder around the edges than her Grimm counterpart, therefore making her a conditional bandit wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility.

Thus far, ‘Once Upon A Time’ has not been a disappointment- I hate to mention LOST again, but these wounds they will not heal. I hope if you were on the fence about the show you will go to ABC Family’s website and watch it. It’s been a while since I’ve looked forward to watching T.V. (c’mon Psych- what what what are you doing?) and ‘Once Upon A Time’ has a pretty good blend of fantasy, action, drama, and romance. Especially for being on ABC Family.

A question: What does Rumpelstiltskin want with all those first-born babies?

-Bat Cat