Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Gender Variant" Children's Fiction

I was having a conversation with a friend this morning about what she saw as an exciting new trend in children's fiction. She's been following the stories in the press about "gender variant" or "gender exceptional" children, and was tickled pink by how positive most of the coverage has been.

For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, young children who do not comply with the typical gender norms are increasingly being referred to as "gender variant" or "gender exceptional." There's a real pressure not to label them as transgendered, since their age and maturity create some doubt as to whether their current feelings will necessarily become life choices.

Almost PerfectWhat prompted the discussion was my review of Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect, which isn't children's fiction (it's definitely more young adult), but which develops the story of a "gender variant" child who does grow up to be transgender, complete with all the struggles and torments involved in both definitions.

Anyway, accompanying the recent press coverage has been some welcome publicity for titles like Jennifer Carr's Be Who You Are and Cheryl Kilodavis's My Princess Boy. Published late last year, both were written by mothers of "gender variant" children and promote the concepts of education, understanding, acceptance, and loving support. Jennifer's book is targeted at a slightly older age-group (ages 9-12), while Cheryl's is aimed directly at the children's market (ages 4-8).

One of the articles my friend was referring to quoted Jennfer Carr as saying her book was "the first in what she hopes is a series of children's books starring a gender nonconforming child." As exciting as it is to see more titles entering this growing niche, I was quite pleased to explain to my friend that this trend actually goes back several years. David Walliams released The Boy in the Dress in 2009 (aimed at grades 6-8), while Marcus Ewert released 10,000 Dresses in 2008 (aimed at ages 4-8). Preceeding both of these, however, was The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein, which was released way back in 2005 (aimed at ages 4-8).

The Sissy Duckling  10,000 Dresses  The Boy in the Dress  Be Who You Are  My Princess Boy

Perhaps even more exciting than the books themselves is the overwhelmingly positive reception they have enjoyed. Take a look at the reviews on places like or and nearly all of them are positive - yes, there may be the occasional critique of the writing style or illustrations, but there's little or no condemnation of the subject material itself.

At the end of the day, I think the fact that these books involve children is (ironically) what makes the subject so accessible. Agree or disagree with the concept of gender identity and expression all you want, it's hard to disagree with the idea that there's anything more wonderful for a child than to be able to find acceptance, whether it's through a book, a friendship, or a parent's love.


  1. Someone might want to look at my novella 'Baby Doll' about a 13 year old cross-dresser in the 1980s at the start of AIDS. I wrote it almost hypnotized by the young man.

  2. I've heard a lot about My Princess Boy...I hear it's incredible. Great post! :)

  3. Great review of the books out there now about gender-nonconforming kids! I hadn't heard about The Boy in the Dress--I'm excited to check it out. Thanks for this-- I'm posting to fb and twitter.

    I write about raising my gender-nonconforming son (via blog, magazine & radio...alas no book yet):

  4. I wasn't aware that there were ANY children's book addressing this issue. I will certainly be checking these out.

  5. It's good that there are such books! Children have to get used to tolerance from their earliest age, and there isn't a better way of that by a good inspiring book... A good book/story/movie could help kids and their parents realize the importance of many things much better than any school manual or any teacher! I remember how inspired a friend of mine was of Rocky, the 1st movie about the famous boxer, he woke up at 6 o'clock a.m. to run and train because he wanted to be like Rocky... 2 kids of a friend of mine were so imressed by my Tale Of The Rock Pieces that began to took a good care of their health. Even today, when they are shrewd youngsters, they still do exercises every day and don't drink and don't smoke because they still remember the way of life and many great adventures of the heroes in the book...
    It's good also there are new characters in children's books, not only the old, ordinary like vampires, kings and princesses, warriors, dragons... I try some new in some of my books (weightless korks, glowing, living balls, Brown faces, fiery men, one-eyeds, night fruit, rock pieces, fish-keepers, etc...).