People often confuse gender with sex—not sexual intercourse, but sexual anatomy. This is seen most prominently with gender reveal parties. Expectant parents are excited to share the gender of their baby based on the parts they see on an ultrasound. It is reasonable that a child with a vagina will identify as a girl. But to throw a party and bank on that fact is foolish.
A child’s assigned gender at birth based on sex may align with their internal gender identity; this is called cisgender. However, there is a chance a child’s sex and gender will not align, this is called transgender. A child or adult with a vagina may identify as a male. People like me, who were assigned female at birth but don’t feel completely female or male, are nonbinary, which is under the umbrella of being transgender. I am a mix of both genders. I use they/them pronouns.
When it comes to gender, whether you are cisgender or transgender is gender expression. This is the way we express our most authentic self. We do this through hair styles, clothes, makeup, jewelry, even our names or modifications to our bodies through hormones or surgery. Also, gender expression and gender are not the same as sexuality. A cisgender straight man may enjoy facials and the color pink. A transgender gay man may enjoy looking like a lumberjack. There is no right or wrong way to express our gender.
The problem is that from the moment we see the sex of our baby or learn the gender of someone, our internal biases are triggered. We start to look at things through the lens of stereotypes and heteronormative ways of thinking.
If we are not careful, we will raise kids who do not trust their own internal guides, who feel confident to express themselves in a way that leads to a healthy and happy life. By embracing the spectrum of gender and the endless possibilities of gender expression, our kids will become who they are with less fear. They will also embrace and celebrate the unique and authentic selves in others. Here are 11 books to help you and them do this:
1. Neither by Airlie Anderson
In Neither, you are either This or That. Bunny or Chick. But then a beautiful creature who is a mix of This and That, Bunny and Chick is born. They see themself as both. But they are told they are Neither. They are told there are not enough This or enough of That. So Neither leaves and finds happiness and acceptance in the Land of All where there are other beautiful creatures who are not just one thing.
Gender is not binary; it is not simply one or the other, male or female. Neither explains this in a beautifully illustrated and clear way without specifically mentioning anything about gender, giving caretakers the ability to have many types of discussions. Because the overall message is that we all deserve to be respected, accepted, and loved no matter who we are.
2. They, She, He, Me: Free To Be by Maya Gonzalez
This book is a great visual representation of gender pronouns and gender expressions. The book uses diverse characters to show what he, she, they, and other nonbinary pronouns look like. Spoiler alert: No matter what your pronoun, you can look any way you want. The end of the book goes into why pronouns are so important to people and why it is important to respect the pronouns people use to express themselves.
3. The Gender Wheel: A Story About Bodies And Gender For Every Body by Maya Gonzalez
This book uses a nature and holistic-based approach to create body positivity and a wider understanding of the gender spectrum. Its companion is the Gender Now Coloring Book.
4. Red, A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Poor Red. He is a blue crayon with a red label, and all anyone sees is that external label. His family, his friends, and his teacher think if he just tries hard enough, makes some changes, or keeps practicing he will be able to BE red. But every time he writes or colors, he can only be blue. He feels like a failure. A friend finally sees him for who he is and instead of asking Red to create red things, he asks Red to draw the ocean, the sky, and blueberries. Red is Blue.
5. Who Are You? by Brook Pessin-Whedbee
This book allows adults and children to explore the layers of who we are and how we express ourselves based on that authentic self. There are definitions of sex and different gender identities, including transgender, gender neutral, and not sure. The book has a removable three-layered gender wheel that allows kids to illustrate their answers to “I have,” “I am,” “I like.” We are complex and so much more than one label.
6. Jamie is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself And Playing Your Way by Afsaneh Moradian
Jamie enters preschool and wants to play with all of the things. But classmates are not sure if Jamie is a boy or a girl based on their choices. The book challenges gender stereotypes and reminds adults and kids that toys are part of learning and imagination and gender should not determine what toys or roles are played with.
7. Pink Is For Boys by Robb Pearlman
Too soon in life a child is told by an adult or another child that something is for a boy or a girl. This happens with toys, clothes, and colors. Colors are meant to make our world brighter, not to make a child feel bad or locked into a gender stereotype. Pink Is For Boys also shows that boys can love unicorns and girls can love race cars. The most important thing is that we are true to ourselves; colors do not define us.
8. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
I Am Jazz is based on real life transgender teenager Jazz Jennings. In very gentle and easy to understand language, the book explains that Jazz was born with a boy body but a girl brain. She knew from a very young age that she is a girl, and the book shows her journey to understand that this meant she is transgender. The book also shows how important it is to have support.
9. Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids
Annie does not want to wear a dress to her uncle’s wedding. She does not feel comfortable in dresses, yet her mom buys her one anyway because the expectation is that girls wear dresses to formal events. This book shows the frustration of being forced to be something you are not along with the beauty of expressing your individuality.
10. A House for Everyone by Jo Hirst
This books shows gender nonconforming kids working together to meet one common goal: build a house. A boy wears a dress; one girl has very short hair; another child doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl. But even with their differences, they are friends with a lot in common.
11. From The Stars In The Sky To The Fish In The Sea by Kai Cheng Thom and Kai Yun Ching
This is a wonderful and affirming book about a mother’s love for a child who is born between night and day, when both the sun and moon are visible in the sky. The child can be anything they want to be, but sometimes can’t decide if they are a boy or girl or bird or fish. They are often questioned at school and have a hard time finding friends who accept them. But this child is loved unconditionally by their mother just for being whoever they want and need to be.
Our kids deserve to know that gender is a spectrum and however they choose to express their gender is a beautiful thing to witness.