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Exploring Gender Identity and Expression with Children

A small child looks at their reflection on a window.
A small child looks at their reflection on a window.
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If we want to raise kids who are free to be themselves and dedicated to making the world a better place, we must begin by learning what it means to create a more accessible and inclusive world for everyone. Transgender, gender non-conforming and gender fluid folks and children deserve to be seen, heard and represented in the books they read, shows they watch and curriculum that’s taught in schools. They deserve to live happy and safe lives.

Begin discussing gender identity, gender expression and sex assigned at birth with the young children in your life if you aren’t already doing so. Here are some tips to get started:

Use and Learn About Inclusive Language

In our family, when we aren’t familiar with someone’s preferred pronouns, we say “person,” “child” or call them by their name. My daughter hears me address people with the words folks, friends, lovely humans and an array of other creative words. Not only is this more inclusive, but it provides children with the critical thinking they need to disrupt stereotypes across gender, ability and race. Check out these resources to learn more.

  • Watch Woke Kindergarten’s read aloud of “They, She, He, Easy as ABC.” Akiea “Ki” Gross (they/them) is a Black, queer, non-binary and abolitionist early educator, organizer and creator. This read-aloud provides families and children with a glimpse into what it means to understand pronouns and gender identity beyond the binary.
  • Play with pronouns. Maya Gonzalez is a Chicanx, queer femme artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. She is the co-founder of Reflection Press. Playing with Pronouns is a game based on Maya’s books “They, She, He, Easy as ABC” and “They She He Me: Free to Be.” This gorgeous card deck will support you in talking about gender with even the littlest learners. My 4-year-old daughter loves this card deck, and it provides my husband and I (as cisgender parents) with the opportunity to disrupt her assumptions in a playful and collaborative way.

Explore Gender Expression

Kids need to grow up in households that value their right to express themselves through many mediums. One way to do this is to foster individuality by encouraging children to learn about gender expression. Break down stereotypes by exploring the following resources.

  • Watch Queer Kid Stuff videos. This LGBTQ+ educational webseries for children ages 3+ is hosted by a tie-wearing queer lady, Lindsay, and her non-binary best-stuffed friend, Teddy. Episodes like “How Do You Express Your Gender” and “No More Gender Roles” support children in learning about complex topics in an accessible, conversational way.
  • Think beyond the binary with Books for Littles. Ashia Ray (they/their or she/her) is an Autistic, social justice-centered kid-lit expert whose goal is to collaborate with families and educators in raising the next generation of kind and courageous leaders. Their incredible book collections include tools and a ton of information for parents to discuss difficult topics like what it means to be non-binary and gender fluid. Head to Books for Littles to check out their book collections!

Read Books Written by and Featuring Transgender People

If we want to provide children with the mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors that Rudine Sims Bishop taught us about, we need to read books to our kids that feature transgender characters. Here are a few favorites:

When Aidan Became a Brother” Ages 4-7
Written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

 Book cover of “When Aidan Became a Brother” written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita featuring an illustration of a Black family. The father is holding a child in a rainbow shirt on his shoulders while the mom is kissing the child's forehead.
Book cover of “When Aidan Became a Brother” written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

This powerful book is a favorite at our house. The story explores a young child’s transition from his assigned sex to finding himself as a trans boy, Aidan. It also shows how love, acceptance and forgiveness are necessary values in all families. Author Kyle Lukoff is a transgender man.

I Am Jazz” Ages 4-8
Written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

Book cover of  “I Am Jazz” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas featuing an illustration of a girl with bangs standing in front of family photographs.
Book cover of “I Am Jazz” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

Introduce your child to Jazz Jennings and explore her journey as a trans girl living her truth. She is passionate about creating a more inclusive and understanding environment for all kids. You can also listen to Jazz and her family read the book here.

Introducing Teddy” Ages 3-6
Written by Jessica Walton and illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

Book cover of “Introducing Teddy” written by Jessica Walton and illustrated by Dougal MacPherson featuring an illustration of a teddy bear with a frown looking at a feminine version of himself smiling in a mirror.
Book cover of “Introducing Teddy” written by Jessica Walton and illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

Explore a gentle story that supports children in understanding gender identity and illustrates what it looks like to disrupt stereotypes and assumptions based on gender roles. Queer and disabled author Jessica Walton was inspired to write the story after her father transitioned into the woman she had always been. This book was a way to explain the transition to her young son.

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