Sometimes talking with your kids about an important subject is hard. Depending on the kid, a conversation might be brushed off or misunderstood. This was the case with my youngest when it came to having conversations about the fact that his sister is transgender.
My youngest was the last one in the family to consistently use proper pronouns and call his sister Jade—it’s not like he was willfully rebelling. Noah has a cognitive disability that makes certain concepts harder for him to grasp, especially abstract concepts (time is one example—it’s never come easily to him). For him, the idea that the person he always knew as his brother was actually his sister was more than a little confusing—he’d lost that childlike ability to just go with the flow, but he also didn’t have the immediate ability to grasp concepts of gender vs. sex either. Luckily, Jade never held it against him, so we would just correct Noah when he misgendered her and move on.
The hardest part was that most of the time, Noah really didn’t want to talk about gender with me. If I tried to have a conversation with him about it, he’d just kind of roll his eyes and say, “Yeah, yeah, Mom. Okay, fine” and shut me down pretty quickly. This was probably partially a typical teen response and partially a response to the fact that he didn’t fully understand (sometimes if he doesn’t completely understand something, his self-defense mechanism is just to brush it off). I wished that I could help him understand why it was important to Jade that she not be misgendered or misnamed. Eventually, we got there—at least ostensibly—and Noah is now finally pretty consistent with calling Jade his sister, etc (four years later). But I still wasn’t sure how much he really understood or if he just finally got used to using the right words.
So, getting to my “sneak attack”—a little over a year ago, I listened to the audiobook of George by Alex Gino. If you don’t know the book, it’s a MG contemporary about a transgender girl. Jade was actually in the car with me when I started listening to it, and she asked, “Is this written by a transgender author? They seem to really understand what it’s like to be transgender.” (At the time, I wasn’t sure, but I told her I’d look it up—Alex Gino, it turns out, is genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns, so it makes sense that they understood their MC deeply.)
After I listened to the book, I had an idea: What if I just quietly added the audiobook to Noah’s list of favorites on Hoopla? I knew if I mentioned it to him or told him what it was about, it would feel like me trying to teach him a lesson or something and he probably wouldn’t be interested, so I just added it without ever mentioning it. Noah LOVES audiobooks, and I often add books I think he’d like to his list, so he didn’t think much of it. And, honestly, I kind of forgot about it after that…
Until one night recently when I was driving him somewhere, and he randomly said, “Oh, Mom, I just listened to an audiobook called George. Have you read it?”
My eyebrows went up. “Yeah, I have. Did you like it?”
“Yeah it was really good,” he said. “You know, it must have been really hard for George when he knew he was a girl and nobody else understood it.” (Yes, I know, we still didn’t get those pronouns quite right, but I’ve seen grown adults who wrote reviews for the book and misgendered the MC, so I’m giving Noah some grace here). He then went on to tell me how he really felt like he understood the MC and how much he liked the book!
So this one book did for me what I couldn’t manage with years of conversations—it helped Noah understand how it feels to be transgender and made him feel empathy for a kid who’d been misunderstood her whole life. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was! I’ve written posts before about how books can broaden our horizons and make us more empathetic, and this is probably the most compelling evidence I could ever present.
So, now I just have to put some thought into what other books I can slide into Noah’s favorites. 🙂
Has a book ever helped you explain something better than you could in a conversation? Have you ever tricked someone into reading a book you thought might be “good for them”? Was it successful? I want to know!