Review: “Transphobia: Deal with It and Be a Gender Transcender” by J. Wallace Skelton and Nick Johnson

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Synopsis: Who do you think you are? Part of identity is how people experience their gender. Transphobia is intolerance of any part of the range of gender identity. This accessible, illustrated book offers information, quizzes, comics and true-to-life scenarios to help kids better understand gender identity and determine what they can do to identify and counter transphobia in their schools, homes and communities. Considered from the viewpoint of gender challengers, gender enforcers and witnesses, transphobic behavior is identified, examined and put into a context that kids can use to understand and accept themselves and others for whatever gender they are — even if that’s no gender at all!

Review: I received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this was a book explaining transgender things with a middle grade target audience, I was so excited to read it! I was already thinking in my head who to recommend this to before I opened it. Unfortunately, as I read, the star rating kept going down in my mind. The only excuse I can come up with is that this book was published in Canada and I live in the US, so the culture may differ.

Pros

  • Overall, this is a good source for children who may have never heard “transgender” before.
  • The illustrations naturally and explicitly include people of color, people of different religions, and people with disabilities. Everyone is represented.
  • There is a note about intersectionality. It explains that young trans women of color are a very targeted group of people who are more likely to experience violence and other hate crimes against them.
  • It explains that gender is on a spectrum rather than a binary and equally rotates pronouns and identities in its examples
  • Mental health is discussed and the high suicide rate among transgender people is addressed well.
  • The information is truly on a level for kids and people who have never encounter this before to understand.
  • On the last page, there is a list of other sources including websites, phone numbers, reference books, and fiction books.

Cons

  • *Uses “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. It mentions something about the “sex you were assigned at birth”. Maybe terms are different in Canada, but I’ve never heard that worded that way. I’ve always been told (by knowledgeable people) that sex is what you are physically and gender is what you are mentally. Therefore, you are assigned a gender at birth based on your sex.
  • The use of “transsexual”. This term is downright outdated. It’s only used once in the book, which makes the instance even weirder because it’s used in place of transgender. It’s not even used to distinguish trans people who have had SRS from trans people who have not. That’s the most common distinction I’ve heard between “transgender” and “transsexual”, not that I agree with that usage.
  • The use of GLBTQ. Listen, it’s LGBTQ or LBGTQIA or LGBT+ or some other variation, but the L always goes before the G. There is no reason, other than sexism, why it needs to be GLBTQ. The gays don’t need to be first. I am a Gay™ and I approve this message.
  • The use of “transphobic” as a noun? There’s a section titled “You’re not a transphobic, are you?” and a quiz titled “Are you a transphobic?” Maybe I’m getting picky here, but the word that should be used is “transphobe”. I’ve never heard anyone call someone a “homophobic” because the correct word in that case is “homophobe”.
  • On page 8 it gives a scenario where during grad pictures boys are posed with a diploma while girls are posed with a rose. The explanation underneath says that this is sexist but not transphobic, and that’s about it. Sexism and transphobia are closely linked because they both have to do with gender. I understand that explaining sexism can quickly become a book of its own, but couldn’t the author briefly explain the reason this is sexism instead of transphobic? Could the author mention that it’s sexist because it’s making boys look smarter than girls, that it isn’t transphobic because it’s not targeting people who don’t fit these gender roles?
  • On pages 22-23 there is a list of 30 transphobic statements, but the book doesn’t explain why they are transphobic. At the end it basically says that if you agree with any of these statements, you should educate yourself more. This would be an acceptable answer if you were bombarded with questions on the street or on social media, but this is a book explaining transphobia to children. You can’t tell them something is problematic and not explain why. This may be their first source of information on the topic. This may be their only accessible source of information.
  • On the “More Help” page, it recommends Luna and Parrotfish which are both infamous for being transphobic books with transgender MCs. Why would you recommend those books to children who might be transgender when you could recommend Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Symptoms of Being Human, When the Moon Was Ours, literally anything by Jazz Jennings, and/or The Pants Project? Each of these books have problems of their own, but none of them are as bad as the infamous ones mentioned.

Final thought: Bearing these issues in mind, I would say it is up to the provider to decide if they want to give this to children. This is a rare source of information on transphobia that is geared towards late elementary/middle school aged children. Still, it leaves a lot to be desired. I, personally, would not recommend it, but I understand people who would want to because of it being one of few of its kind. Just be aware that this is an imperfect source.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

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