"They, She, He, Me: Free to Be" and the 'debate' over presenting LGBTQIA+ issues in schools

My own first 'do ask do tell' book is 25 years old.  While sales of it over the years (after the first couple) have been underwhelming, the book and the two successors, along with all the accompanying blog material, have, I think, had an impact on policy, starting first with the leadoff issue, 'gays in the military' (encompassing the 'don't ask don't tell' policy which was finally repealed in 2011 under Obama) through passive marketing, allowing others to find it with search engines and word of mouth, without aggressive marketing as usually recommended as necessary.

Generally, fiction is easier to sell than non-fiction, especially when the non-fiction is directed more narrowly at current events and their public policy implications.  Consumer interest wanes with time, although some issues have more downstream implications for the general public than the public realizes (DADT was definitely one of them, in conjunction with ideas like possible conscription or expected service and the forced intimacy that can result.) 

Writer’s Digest, going way back to like around 2000, used to counsel new writers, to “write what others want”.  That is, if you are going to make a living at writing.  Get off you high horse. Meet people where they are. (I guess I am continuing the discussion I started by mentioning Tyler Mowery’s 'Writers Mind' at the end of yesterday's post, although that isn't necessarily what his videos say, but it is what the literary agent and bookselling world seems to demand – as well as the screenplay world.)

I might have had the opportunity in the 2000's to help a couple other writers doing books on DADT, and I might have behaved more commercially (than I wound up doing with blogging – and that will be another topic soon).  But it’s still a question, that I get, why don't I address the trans or non-binary now, and why don't I write for young people, especially children?  It would certainly sell books, wouldn't it?

Well, I have a problem with some of the hype today from the Left on promoting LGBTQIA+ materials with younger kids, to try to make the overall social climate more caring and less personally competitive.  I have written in the past that there is some legitimate literature (Vox in particularly summarized it) showing that gender identity can indeed sometimes be a genuine medical issue for some children.  That is probably less than 1 in 200 children through grade school.  There is an issue of Intersex, which may affect about 1.5% of births (with some chromosomal or genetic issues) but which is not said to justify medical intervention often. So it’s a bit confusing.  Even reputable literature contradicts itself, and there is some suspicion of medical scandal on exploitation of kids by some doctors.  See the June 9 -posting with a link to a Williams Institute study in the June 13 comment.

The Twitter account “@Libsoftiktok” pointed out a few children’s books in the Tenafly NJ public school library, and I bought one of them reported to be there.  That is Maya and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez, They, She, He, Me: Free to Be!, 40 pages, paper, from Reflection Press, San Francisco, ISBN 978-1-945289-09-5 (also available in hardcover), Amazon SiteStripe link.

The book, with a green cover in the geometric shape of a perfect square, starts with some pages of drawings of kids illustration each of the four titular pronouns.

The authors follow with a page for two suggested singular neo-pronouns.  One of these is “tree”, which sounds off base since it is the English language name of a particularly important biological (botanic) organism on Earth. (Yes, it helps with climate change.)  HRC has supported neo-pronouns as the singular case for persons or animals whose gender is unknown or non-binary (with 'it' only for inanimate, non-living objects). 

But some non-binary people on the far Left insist on being referred to only with plural pronouns, because they don’t want people thinking about gender at all when referring to them. (I got scolded on Twitter about this at least once.)

There are pages about 'creating' and 'claiming' pronouns and about the authors and how they wound up with their specific pronouns.

On page 38 there is a piece 'For the Grown-Ups'.  What seems disturbing is that parents are schools are asked to invite all kids to reconsider their 'genders' in early childhood, when only a miniscule percentage is likely to be genuinely transgender according to our best medical knowledge. It is particularly important to note that the instances of transgenderism in small children are that: a child gives indication that 'e' (neo-pronoun) is of the gender opposite to what was assigned at birth.  Specifically we don't hear about children saying they are non-binary this young.  The debate gives me the overall impression that this problem more about the child's or teen's or young adult’s perception that e will not be able to 'compete' (as someone who could be sexually attractive in a heterosexual or conventionally all cis-gendered homosexual) relationship.  It seems to be an irreducible problem of well-ordering the members of a finite set or population, of logic:  If a > b, then b < a.     Yes, it’s a view that was in my mind as a youth.  If everyone stuck to this interpersonally the way I did, we might head right back to fascism.

When I was thrown out of William and Mary in Nov. 1961 for admitting (under pressure) to the Dean of Men that I was 'latent homosexual', society was not used to the idea that homosexual men could live with heterosexuals in a closed environment without incident (although it had long happened covertly during World Wars even despite overt racial segregation until 'Truman' [Gary Sinese] in 1948 (see the 1996 HBO film).  They basic belief ungirded the debate over gays in the military starting more than three decades later (under Bill Clinton).  Over time, and a couple of generations, younger adults got 'used to it'. 

Is the current controversy over educating younger children about LGBTQIA+  issues, in order to soften the social climate and decrease bullying and artificial competitiveness, somehow parallel to the debates over gays in the military three decades ago?  The fact that we are talking about minors, especially younger ones, is a big difference in my perception right now.  I am well aware about the controversy over using the term 'groomer' in social media.  The notion that teenagers, prompted early in life by the introduction of these ideas, may imagine themselves to have gender dysphoria may well have some traction, particularly when we note that pre-teen girls right now seem particularly susceptible.  (Hence some of the derivation of the forbidden g-word – see June 9 review of Shrier’s book)  It would seem that, given the relatively small occurrence of medically genuine cases of gender dysphoria in young children right now, they should be handled with carefully designed policies involving parents and school systems, allowing invisible social transition in a few cases (which can be quite simple, especially if there are some gender-free restrooms with more privacy, but which gets more testing when you get to physical education locker rooms in middle school).  Draconian state laws, like in Texas and Florida, would not be needed.  But I don’t think we should expect all children, the overwhelming majority of whom have no issues, to question their gender identities (v. sex assigned at birth) at least in younger grades, and there should be no problem with using gender-based nouns and pronouns in common English speech and writing and grammar as taught in schools.

Should books like this live in school libraries? Maybe not grade schools. I don't think my books are suitable for grade schools either. In public libraries, yes; it's free speech.

Note that the trailer for the book doesn't allow comments and may be 'made for kids' on YT.

SciShow: There Are More than Two Human Sexes; Biological Sex Is a Spectrum. I may have embedded this before, but it's a necessary refresher lecture here. It would seem that the resistance to LGBTQ "ideology" in some parts of eastern Europe (like the LGBTQ-free zones) may refer much more to new gender ideology than sexual orientation, although that may not be true of Russia (2013 propaganda law), but these countries do tend to be concerned about their low native birth rates.

HBO video for Truman film.

(Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W Boushka)