A controversial new book on gender is set to be introduced as a resource in some British primary schools later this month, and it’s already causing an uproar. It’s called “Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?” Written by CJ Atkinson, a self-described “trans advocate,” the book aims to teach children as young as seven about gender identity and is told from the point of view of a child unhappy with their gender. The book challenges children to think about—and even challenge—their biology.
The book’s subject, a 12-year-old “transitioning” from female to male, uses puberty blocking drugs to undergo a sex change. Jessica Kingsley Publishers says that the book is the first to “explain medical transitioning for children aged seven and above.” The book is set to be distributed by the government-funded organization, Educate and Celebrate, for use in schools.
“My name is Kit and I’m 12 years old. I live in a house with my mum and dad, and our dog, Pickle. When I was born, the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me. This is called being assigned female at birth. I wasn’t ever very happy that way.”
Eventually, Kit starts wearing boys’ clothes, changes his pronouns, and talks about undergoing surgery to change his biological anatomy. His friends include a genderfluid student who goes by “they” and someone who uses the “xe” pronoun.
The book recommends against using any sort of language that suggests there are only two genders. It claims language like “boys and girls” and “ladies and gents” are exclusionary towards gender-nonconforming individuals and those who identify as transgender. The book argues that recognizing gender as a binary “subtly reinforces that gender is a significant difference about behavior patterns.” Meaning, it’s problematic to tell someone to act like a boy or a girl.
It uses terms like “panromatic,” “genderqueer,” and identifies heterosexual males and females as “cisgender” within the book.
The taxpayer-funded book, which is set for publication later this month, has met with concern from parents and newspapers in the UK. Former Conservative Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe called the book “nonsense” and argued that the book is “trying to do away with one of the basic pieces of childhood understanding.”
Academics are also calling into question the validity of the claims made by the book. Speaking to the Express, Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham called the book “theory gone mad.”
“The vast majority of children are comfortable with being boys or girls and these are the traditional and well-understood terms for how they see themselves,” said Smithers.
“There are some who are not, and they should be respected and helped to find their identities. But that is no reason for overturning something that has worked since the beginning of time.”
The book’s author, CJ Atkinson, who identifies as queer and uses “they” pronouns, dismisses concerns as “trans-panic.” The term holds legal meaning in the United States, where it is used to describe a defense towards cases where the victim is murdered for being transgender.
Speaking to the Guardian, Atkinson referred to columns written in the papers opposing the book as “mudslinging.”
“It causes active harm. When you have a group of transgender young people, one in two will consider suicide, one in three will attempt it,” said Atkinson, who defended their work as disrupting the gender binary by giving children more choice.
“If you identify as a girl, assigned female at birth, and you like the color pink, you like wearing dresses and sparkly things, that’s awesome. But if you are a boy who likes pink sparkly things that’s also awesome.
“It’s not a case of saying, let’s break everything down so that there’s nothing, so there’s no meaning in anything. It’s a case of opening it up so everybody can have access to everything.”
“The world is changing,” argues Atkinson. “A book like this is needed.”