Commentary: Dissolving identities


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 25th. This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: The headline of a piece in the UK’s Daily Mail last summer explains a lot. Sort of.

COVINGTON: Commentary now from Janie B. Cheaney.

CHEANEY: “Mother writes children’s book about Tilly the transgender teddy bear after being inspired by her father who transitioned into a woman.”  

The article goes on to report that Jessica Walton of Melbourne, Australia, was raising money to publish a picture book that would help her baby son relate to his new “Grandma.”

There’s not much to the plot: Thomas the Teddy is moping until his friend Errol, a human boy, asks what’s wrong. Thomas hesitates: “If I tell you, you might not be my friend anymore.” But finally he admits that in his heart, he’s always known that he is a girl instead of a boy.

One might protest that the anatomy of a stuffed bear doesn’t need changing, and anodyne stories like Introducing Teddy don’t begin to address the complex issues surrounding gender transition in a human being.  

Pushback against picture-book promotions of transgenderism began in the UK almost immediately. Groups such as Parent Power and the Organisation for Real Education reminded the public that 1) children don’t think as adults do, and 2) gender questions are more likely to confuse than enlighten kindergartners.  

But Britain’s Secretary of State for Education enthusiastically backs an initiative called Educate and Celebrate, specifically for “transforming schools and organisations into LGBT-friendly places.” Picture books are a gateway to that goal.

In the U.S., LGBT educational initiatives are more often local than national, but influential organizations like the American Library Association highlight “Diversity and Inclusion” in their mission statements.  

One means to that end is picture books like the 2014 title I Am Jazz, introducing “Jazz,” formerly Jared, Jennings, now a transgender teen and reality TV star. I am Jazz was a groundbreaker and now a staple in school libraries.  

There’s more to come: the protagonist of About Chris is a girl who feels like a boy. Tiny, of Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? could be either.

Young children tend to be concrete in their thinking about the outside world, but Parent Power fears that “Children are becoming instruments of gender-fluid ideology, as the social landscapes around them dissolve into a mirroring fluidity.”

A UCLA survey released in December classifies a whopping 27 percent of California children ages 12 to 17 as “Gender non-conforming.” The designation included 182,000 teens who identified as the opposite gender; and 600,000 who reported feeling equally masculine and feminine.  

More research is needed, but “fluidity” may be washing away certainty about the most basic factors of human nature.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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