Thursday Thoughts: A reaction to the SLJ SummerTeen Transgender panel

Last Thursday, I “attended” the School Library Journal’s SummerTeen webinar/conference (attended is in quotations because I didn’t go anywhere and was comfortably seated in my children’s department workroom in front of a laptop), which featured so many amazing authors and panels packed with stimulating, challenging, and wonderful content. I really, really enjoyed it. The first panel I watched was called “THE TEEN TRANSGENDER EXPERIENCE” and featured Alex Gino (author of George), Susan Kuklin (author of a lot of books, including Beyond Magenta – which my coworker and I were so interested in, she went and pulled it off of our shelf while the connection went down for a minute), and Robin Talley (author of Lies We Tell Ourselves and the forthcoming What We Left Behind). The panel was inspiring and thought-provoking and I learned a lot while watching.

I’m personally a fan and advocate of ALL diverse books, particularly LGBTQIA+ books and books dealing with mental illnesses. I have many reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that we are all human and the more books about how wonderful and different the human race is the better. I think as humans we have an obligation to educate ourselves on the diversity of our fellow humans. I personally identify as cisgender and straight, but does that mean I shouldn’t read about people who identify differently? NO. For me, it means I should actually make time to read about and educate myself on the way other people identify themselves. I think you should always be learning with eyes and mind open to everything our world has to offer.

For example, I’ve been learning more about transgender and intersex youth in the past year, through reading about them in fiction (such as I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above or Alex Gino’s George) but also through research online or in books from the library. But during the transgender youth panel during the SummerTeen conference, I learned something new. I didn’t know that some transgender or gender fluid people prefer to be referred to as “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her”, which I found both fascinating and fitting.

I think this really plays into how our society must constantly place people into a certain category. In the panel, the authors discussed how it is comforting to have labels when you are discovering yourself and who you are, but it is also somewhat of a constraint because then you – or the author’s characters – must fit into that certain category. But what if that label doesn’t always fit for you?

This is why LGBTQIA+ literature (and diverse literature overall) is so important, especially for teens and younger kids. It lets these children know they are not alone, that it is OKAY to be different. I know this concept isn’t new and that a lot of people have been saying this, but I want to add my voice to that discussion. The more people who stand up and say “We want MORE”, the more publishers will see that these books are needed and supported.

I know there isn’t really a clear message in this post. I wasn’t really trying to say anything here (well, other than the fact that I think you should always be open-minded and constantly learning about the beautiful differences in the world around you). I really just wanted to talk about how wonderful this conference and this panel were. I’d love to start a discussion in the comments about what I’ve talked about. However, PLEASE try to be respectful and kind to other people. Ask questions, try to learn something new, but do not be purposefully mean or hurtful – I have no problem with deleting your comment. Like I said earlier, I try to constantly learn, so if you have something insightful to say, definitely comment. Also, if there are any books you’d recommend to me or anyone else trying to learn more about transgender, gender fluidity, or different sexualities, leave the title in the comments!