Yes, You Can Write in Your Books!
(Or use sticky notes if that makes you feel more comfortable!)
We've been doing daily read alouds on Instagram live since March 16th. We started doing this because kids and families are home from school during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a way for us to stay connected and share stories that are inclusive and affirming.
Last week I read Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr, and as I was reading, I began having that sinking feeling teachers get when they've haven't properly taken time to preview their reading before sharing it with students (I'm sure some of you can relate!)
From the very beginning, the book uses the child's birth name (sometimes called dead name) and the pronouns he/him even though we quickly learn that the child is a girl. Even worse, it has language like "girl brain" and "born in the wrong body" that suggests that brains have a gender (they don't) and that some bodies are wrong (they aren't.) My discomfort grew as I read, and I began using they/them pronouns for the character until they transition part-way through the book.
Once I was finished reading, I made a point to mention what had upset me about the book, and to reiterate that there is no such thing as a girl brain or a boy body, brains are brains and bodies are bodies and none can ever be wrong.
I couldn't put my book back on my shelf the way it was. So I grabbed a pen.
I started by crossing of all of the child's birth names and inserting Hope, the name they go by at the end of the book. Then I changed every "he/him" pronoun to "she/her".
Then I changed any problematic language about bodies. Bodies and brains don't have a gender, and a body can't "look like" a certain gender. We can, on the other hand, make guesses about people's gender based on their bodies (this is called gender attribution) because our society has a binary understanding of gender expression.
Here are some of the other key pages that I changed:
(Why does the brain need to be pink? Also, not all girls wear dresses!)
As it was written, this book was perpetuating the gender binary by saying that there were "girl brains" and "boy bodies". It was also following a dangerous narrative that we can talk about trans people in the past using their previous name and pronouns. This is extremely harmful. Hope was always Hope, her family just didn't know it yet!
This is one example of a time when it is imperative to change the pronouns, but it can also be done in any book, any time! One kindergarten teacher sent us a photo she had received from one of her students at home. After many months of looking at books critically and learning that they could be changed, this student is doing it at home!
That is how you know that your classroom is gender inclusive. Now go find some books to write in!