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This week, Arkansas became the first state in the U.S. to ban trans-affirming healthcare for transgender youth.  This bill, not yet signed into law, succeeded in the state legislature despite the Endocrine Society, Child Mind Institute, and the American Psychological Association all supporting affirming care for transgender youth.  Even worse, it appears that 2021 is shaping up to an aggressively anti-trans year; 28 states have anti-trans bills on their legislative agendas. 

But the fact is that the need for social acceptance and affirming healthcare is vital to the continued mental and physical health of all transgender folks, young and old alike.  Current statistics on transgender youth are particularly devastating.

(Source:  The Trevor Project

Which makes International Transgender Day of Visibility (3/31) this year more important than ever.  Lost in the all the anti-trans rhetoric and policy are the stories of actual trans people, people who are harmed most directly by these bigoted and harmful policies. It is their lives at stake but we aren’t able to hear their stories because representation of trans people (both real and fictional) is not yet commonplace in media. And support for trans creators is still sorely lacking. 

Reading, to me, has always been the easiest way to to learn about people who are different than I am. Stories, both real and fiction, are the easiest place to learn about someone else’s life – to follow along with their sorrows and triumphs, their success and their challenges. By diversifying our bookshelves and expanding our worldview to include trans experiences, we can cultivate much-needed empathy to help us combat the bigotry and discrimination that we are seeing (and have been seeing) play out in our politics.  Empathy and acceptance start with awareness and understanding. There is no better way to understand someone than to read their story. So here are some of my favorite books about trans people and by trans people.

Graphic Novels

One place where trans characters seem to abound, especially for younger readers, is graphic novels set in fantasy settings.  Books like The Witch Boy series by Molly Ostertag deal with themes of identity and acceptance and can be read as allegories for transness.  But many others have explicit trans themes and characters.  The themes of love and self-discovery, identity and acceptance run throughout all of the books listed below. They are a great way to introduce younger readers (and their parents!) to trans characters.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh is the story of a (gender non-conforming) girl named Snapdragon and her best friend Lu, a transgender girl. Snap’s other best friend is Jacks, the local witch, who teaches her magic.  Every character in this book is quirky, authentic and endearing.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, Wendy Xu (Illustrator) follows the story of Nova, a teenage witch, and her best friend (and childhood crush) Tam, a nonbinary werewolf.  Together they fight evil magic.  This story and its heroes are enchanting (pun intended). 

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter (Illustrator)  Ash and his new friends from the Pride Club at school jokingly use a spell from Ash’s mom’s “imaginary” spellbook to travel to a land where only girls are allowed.   Except that it’s not imaginary and they actually end up in the magical land of Koretris.  They all do, including Ash, and he doesn’t know how that’s possible.  Because he’s a boy.  Or is he?

Lumberjanes Series by Lilah Sturges and polterink (Illustrator) This series of original graphic novels follows the characters from the Lumberjanes comics on crazy magical adventures at summer camp.  The gang includes Jo, a transgender girl and Barney, a nonbinary camper who joins the team from the boy’s camp.

Other Graphic Novels for younger readers include Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries, and the Moonstruck comics by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle (Artist), Kate Leth (Artist)

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