A new picture book for 0 – 5 year-olds is published by Bloomsbury tomorrow (June 2nd) ‘Introducing Teddy – A Story About Being Yourself.’ On the back cover it is described as ‘A heart-warming story about friendship and acceptance, starring a very brave teddy.’
The blurb on the Bloomsbury website explains the underlying educational aim of the book:
“A sweet and gentle story about being true to yourself and being a good friend, Introducing Teddy can also help children understand gender identity.”
‘Gender identity’ is a new theory which says that ‘gender’ is a crucial component of self-identity which overrides our biological sex as the definitive distinction between ‘boys’ and ‘girls.’ In other words, babies will be taught from birth that their sex is all in their heads, not their bodies.
The message is portrayed in the form of a beautifully illustrated picture book ostensibly about friendship and acceptance; a sweet little story showing that the good guys are those who accept ‘difference.’ Underlying that message is a sub-text: changing sex is just one of the many choices you can make in life and that your ‘real’ sex is how you feel based on gender-stereotypical clothes preferences.
The story begins and ends with the same lines except that ‘Thomas’ has now become ‘Tilly.’ The bow-tie which signified that Thomas was a boy teddy has changed to a hair bow, to signify that Tilly is now a girl teddy. Nothing else has changed.
This is how easy it is to change your sex according to this primer for babies and toddlers, and this is what it means to be a boy or a girl.
The story of Errol and his teddy follows a predictable course designed to win a child’s sympathy and emotional recognition: teddy is scared to tell Errol why he is feeling sad because he might not be his friend anymore and when Errol reassures him that he will, Thomas confesses that he needs to be himself and that in his heart he has always known that he is a girl. He wishes to be called Tilly, not Thomas.
Errol responds with the correct answer, that he doesn’t care if Thomas is a boy or a girl and that what matters is that Thomas is his friend. Thomas pronounces him the best friend he could have.
What child would not feel relief that cute lovable teddy is still accepted by his best friend?
The author of this book, Jessica Walton, got the idea for writing it when her father announced to the family that he was really a woman, an experience she describes in only positive terms, and although she found books for children featuring gay parents, could find no books portraying transgender characters.
Whereas in books featuring adult gay parents there is a clear agenda (acceptance of diversity) Walton has chosen to make the transgender character in this story not an adult male but a teddy bear (and therefore a child in the eyes of children), a very sympathetic character who also happens to be sexless, so there is a very different agenda here beyond ‘acceptance.’ There are no picture books for children featuring teddy bears ‘coming out’ as gay or lesbian, but Thomas, in reality, is far more likely to grow up to be gay, not transgender. So we have to ask why Bloomsbury is publishing and promoting a book which subtly conditions the youngest children into a belief that gender-role non-conformity in childhood means that you’re transgender. There is no other option presented here, even though becoming a transgender adult is by far the least likely outcome for these children.
Perhaps if we went back to the old (and more accurate) language and admitted that this is a picture book for the youngest children depicting a teddy/child coming out as transsexual, with the sex-change symbolically represented by the change from the bow tie to the hair bow, we can see the message more clearly. For children there is no understanding of the difference between gender and biological sex. As magical thinkers, it is perfectly possible to change from a boy to a girl. The message here makes absolute sense to a child’s mind and it has nothing to do with children being ‘accepting’ of difference.
Would Errol have been so accepting of Thomas if he had changed his bow tie to a hair bow as a boy, or would he have made fun of him? That story would have illustrated true acceptance of difference.
The characters and their roles in the book more subtly reveal the belief in gender-stereotypes underpinning the main idea that you have to be a girl to wear a hair bow. The introduction of the girl character, Ava, interrupted as she is building a robot, stands out as a clumsy attempt to prove that the story doesn’t reinforce gender stereotypes which are elsewhere pervasive. The main character and hero of the story, Errol, is a boy and the supporting character who gets a walk-on role to agree with and validate Errol’s reaction to Thomas, is a girl. She may have been building a robot but, apart from her role supporting the boy, we know she’s a girl because conventional female gender markers are used: she is wearing a dress and she has long hair and a hair-bow. Errol on the other hand has short tousled hair and wears what looks like a hoodie (blue).
When Tilly makes the bow tie into a hair bow, Ava praises and encourages ‘her’ to wear whatever makes her happy and illustrates the idea with her own change: taking off her hair bow to unleash cascading hair, because she likes her hair ‘free.’ This action is, ironically, a symbolic representation of not just freedom, but a conventional metaphor for stereotyped female sexual readiness and invitation. This is perhaps unintentional, but in any case it is approved female gendered ‘performance’ that Ava expresses in the name of ‘freedom.’ She doesn’t decide to crop her hair, for example; perhaps she’d have to become a boy to get away with that.
The idea that to ‘become your true self’ you have to change sex is not an idea we should be selling to children, the reality is not as simple as changing a bow tie. Had Jessica Walton’s own father taken the step she is suggesting here, she would not be here to write the book, as the ‘treatment’ he would have received as a child would have in all likelihood left him sterile.
The transgendering of children is a central political aim of a very powerful transactivist lobby whose bullying tactics have silenced all debate. Transgendered children are prevented from growing up to become lesbian, gay or non-conforming adults, and they are condemned to life-long medicalisation and infertility. Cute teddy bears have no business promoting this massive experiment on kids to little children. This is propaganda masquerading as heartwarming bravery and truth.
When you are a major publisher promoting a book to the youngest children, especially one which has a ‘message,’ it is your business to know what that message really is. Otherwise you could find yourself unwittingly being used by any political lobby group with an agenda to push onto children. The author crowd-funded to get the idea for this book translated into reality; the project was launched on August 8th 2015 and by August 13th was over 100% funded. Did Bloomsbury ever consider who might have vested interests in backing this project or why such a controversial issue, the transgendering of children, received such instant and overwhelming support?
We have sent out a press release today and you can contact Bloomsbury here through their website if you wish to complain. If you are on Twitter, please join us tomorrow on the publication date (June 2nd) and tweet to @KidsBloomsbury using the hashtags #notbuyingit and #IntroducingTeddy to express your concerns about this book.