Why Gay Penguins Matter

A couple of years ago, I was walking with a couple of friends, and they were talking about some school including And Tango Makes Three (a book about a cute little penguin with two dads) as part of the reading material for kids. Being conservative Christian women, they of course started complaining about how terrible it was and how children shouldn’t be forced to believe ‘things like that’ or some such stuff. I can’t remember exactly, it was a while back.

At the time I felt angry, and the irony of them talking about acceptance of lgbt people as negative while I was secretly lgbt didn’t do anything to lessen my frustration. However, I couldn’t articulate what was bothering me about it, and I’ve continued to think about it for the next few months, and years.


A friend recently told me about Red: A Crayon’s Story. It’s a very clever book made to explain what being transgender is like to young children. Basically, spoiler alert, it’s about a crayon whose real colour is different from the colour it has labelled on the paper wrapped around it. I loved it from the second I read about it.

It’s so clever and beautiful. I love the design and illustrations to bits.

After thinking of how wonderful an idea it was, the next thing to pop into my mind was “Man, I wish I’d had a book like that when I was little.”

That’s it. That’s it exactly.

The reason my friends’ comments made me so upset, even though I might not have been consciously aware of it at the time, was the assumption that these books were aimed at straight people. I mean, I guess some of them might be, and if they lead to some kids being more accepting of LGBT people then fan-fucking-tastic, but the way I see it, books like these have to be aimed at little kids questioning their gender or sexual orientation. Little boys feeling ashamed because they kind of wanna kiss another boy, or a little child frustrated at having to wear dresses when they know deep down they were not meant to be girls.


It’s a bit ridiculous for certain people to think something as small as allowing kids to read a book about a gay penguin or a transgender crayon is going to ‘brainwash’ them into an entire worldview, especially when the children of those ‘certain people’ grow up in an environment of hatred and hostility towards anything that isn’t heterosexual and heteronormative.

I mean, does anyone really think a picture book is going to weigh more on a child’s psyche than their youth pastor calling gay people dirty sinners, their friends calling effeminate boys sissies, tv shows mocking transgender people, etc.

Illustrated above: A group of children literally having their brains scrubbed clean of all the homophobic comments shared by their friends, parents, pastors, tv shows, movies, books, aunts, etc over the last 10 years.

Equally so, these types of books don’t turn kids gay, or bisexual, or transgender, or whatever. I grew up in a super conservative environment. Most (not all!) of the friends I have made in the last 13 years have been Christian, and with very low opinions of homosexual or transgender identities. My parents have shut down anything about me that didn’t fit their idea of a perfect little Christian man. My last place of employ and former high school, my church, youth pastor, etc. Throughout all my adolescence and young adulthood I was the constant recipient of anti-LGBT messages from nearly all areas of my life.

I still ended up identifying asexual, transgender, and biromantic (ish).


If lesbian girls are still going to be lesbian, genderfluid people will still be genderfluid, and transgender people will always be so, what’s the point of these books then?

Here’s the thing. I grew up in an environment hostile to my true self, with constant messages beaming in telling me I was scum, and sinful, and worthless. That kind of stuff sinks inside your skin, and ends up being internalised to some degree. What reading a book like this when I was younger would have done is have provided a single voice in a cacophany of hatred simply saying “It’s okay. You’re normal. You’re not sick, you’re not twisted. You are worthy of love and happiness and respect.

I was always going to transition. I was lucky enough to come out and start my social transition at a relatively young age, but I was always going to do it. No matter how I was raised, and no matter the difficulties. However, the journey could have been a lot less painful. I hated myself when I was a young teenager. I thought I was filthy, and that my soul was stained. Can you imagine what that kind of thinking does to a 14-year old? A 9-year old?

Books about gay penguins and transgender crayons aren’t there to brainwash children into joining gay pride rallies, or turning anyone gay, or lesbian. They’re there to keep confused children from hating themselves, to protect their self-esteem, and to be the one voice telling them they’re normal no matter who they turn out to be, when the rest of their world might be trying to shame them for being themselves.

What kind of person is against that?

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