Special to the News-Post
The public perception of people who identify as being transgender has gotten better, but new author Alex Gino believes there is still a long way to go.
So much so that Gino’s first book “George” is meant to teach elementary school-aged children acceptance for their peers who may be identifying with a different gender than they appear. Gino also would like transgender children to know they aren’t alone.
The book is being featured at Frederick’s Curious Iguana this Wednesday, Nov. 18, where Gino is doing an author talk.
Gino, an Oakland, California, resident, identifies as gender queer and prefers the pronoun “they” rather than he or she.
Gino, 38, has loved storytelling from a young age, and even would have their parents write down their stories before they knew how to write. Gino has always gravitated toward a balance of both wit and meaning in writing.
“I like stories that are funny, but also have something to say about who we are and how we are with each other,” Gino said.
In “George,” which was published by Scholastic Press, the title character was born a boy but identifies as a girl named “Melissa.” As Melissa, the main character would like to have the leading role in the school play “Charlotte’s Web.”
Throughout the book numerous characters have different reactions to Melissa. Some are positive, others are negative and some are surprising, including Melissa’s older brother who says all of George’s odd qualities now make sense.
This was done to show how reactions can hurt, Gino said, referencing Melissa’s mother who says “Don’t worry, you’ll always be my little boy.”
Gino had the idea to write the book because there seemed to be resources for transgender adults, but nothing for children.
“There wasn’t anything to read to reflect themselves,” Gino said.
The title was initially intended to be “Girl George,” but Gino said the publishers changed it.
The target audience for “George” is third through seventh grade, though Gino said adults have enjoyed the book, as well. Gino believes even the youngest readers should be able to handle the subject matter, especially if they are going through something similar to the main character.
“I give them a lot of credit for figuring themselves out, and I give them the tools to do it with,” Gino said.
Gino continued that some people experiment with different genders as a child, but not as an adult, and the reverse. Acceptance, however, is always learned at a young age, and Gino said many people in the transgender community still do not have that.
Gino said it’s easy to say that because there are famous transgender people, society must be accepting. This is not the case since Gino said transgender women, particularly minorities in poor communities, are murdered on a fairly regular basis. Data showed there were 21 of these murders in 2015 by the end of July, Gino said.
This is why Gino wants children to grow up remembering Melissa, even if they aren’t going through something similar. Gino is hoping Melissa will show the human behind a transgender person.
“So they don’t kill transgender people when they see them and get freaked out,” Gino said.
Gino started writing “George” in 2003, but needed to frequently re-write it as society continued to change.
“I would love for it to be 10 years from now and for it to seem outdated,” Gino said.
Marlene England, the co-owner of Curious Iguana, said her store found Gino through Twitter, and quickly thought Gino would be a great fit to come speak.
“We all felt really strongly about the message,” England said of George.
England liked that it was not only about being true to yourself, but also about friendship and acceptance. It’s also a part of the We Need Diverse Books initiative, which Curious Iguana has supported.