Transgender Confusion

In the March 31 issue of World Magazine, reporter Emily Belz wrote at length about the slow incursion of books supporting transgenderism into school libraries and awards list (“Battle over Books”).  The centerpiece of the article is Oregon’s Battle of the Books competition for 2018-19.  Many states and local districts sponsor these reading events, where participating students form teams that read the books on a pre-selected list, then meet in a game-show format to answer questions about them.  The books are chosen by school librarians and reading specialists.

This year the Oregon list for 3rd-4th graders included George, a middle-grade novel by Alex Gino. The novel is marketed to ages 8-12.  That includes most third and fourth-graders, but as Emily Belz quotes one Oregon librarian in her article, “Some of these children don’t even know the facts of life yet.” *

If they read George, they’ll learn some facts that may not even be legitimate facts. The protagonist is a middle-schooler who longs to play a leading part in a class production of Charlotte’s Web.  Problem is: George wants to play Charlotte, whom everyone understands to be female.  George understands himself to be female, not male, but how to convince his world?

Throughout the novel, George learns about such wonders as hormone blockers and gender-reassignment surgery, both presented as tools of liberation (even though the science on that is far from settled).  Finally he gathers the courage to confide in a female friend, who accepts his self-identity.  From there George goes on to convince the parents, try out for the role of Charlotte and not only win it (of course), but bring down the house with a stellar performance.  This girl could have a future!

I read George two years ago and it’s no great shakes as literature: The protagonist is a sympathetic character, but the plotline is thin and the writing style barely above average.  What entitles the book to award lists and Battle-of-the-Book status is its position on the cutting edge of transgender acceptance.  But reading it made me aware of a curious irony: both George, and Gratefully Grayson, which has a similar theme and plot structure, rely on stereotypical “girlyness” to identify their protagonists.

To signal his opposite-sex leanings, George is obsessed with clothes, accessories, and makeup.  Imagine your typical middle-grade girl protagonist: she cares not for such fripperies!  She wants to be a scientist or doctor, or president or pirate queen.  She’s in direct contrast to the mean girls or the silly girls, who are obsessed with clothes, accessories, and makeup.  But George is a hero for embracing those very trivialities.  What’s being sold here?  That girls who reject female stereotypes are authentic, but transgender “girls” who embrace those very stereotypes are equally authentic.  To say this is confusing is an understatement.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong, or inauthentic, about female scientists and presidents (I have a problem with pirate queens, though).  Though I believe certain broad characteristics are common to females, femininity can encompass a wide range of roles and personalities, as can masculinity. But the differences go deep: a female executive won’t discharge her duties in the same way a man would in the same position.

Though the author of George claims it “won’t make anyone transgender,” it might well convince a boy that his problems (such as no father at home, difficulty communicating his feelings, conflicting messages about masculinity, poor academic performance, and on and on) may boil down to his being forced to identify as the “wrong” gender.  That may explain the sudden surge in school-age children who experience gender confusion, or don’t feel fully confident identifying themselves as boys or girls.

The best research indicates that most gender dysphoria resolves by late adolescence.  At least, that’s true so far.  The continuing drumbeat of transgender acceptance, enhanced by books like George, is not likely to lead to a golden age of acceptance for all, but an age of despair for everyone who made a drastic choice that they now regret.


*Since mid-April at least two Oregon school districts have pulled out of the statewide competition, deeming the content of George to be inappropriate at the 3rd-5th grade level.

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.


  1. ohAmanda on May 10, 2018 at 10:05 am

    So insightful!! Thank you for this!!

    I’ve thought about this before–but never in association with books. You’re so right–we are “supposed to” look down on typical girls who like girly things but now if a transgender boy likes it, it’s fine?! It’s double-speak and said only to comfort and pander.

    Your last paragraph is spot on. Thank you again!

  2. Meredith Burton on May 10, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    This is very interesting. It’s a concerning issue, (especially with a book for such a young age). I haven’t read George yet, so it probably wouldn’t be fair to comment. But, there are many YA books as well that deal with this issue. I am concerned because these books portray anyone who questions the protagonists’ confusion as the villains of the stories. And, I understand that people who are confused are searching for books that provide them with comfort and a feeling of acceptance. Perhaps they are not feeling accepted in real life? I do think people should not put a book like that on the list simply to push an agenda. I just hope that students can find books that look at both sides of the issue. So interesting that George is stereotypical as far as his likes and dislikes. That is definitely a double standard.

  3. Erika on May 10, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you so much for your summary. I also read the book since my child competes in OBOB and I was not liking what I was reading about the book. Your review on George as a piece of literature is spot on – I was bored from the get go and found it very flat as well. I also believe it goes against the basic morals most of us parents are trying to teach our kids of honesty (George is sneaky and lying to his parents from page one), it affirms that “everyone” is looking at pornography and teachers how to cover up you tracks, amongst other issues. Your summary of the transgender piece is refreshing and spot on. Thank you.

  4. Beth on May 10, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    I read this book 2 years ago also, and found the same issues as you did. I received it free through Scholastic. I can’t believe it would make it to a BotB list anywhere. Usually those are classics and major award winners; books that will stand the test of time. I found it forgettable. One problem I found with the book was that the content is not for 4th graders, while older kids won’t read it because the protagonist is an elementary student. In the book’s attempt to represent an issue, it fails because it can’t find an audience.

  5. Kristin on May 11, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Fascinating observation about the book and this cultural movement. As a parent, I found this review both helpful and thought-provoking. Thanks!

  6. […] book in question on the Battle of the Books list, I found this review (from Reformed Reader) called Transgender Confusion to be helpful. George actually sounds like it could be an enjoyable read, depending on what […]

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