Of Gender, Growth, and Change by Michael M. Guevara
Years ago, I had what I called my summer of chick lit. I read some Alice Seabold, Lisa See, and Nicholas Sparks. I teased and joked about it to others before they could pass judgment on my reading selections. When I read Gone Girl recently, I also thwarted any unwanted criticism by announcing to anyone in book cover proximity the rule we have in our family about not see the movie until you’ve read the book.
Manhood safely protected.
Surely a guy would only read a book with girl in the title for purely mercenary reasons. A favor for his wife or significant other? Because he lost a bet? But definitely not out of choice.
When I selected book suggestions for my independent reading list for my Mr. G’s Book Club, I had titles on the list and on my shelves touted as boy books. And I remember quite clearly when blond-haired, blue-eyed, cheerleader Claire came to me with one of the boy-touted books, I Love You, Beth Cooper, and said, “This book is gross. Can I pick something else to read?”
Of course I let her change books, but along with letting her change books, I also latched a little more firmly onto the idea of boy books and girl books, which strikes me as odd because I don’t do that in any other area of my life.
My closet is filled with more pink than sartorially feasible, and I think Bethenny Frankel of The Real Housewives of New York is the best thing on the planet since Skinny Girl margaritas. I have watched every episode of all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls and practically squealed with delight when I discovered Gilmore Guys, a pod cast where two guys discuss all things Gilmore Girls.
Still, some how my beliefs didn’t match my classroom practice.
Recently, at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Boston, I attended a session where, when discussing positive and negative library experiences, a young man recounted reading a book from the American Girl series only to have the librarian tell him, “You can’t read that. Those books are for girls.”
Without missing a page turn, our workshop presenter John Schumacher responded with the utterly tweet-worthy: “Books don’t have a gender. Books are for everyone.”
In schools all across the country, kids continue to redefine how they identify, and our libraries, our bookshelves, our reading suggestions, our book talks need to reflect these myriad identities. Kids need books they can identify with, books where they can see reflections of themselves, and as long as we continue to see books as merely, or even mostly, for boys or for girls, we will never celebrate who our students truly are.
And because we adults play such an important role in providing access and awareness to books for the students and children in our lives, we must also advocate for books and for students. In locales across Texas, community members and parents have sought to remove or isolate books with LGBQ themes. Thankfully, dedicated librarians did not yield to this pressure.
But kids and communities need these books. Kids need to see they are not alone in their identities, and communities need to know about the kids who live among them and maybe even with them.
We are all capable of change, capable of growth.
When my oldest son was two years old, we came across a pink Power Ranger plush nearly as tall as him that he just had to have. I wanted him to have him to have the black Power Ranger right next to it, the one more appropriate for a boy. My wife launched into some theory about the brightness of the pink attracting him more than his choice indicating some kind of gender identity.
He got the pink Power Ranger, and today, it’s just one of many in the panoply of super heroes he collects.
With my youngest son, the one just about to start high school, I have grown, I have changed, and I probably indulge his My Little Pony collection way more than I should.
Mr. Schu was right. Books are for everyone—and, I guess, so are toys.
Michael M. Guevara is Coordinator of English Language Arts and Reading in Southside ISD in San Antonio, TX. He is in the process of editing his first novel and coming to terms with having his youngest child begin high school in the fall.