There’s finally a book that explain the complexities of gender and love to children!
You Be You! Explaining Gender, Love & Family by Jon Branfman and illustrated by Julie Benbassat was released this past July.
GSN spoke with writer Jon Branfman about the book and what’s next for it.
Branfman, a 28-year-old Jewish gay man, was inspired to write this book not only because of his own life experiences, but also because of his professional experiences teaching as a grad student at The Ohio State University.
How did the book come to be?
‘Teaching Gender Studies, so much of our time is spent helping students unlearn inaccurate, harmful ideas about gender, sexuality, and family,’ Branfman explains. ‘For example, unlearning the belief that there exist only two genders, or that trans people are mentally ill.’
‘I often find myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all just learned things right the first time, when we’re little kids?” I often have the same thought in regard to my own coming-out process as a gay man.’
‘Although I’m extremely lucky to have a supportive family, it has still taken me many years to unlearn the myths and stigmas that I’d internalized, like the idea that it’s shameful for a man to feel feminine,’ Branfman says.
It was only when Branfman got to college at age 18 and began taking Gender Studies classes that he started to have a language to express all these things.
‘I know my own process would have been much easier if I’d had access to these ideas at an earlier age,’ he says.
Why it’s important for children to learn these concepts early
‘I believe teaching children accurately about gender, sexual orientation, and family at an early age is important for two reasons,’ Branfman explains. ‘First, because kids are already absorbing many harmful, inaccurate beliefs on these subjects from peers, TV, and implicit (or explicit) messages from adults around them.’
‘So it’s not a choice between letting kids receive an education about these topics or not. Rather, it’s a choice between proactively educating kids in a way that’s accurate, or passively allowing them to learn all kinds of untrue ideas.’
‘Second, because social beliefs about gender, sexuality, and family have profound real-world consequences. These ideas shape how children see themselves and others for the rest of their lives: Whether they can accept themselves, whether they treat others well, whether they participate in persecuting others or help to end persecution.’
Branfman describes his book as ‘unusually intersectionally comprehensive,’ as it ‘offers a clear, welcoming intro to every LGBTQIA identity, as well as introducing privilege, oppression, intersectionality, and allyship.’
The illustrations, too, are significant. ‘Julie and I made it a priority to break from the conventions of children’s books, and of LGBTQIA advocacy, that often show only white and able-bodied faces. Julie’s beautiful illustrations feature people of all genders, orientations, colors, ability statuses, and ages, as well as many different religions.’
Is the book just for kids?
You Be You! is just as informative to adults as it is to children. ‘Many adults have mentioned to us that it really helped them get a handle on these topics,’ Branfman says.
Branfman describes the book’s feedback as ‘stellar,’ saying, ‘From peers of all genders, races, and orientations, to our parents and their friends, so many readers have told us that “You Be You!” offered them a clear, validating, welcoming explanation of topics they’d previously struggled to understand.’
In terms of what’s next for the book, Branfman is currently working on having it translated into multiple languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Russian.
‘Some of the translations are already done, and the rest are underway,’ he says.
And after all those translations are done, Branfman has expressed interest in writing more children’s books addressing related social justice topics.
‘I’d like to write a book explaining race and racism (that is, explaining that race is a made-up idea that nevertheless has very real effects on our lives); another explaining the concept of consent; another explaining addiction and recovery; and so on,’ he says.
Currently, Branfman is utilizing IndieGoGo to help raise enough money to pay their translators. Check out their IndieGoGo campaign here.