"The pushback against the relentless gendered marketing of toys and clothes for children is gaining momentum across the western world. There’s an important reason for that."
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

22 May 2018 - 10:39 AM  UPDATED 22 May 2018 - 11:35 AM

Australian mother and children's book author Jo Hirst is taking her message of gender diversity and acceptance to the masses, releasing the follow-up to her much-discussed first picture book, The Gender Fairy.

"Because we now have a lot more information that shows supporting transgender and gender diverse kids is the right to thing, we are seeing more schools and teachers and kids crying out for these resources," Hirst, who has a transgender child, tells SBS Sexuality.

She continues: "But because of our local political climate, nobody's able to create them."

The book, titled A House for Everyone, is based on a game that Hirst's son played with his friends at school, following five young children as they build a house together at lunchtime, combining their very different skills.

The characters in the book include Ivy, a girl with very short hair who always wears shorts and a t-shirt, as well as Sam, an artistic boy with long hair who loves flowers and sport.

"It’s a game of cooperation," she says. "I wanted to create a story which helped children understand the difference between gender expression and gender identity."

Hirst adds that she hopes the book will help to break down "rigid gender stereotypes".

"Breaking these gender stereotypes can improve career prospects for girls, help promote better relationships for boys and girls, and promote self esteem for everyone."

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"Clothes and toys don't have a gender - they belong to everybody," she tells SBS Sexuality. "Young people need to know that so they can feel comfortable playing with whichever toys they want and wearing what they want."

Hirst avoids using the words 'transgender' or 'non-binary' in the book, but provides definitions for each on the final page - as well as lesson plans and helpful resources.

"Some children don't like to be labeled," Hirst says, placing particular emphasis on the possible negative connotations of describing children as 'girly boys' or 'tom boys'.

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"I want the book to show kids the full gender spectrum, and reiterate that there's no right way to be a boy or girl - and that you don't have to be a boy or girl. Statistics suggest that over 48 percent of transgender youth identify as non-binary, which is huge."

"For some young people it can be really anxiety-inducing having to pick either one," she adds.

The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne recently estimated the number of transgender children in Australian schools at 1.2%, at least one in every hundred children in every school.

This, Hirst believes, more than warrants an expanded pool of resources.

"It's no longer rare to have a child in a junior primary school class making a social transition," she tells SBS Sexuality.

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She continues: "If you've got a child who's changing their name, pronoun and uniform, other kids are going to need to understand. A House For Everyone is making that a positive experience."

"The pushback against the relentless gendered marketing of toys and clothes for children is gaining momentum across the western world," she adds.

"There’s an important reason for that."

"We've got the Australian Psychological Society saying that this is important - but we've got politicians turning the other way."

You can find A House for Everyone on Amazon now or via Australian bookstores from the beginning of June.