Why we need diverse books: Turnaround’s top titles with transgender characters

An estimated 2 – 5% of the population are either transgender or have experienced gender dysphoria. Despite this, historically transgender characters have not made up 2 – 5% of characters in fiction, or indeed, have not occupied 2 – 5% of roles in any media.

At the less extreme end of the spectrum of impacts this can have, those who would and could be great and supportive friends, parents or colleagues to transgender people in their lives find that they aren’t able to be, purely through a lack of knowledge or understanding of what it is to be transgender. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, it can mean that children who are transgender can experience extremes of loneliness and confusion, feeling that they are wrong or bizarre with no visible role models to turn to. In the worse cases this can feed in to the tragically high suicide rates for transgender teenagers.

Writing in Vice, transgender journalist and activist Paris Lees said “Do you have any idea how depressing it is looking for people like yourself in public life when you are trans?”

The fact is, everyone likes to see versions of themselves reflected back; in books, in the media, on the TV and in films. It helps us navigate the world, and this is especially true if your identity is different from that which is so consistently showcased in the mainstream. As trans-activist and writer Kate Bornstein puts it… “We have looked for myths that include us in great novels, music, the latest comic book, or even some stupid advertising campaign. We’ll look *anywhere* for a mythology that embraces people like ourselves.”

Over the last couple of years trans visibility has been on the rise in newspapers and on our screens, with voices from Paris Lees here in the UK and Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black –  the first transgender actor to be nominated for an Emmy – in the US. We think this should be the same in books, especially in children’s books.

Gracefully Grayson



This YA title for 10-14 year-olds about transgender character Grayson has already garnered huge amounts of praise. James Howe, bestselling author of Misfits had this to say: “Tenderly and courageously told, Gracefully Grayson is a small miracle of a book. Its story is so compelling I found myself holding my breath as I read it, and so intimate I felt as if what was happening to Grayson was happening to me.”

A funny, relatable book about the day to day life of a transgender schoolboy is perhaps particularly poignant for the 10 -14 year old market. Due to this being the time when puberty typically begins to onset, this is often a poignant and difficult time for transgender young people.

God Loves Hair


This graphic novel was originally self-published by the author to great acclaim. It has all the intimacy that diary comics and self-published zines often do, where authors not quite being self-aware of the scope of their audiences can lead to an unusual level of unaffected chronicling of the realities of their day to day lives. We are thrilled, though, that now it is fully formed this work is being published in the traditional way, as a larger audience is very much deserved.

In simple prose, Shraya tells the story of young Indian boy growing up in Canada who is often mistaken for a girl. Opening with the line, “I like to wear dresses and makeup, school isn’t always safe and neither is my body,” the benchmark for clarity and honesty is set.

Told via pop cultural references from Bollywood through to baseball, Hindu gods and Goddesses through to television show MASH, God Loves Hair roots Shraya’s struggle for gender acceptance in a set of references that we all share, making everyone reflect about the way that gender is coded in our society, and how we can change that.

I’ll  leave it to Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara fame) to explain why she felt this title was quite so brilliant: “This impressive collection of stories made me think about the shearing of my own lovely locks when I was four years old. Shraya’s endearing descriptions of childhood and adolescence are both humorous and heart-breaking, I wish we had known one another during those unforgiving and difficult times, I think we could have taken comfort in growing our hair and ourselves out together.”

You Are You


You Are You is a stunning books of photographs, documenting an annual weekend summer camp for gender nonconforming children and their families. The camp offers a temporary safe haven, where children can freely express their interpretations of gender without feeling the need to look over their shoulders. In 2012, some of the images from this title formed part of a New York Times Magazine cover story about transgender children, marking the first time that any transgender children had given permission for their images to be used in such a public forum.

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