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Fighting for Phoenix

I know that this is a blog about serving teens, but I need to talk to you about Phoenix. You see, Phoenix is a 7-year-old boy who tried to take his life, and sadly this is not the first time. If I’m remembering correctly, Phoenix was 5 when he tried the first time, though possibly 6. Though that difference seems miniscule at this point.

Phoenix is the son of a friend of mine, we were pregnant together and fought through the evil battle that is Hyperemesis Gravidarum in order to bring our children into this world. Phoenix was born a girl and named Phoebe. But early on in life Phoenix began to exhibit some profound unhappiness with life. He struggled with depression. He tried to take his own life. He was hospitalized. He went to counseling. And after counseling the counselor looked at his mother and said, “Do you think he may be transgender?” And then one day Phoebe, as she was identified at that point, said that she wanted to die when people called her a girl because she was supposed to be a boy. And my friend said, I could have a dead child or I could accept that I have a transgender child and she supported Phoenix as he stepped on the path that would bring him better peace inside his own skin.

The struggles, of course, did not end there. It’s not as if embracing the transgender journey is not fraught with its own unique challenges. For one, Phoenix has to go to school with school children who are not always kind. He still struggles with identity and depression and other issues. Even with a loving family, a good counselor, and the freedom to identify as he feels most comfortable, this is still a difficult journey, especially for a child so young.

Life has not been an easy journey so far for Phoenix. And he is only 7. The same age as my Thing 2 (well 4 months older). I can’t imagine her being in such a dark place at this age. And as I have shared, I spent a part of my summer dealing with my own issues of depression and suicide ideation. It was terrible and traumatic and difficult at my adult age – I can’t imagine it happening at the age of 7, when most kids are trying to figure out how to stay up a few minutes later and how to sneak a cookie when no one is looking.

You can read Phoenix’s story here: https://www.facebook.com/fightingforphoenix. Scroll down to the bottom to read from the beginning.

Last night the TLTers and I were discussing what we could do for Phoenix. Amanda MacGregor shared that they had just discussed some of the challenges that transgender children face on MPR: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/09/22/bcst-discussion-challenges-of-transgender-kids-and-families.

We also discussed some books we would recommend. If you want to do something – I know that I want to do something – please consider buying one or more of these titles and donating them to your local public or school library in support of Phoenix. Also, you can tweet a message of support for him at #Fight4Phoenix. I am trying to compile them and send them to him as a reminder that his life has value and that people care.

transgender1Gracefully Grayson by Amy Polonsky

Publisher’s Book Description: Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

transgender2George by Alex Gino

Publisher’s Description: BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen


Publisher’s Description: Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! (Heather Booth informs me that in issue 17 two characters come out as transgender)

transgender4It Gets Better by Dan Savage

Publisher’s Book Description: Growing up isn’t easy. Many young people endure bullying that makes them feel they have nowhere to turn–especially LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of being bullied. Without openly gay mentors, they don’t know what the future may hold. After a number of suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner, Terry Miller, to inspire hope for LGBT youth. The video launched the ‘It Gets Better Project’, initiating a worldwide phenomenon. This is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities and everyday people who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors. We can show LGBT youth the happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will have if they can get through their teen years. “It Gets Better” reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone–and it WILL get better.

transgender5Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal

Publisher’s Book Description: Two teens. Two struggles. Two unforgettable stories. Now available in one ebook, Arin Andrews and Katie Hill share their personal journeys of undergoing gender reassignment in two inspiring memoirs: Some Assembly Required and Rethinking Normal.

About Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen:

We’ve all felt uncomfortable in our own skin at some point, and we’ve all been told that “it’s just a part of growing up.” But for Arin Andrews, it wasn’t a phase that would pass. He had been born in the body of a girl and there seemed to be no relief in sight…

In this first-of-its-kind memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. He also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill—and the heartache that followed after they broke up.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

About Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition:
Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything—anything—to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart. Katie realized very young that a serious mistake had been made: she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

For other books, please check out this SLJ post on evaluating transgender picture books.


  1. […] really powerful and important post from Teen Librarian Toolbox about the challenges transgender children can face at incredibly young ages plus book recommendations to help us understand, empathize with, and […]

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