A new children’s book, Be yourself, for overcoming stereotypes and being truly you
In the queer community it’s often easy for us to say we’re being ourselves, “living our truth” or letting our “rainbow flag fly.” However, it gets a bit trickier when it comes to everyone else around us, our children, and the messages society can tell us on the whole. A new book, “Be Yourself” by Ingileif Friðriksdóttir and María Rut Kristinsdóttir of Hinseginleikinn, aims to change those conversations for the better especially with younger generations.
“The book doesn’t only focus on queer families but diversity in all forms.”
The book dives into complex topics like gender identity, diversity, and stereotypes in an amazingly simple way. The idea, Ingileif and María say, is to make these topics approachable and understandable to even a young audience.
“When you really start thinking about it, it’s so simple. We just have to talk to our kids about what reality really is, without trying to sugarcoat everything or talk around it. For example, we say in the book that some girls are born with a penis, so the doctors, their parents, and everyone around them thinks they are a boy. But they are a girl, and that’s called being a trans girl. It’s really that simple. It’s so much healthier for kids to see these things upfront, so they don’t develop the idea it’s weird. Kids are all born without prejudice, so we shouldn’t create that for them.”
Although some adults might think kids are too young to hear about these things, Ingileif and María believe it’s not dangerous at all. If anything, not talking and avoiding having these difficult conversations perpetuates the stigmas our community faces. “We have felt it ourselves how we don’t fit in the lesbian mold or the lesbian idea a lot of people have in their heads and we’ve been questioned just for being ourselves. Which, we’re pretty sure, is something straight cisgender people don’t experience a lot,” says Ingileif and laughs.
They say that their intention in writing the book is not to instill queerness into children or anyone reading the book, it’s more about awareness. After all, being lesbian, pansexual, trans, or gender non-binary is not “contagious” despite any belief it might be. For Ingileif and María, it’s about creating dialogue and opening the conversation to explore how kids and adults alike want to express themselves from the way they dress to the people they find attractive.
“We have a lot of questions for the reader where we make them reflect on themselves and how they see themselves. Like what is your family like? What are your hobbies? What color are your hair and eyes? The main idea of the book is to spark the child’s self-awareness and reflect on it. At the end of the day, our message “we are all different, so just be you,” says María.
The themes of diversity and inclusion in the book are also counteracting “mainstream culture.” Most children’s books, movies, and content online are written by and for a world that tells the same story: princess and prince charming, not prince and prince charming. Ingileif and María say it’s all about exposure and creating something to contrast that norm. “We have two sons and never watch a Disney film with our boys where two princes end up falling in love, and that’s because there are no Disney films like that.”
In a way, they never have been. Disney just added their first openly queer character in this year (2020) with Officer Specter, a cyclops lesbian step-mom in Onward. The character is a bit of a monster-sci-fi-gender-queer mash-up, but still. According to media advocacy group GLAAD, Walt Disney Studios has the weakest history of LGBT inclusion on screen out of all the major film studios. The LA Times called the character blatant tokenism, but a step in the right direction.
By Icelandic standards, representation isn’t much better. When Ingileif and María went to print their book they were actually turned away by a publisher because quote “there was no need for a book like this on the market.” As they understood it, they heard “there’s already one Icelandic book that mentions a queer family, so that’s enough. We’re not interested.”
Luckily another publisher saw that there was space for more than one queer book in the world, and it was smooth sailing from there. “That casual rejection actually gave us even more energy towards putting this book out because of course, we need more books on diversity and identity. Although the one book that is already out is very good, our book is about totally different topics. When we met with the publisher Salka they were on board 100% and we’re so thankful for that,” says Ingileif.
They also hope that the book can serve the next generation of parents, educators, and families, to open adults’ eyes to their own way of fitting into the picture. It goes beyond just sexuality or gender too. “We read all kinds of books to our kids and many of them are of course brilliant books with beautiful core messages. Yet, we’ve seen over and over again how they miss diversity. The majority of children’s books are with a mom and dad storyline and the characters who fall in love are always a girl and a boy. It’s almost always as non-disabled white people too. We wanted to shake it up and show the reader how different we all are. So the book doesn’t only focus on queer families but diversity in all forms,” says Ingileif.
Hinseginleikinn is an educational platform founded in 2016. At first, it was solely on Snapchat where all kinds of LGBTQIA+ people took over and told their stories. In 2018, it was adapted as a TV series with RÚV.
Today Hinseginleikinn is also a podcast and Maria and Ingileif give lectures all around the country on queer topics. They’re also on Instagram where members of the LGBTQ community take over and share their stories. It’s an ongoing project with the aim to educate and combat stereotypes and lack of role models within Icelandic society.
About the Book
Vertu Þú, Colorful Stories of Diversity is available now for ordering through Salka publishing house with first copies arriving on October 23, 2020. All presale copies are signed by the authors themselves!
Copies are also available through heimkaup.is, Hagkaup, or your favorite bookstore.
Illustrations and artwork by the fabulous Alda Lilja Hrannardóttir.