An Evening with Michael Rosen
By Brighton ReSisters
Queering Children’s Literature @ Goldsmiths
A symposium of speakers looking at queering children’s and young adult literature.
“The Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, in conjunction with the Centre for Identity and Social Justice, are delighted to announce a Symposium on “Queering Children’s Literature”.Wednesday 12th February, 2020, 6.00 – 9.00pm, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths College.”
I have been told in academic circles that you always start by defining your terms. As a woman with a grounded understanding of queer theory I entered into this “symposium” with a solid working definition of “queer”. I left the “symposium” with none. Apparently that is the definition of “queer” being “queered”. Very “POMO“. Anyways, let us move swiftly on and take a collective deep breath (queer or otherwise) before we drown in the never ending circular definitions that is higher Education at Goldsmiths University. It is queerly remarkable that in the hands of academia, a word laden with so much meaning has now been stripped to have none. How very queer indeed.
I begrudged the £10 ticket, but took the hit to take a seat in the eye of the storm. But my ticket was not as it seems- It was in fact not a ticket but a £10 redeemable voucher towards the price of one of the many books on sale. There were a range of books available for gas lighting your children, and now, thanks to the subsidy of my ticket, available at such a reasonable price…. All the books were from the “approved queer book” list produced for us by Professor Catherine Butler. I couldn’t help thinking that an “approved book list” was not really in the spirit of “queerness”, but I guess that’s what queering queerness looks like. How very queer.
One book was noticeable in its absence – The Boy In The Dress by David Walliams. This is because it is a “BAD BOOK” and it is not on “THE LIST”. A book that challenges sex stereotypes and toxic masculinity has NO place on our bookshelves or in our schools. We know this, because Dr Catherine Butler told us so. He is a woman. A special kind of” woman”, because he gets to say what books go on THE LIST. He also, in his 60’s , gets to be taken seriously wearing leather knee high boots, a short skirt and have a “flappy lady fail” with the technology whilst presenting a lecture. He is also the only type of woman who doesn’t have to apologise for being “CIS”. (Note to self – this is how you know if you are just one of those crappy un queer “cis women” – these privileges are unavailable to you). How very queer.
This “Symposium” (definition: a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece. Apt. I will get onto this), kicked off with Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton AKA the “Queer Queen” pusher of the puberty blocker. I’m sure the ancient Greeks as “fans” of the prepubescent boy, would have welcomed Sidonie into their Symposium with open arms and fresh fig roles. Queer how history repeats itself.
Sidonie, Stonewalls Education Policy Person is the architect of such queer marvels as the schools guidance now being challenged by judicial review. Crowdfunder here. She also oversees the Stonewall School Champion Awards (synonym: Stonewall policy capture 101). A scheme whereby schools sign up to be trained on how to break Equality law, disregard safeguarding obligations, remove single sex spaces, and withold basic information on the mental health of a child from it’s parents. In doing so opening children up to untold risks, and the school to untold lawsuits. But the school gets a medal in the process (which is also very Greek now I come to think of it). A “symposium” it is then! How very queer.
Sidonie was asked about the challenge of faith schools (by a man who doesn’t feel the need to apologise for being CIS). Oh Boy! She had this base covered. What she said, in fairness, was great. They challenge homophobia and show schools how to teach that “god loves gays” (and I assume lesbians too- but we don’t say that word because its not “queer”, or “queering queer”, or “queered”). What was queer, was what she chose not to say. She didn’t say how the removal of single sex spaces particularly screws over girls from a cultural or faith background. Girls (who despite their “cis-ness”) are a valuable part of our society. Those girls who require sex segregation in their toilets and changing rooms to enable basic participation. I soon learnt, thanks to Goldsmiths, that her omission of this fact is “queering truth” which makes it ok. Playing with the “binary concepts of fact and falsehood”, how very very queer indeed.
Sidonie also introduced us to more GOOD WORDS and BAD WORDS. “Parent” and especially its plural ”parents” are BAD. Especially ”parents from faith communities” who are “heteronomative” (thanks for that Dr Julia Hope). Heteronormative is also BAD . Although I would agree that heteronormativity is not a good thing, I would like to clearly state that neither is describing an entire diverse community as “heteronormative”. It is neither accurate, inclusive nor a GOOD thing. I would go as far to say that is racism (which for the record is actually BAD). I do appreciate, that as a “cis” woman I dont get to decide GOOD or BAD – but hey, I’m feeling queer.
My mind did start to wonder as to why experts in the field of “queerness” had such a heteronormative view of parents (both BAD) and caregivers (an unused word). Stonewall clearly lost the memo about the growing diversity of family models, and in referring to parents like this they are guilty of falling into their own trap. No Stonewall medal for Stonewall. But Stonewall is GOOD so we can’t think that. I will also not think about how Stonewall’s rebranding of same sex relationships to same gendered relationships is in itself promoting homophobia and sex stereotypes. That would be BAD THINK. Bad think is not queer.
Skipping back to Dr Catherine Butler and his knee highs I began wondering if his surname, as well as his first name, was changed too, or if this was just a horrible coincidence. That was BAD THINK so I stopped. He lamented how so many trans books have a “reveal section” whereby the secondary character is shocked by the trans body. This is BAD. It is both heteronormative (BAD) and homonormative (also BAD) (thanks for that interjection Dr Julia Hope). The audience nodded along sagely, shaking their heads at the wrong authentic response of the secondary character. The idea that literature is capable of framing events in a meaningful way through nuance and plot was not explored. Children’s books according to Catherine, are not about excellent writing, or allowing children to reach their own moral conclusions, but should contain the following: information on transitioning, binders and puberty blockers. Seemingly confusing the medium of “book” with that of a “pamphlet”, or an “instruction manual”. A less charitable person could go as far as to suggest he was confusing literary merit with grooming. Queering indeed.
After delivering the TRUTH about GOOD books and BAD books he slid in a rather left-field anecdote about the tragedy of “trans men who were convicted and put on the sex offender register for hiding their sex from their “consenting” sexual partners”. Michael Rosen I saw you shudder! I saw you put your face in your hands! Sometimes our authentic responses just can’t be hidden. Yes there was a child in the room, and yes this had nothing to do with children literature, but that is why we “queer it”- so anything goes. Now I’m really feeling queer.
After Dr Catherine Butler took up more than his allotted time there was a Lesbian (BAD WORD). We know this is a BAD word because nobody said it . She was asked to make it brief due to Dr Catherine Butler over running. I imagine everyone was relieved. She dropped the L bomb (BAD WORD) twice. Eye roll. Although she did apologise for being “cis” (BAD WORD used in a GOOD way) this is never quite enough for an essentially middle aged “non-special woman” to really grab people’s attention. She banged on about girls, probably cis, (although I would never assume this – BAD THINK) and books. She didn’t think it pertinent to talk about sex stereotyping in children books and the effect this has on shaming lesbian girls, but this is the nature of the gendered lady brain, important things never quite surface. However the upside of her gendered brain meant she was a good girl and finished well before her allotted time. Very efficient but could have been “queerer”. Probably just a Bronze Stonewall Champion Award for her.
Then there was a break. Snacks were intellect appropriate (sweets and water). Michael Rosen had appeared to have recovered from ”consent-gate” and his authentic public shudder and had pulled himself together. I wondered what the word “queer” meant to him. I hope in his mind it is just the reclaimed slang for gay. That would go some way in contextualising his enthusiasm for this event. Gay and lesbian characters in kids books being a genuinely good thing. Pushing gender theory in kids books is quite another. Tell us Michael, how “queer” is your “queer”?
The next section was too painful. A selection of Children’s Lit MA students discussing their queer papers. Each woman dutifully apologised for their “cis-ness” except for the gay bloke (who obviously doesn’t have to). One student was thrilled by her own observations on “queering the narrative”. By this she means playing with character voices and chronology as if this is something new. Apparently this is what “queering” literature is. The poor love has clearly never read Wuthering Heights. How queer.
I was struck that none of the speakers (MR aside), really seemed to either “get ” good writing, or understand children. One would think these were cornerstones of children’s literature but both were notably absent from the evening. I reflected on my own daughter. Nearly 15. She was at home, and thanks to her (cooking dinner for my youngest and putting him to bed), I was able to attend. I reflected on how she was evidently smarter and more capable than the twenty somethings on the panel writing their book reports on Harry Potter (literally). Which brings me seamlessly to the next BAD WORD: J K Rowling. In fairness no one suggested an actual book burning. The room agreed she was BAD. They also agreed she represented other BAD women. The child in the room, in a spectacular piece of parental virtue signalling, was encouraged to say how JK made him “sad”. JK is “transphobic and spreads hate”. The Academics in the room, busy “queering fact” felt no duty to academic rigour or standards to clarify what JK *actually said. But the truth is so binary and single mothers that write best selling books and drag themselves and their children out of poverty whilst providing a beautiful world of escapism for children across the world are so “meh”. So in summary JK used to be QUEER and GOOD, and now she is UN-QUEER and BAD.
As for David Otto, his story as a mixed heritage gay man was of interest. But sadly he made it abundantly clear that he writes to order. He laboured this point. I suspect he was talking about making it suitable for children (phew), but this was soon seized upon by an enthusiastic audience member who gave us a 101 in how to get queer books into schools under the radar of the guidelines (synonym: safeguarding) and the “parents” BAD WORD. This was seen as wonderful and the symposium erupted in self congratulatory applause. Queer does love GOOD THINK.
Queering children’s literature is a luxury only those inside this lecture theatre can afford. Queering may sound like sparkly fun, but the reality is insidious. Queer theory promotes regressive sex stereotypes to children while teaching them that their healthy bodies can be wrong. Transitioning children goes directly against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As our traumatised children go through medical transition and then grow into adulthood, the court cases are stacking up. Who will be clearing up this mess?
As the applause and the time ran on I couldn’t help but notice through the closed doors of the lecture theatre, was a middle aged black woman (probably just a parent – BAD WORD) in a tabard, bent over cleaning and picking sweet wrappers and the events detritus off the floor. I will leave that metaphor with you – just please dont queer it.
Parents of ROGD Kids
Support for parents of children with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria
Detransition Advocacy Network
UK based support for detransitioners
The Pique Resilience Project
US based support for detransitioners: A relatively new group who are putting detransitioners in touch.
Powerful testimony from a detransitoner
From the same event:
Event fairly well attended.
Number of terfs present and correct😉
Ticket was £10 but you got a book in exchange, thereby guaranteeing the authors in attendance book sales, which is quite clever when you think about it. pic.twitter.com/r7C3qDqsmo
— Sarah Stuart (@sarahstuartxx) February 13, 2020
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
In fact, in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically state that a child should be able to understand the information they are given. This, to me, also requires that they know any negative effects of medical intervention, and this needs to be made clear.
What is Queer Theory?
Thain Parnell on Judith Butler:
The Trojan Unicorn: Queer Theory and Paedophilia, Part I. | Dr Em: (For Part ll and lll follow links on page)
Queer theory in more depth
Derrick Jensen Resistance Radio w/ Susan Cox – January 29, 2017
The Reality Show’s conversation with feminist philosopher Jane Clare Jones about sex, gender and the social/cultural/political influence of “superstar academic” Judith Butler’s more extreme claims regarding these subjects.
Queering Children’s Literature: event details from the organisers:
“As we look back on 50 years since the Stonewall Riots took place in New York, followed by the first gay pride marches across the US in 1970, this seems a timely moment to celebrate how much has been achieved in queering children’s and young adult literature. The evening will include the following:
- Welcome from Dr Julia Hope, Head of MA Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths
- Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, Head of Education Programmes at Stonewall, exploring the start and legacy of Section 28, and what an LGBT inclusive school looks like today.
- Dr Catherine Butler, Lecturer, University of Cardiff and published author of children’s/YA literature: “Problems and Challenges in the Portrayal of Trans People in Children’s and Young Adult Literature”.
- Talk by Sarah Hagger-Holt, author of debut YA novel “Nothing Ever Happens Here”.
- Prof Michael Rosen in conversation with past MA in Children’s Literature students, who have written related assignments and dissertations.
- Spoken word/poetry performance by Dean Atta, award-winning author”