When Kathy is Keith: Surrey psychologist Wallace Wong releases transgender children's book

Special coverage

No one believes Kathy. Not her friends, her teachers, her parents, not even Santa Claus. No one believes that she really is a boy.

But Wallace Wong, a clinical psychologist of the Adolescent and Children Sexual Health Program of the Child and Youth Mental Health Services in Surrey, does. In fact, he made a book about it.

Wong wrote the illustrated bookWhen Kathy is Keith, which broaches the sensitive and often misunderstood issues that transgender children face. It follows the story of Kathy, a young girl who says she is a boy but no one takes her seriously.

Wong says in a phone interview that he was inspired to write this book because many children he counselled had difficulty finding “things they could relate to” and their parents also had trouble finding books about these issues.

In general, he says that help in this specific area is limited locally. “In [the] B.C. area…we have really limited support for transgender population,” he says. “And therefore [among] those who are specialized in seeing this group of population, many of them are focused on adults and only a few of us are focusing on children and youth.”

The use of children’s books addressing LGBT content in Metro Vancouver schools have had been met with controversy and debate. In 1997, the Surrey School Board banned three books about gay parents. (The Supreme Court of Canada rejected the ban in 2002.)

But it sounds like schools could use such reading material. Wong says he also often hears from teachers who have students dealing with these issues. “I think a book like this can help them to open a lot of doors for discussions, for potential additional help that the kids may need,” he says.

Wong, who has worked with children and youth with gender and sexual identity issues for over 16 years, feels it’s important for adults to know that such content is meant to help children, not influence them.

“We still have a long way to go, to have schools and the parents be open up to this,” he says. “For us, as psychologists, we definitely do our share to promote that, but I really think that the government also needs to promote that on a broader level, to let people know this is needed so that people will understand that when you’re talking about transgender, we’re not promoting a kid to be a transgender. But we’re helping people understand this issue…. Talking about gay [issues] doesn’t make you be gay. Talking about transgender [issues] doesn’t make a kid transgender. However, I think it would help someone who is struggling with these issues.”

The media has been increasingly covering issues about transgender children. The CBC documentary Transgender Kids aired on October 30. Anderson Cooper addressed the subject on his show Anderson on November 16.

Wong, who is openly gay, points out that it’s not just transgender kids who get bullied about subjects like these.

“A lot of times, parents with straight kids, they think like, ‘You know what? That would never happen to my kid so why would my kid need to learn something like this?’ And I think the key is your kid doesn’t need to be LGBT. As long as your kid is perceived with any trait associated with LGBT, they can be bullied. They can be made fun of. Your kids can be a victim of any of that.”

He adds that parents of transgender children go through a difficult emotional process of their own.

“Parents, they have to go through different stages themselves,” he explains. “In the beginning, they tend to deny it. They hope their kids will grow out of it. They are having a tough time. They have to grieve over losing a son or a daughter and welcoming a new gender of a child. And I think that’s a process. It’s not easy for any parent to accept that because no parent has a kid and then think that this kid may be a transgender kid.... It’s tough… [when you have] a dream for your kid and all of a sudden that dream vanishes, and you have to recreate a dream for your kid[’s] future, and at the same time, knowing that society is not so tolerant out there. And I think that is very tough [for] a lot of parents to accept that.”

He advises parents who have transgender children to talk as much as possible with other people about these issues.

“I really think that [they should] talk to people about it, talk to other parents about it. And don’t just talk to one person. I would talk to multiple people. Talk to the school principal, talk to the counsellors, talk to the professional psychologists or social workers...even family doctor[s], so they can know there are people like this out there, they are not alone, and they can get help.”

The book is available at bookstores, through Amazon, and through the Xlibris website.

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/StraightLGBT.

Comments (15) Add New Comment
chrisvandergaag
*kicks back and waits for the enlightened comments to start rolling in*
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Rachel
Why do kids' books and young adult books about trans characters always feature FtMs? I feel underrepresented, and I imagine a lot of MtF kids and teenagers must too.

Honestly I suspect it has something to do with male privilege, in that becoming male is seen as empowering, whereas becoming female is seen as demeaning.
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A.J. Mills
Kudos to Wallace Wong for making a difference in kid's lives and their parents. Thank you for making the world a better place for those who feel lost in it.
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James3D
Every human being needs to see themselves or aspects of themselves reflected. I strongly support Wallace Wong's efforts to educate children about trans issues.

Hatred and bigotry are taught. So is love.
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Sammi Williams
I appreciate the fact that Wong is proactive enough to do this. It's very cool of him.

This book won't just help trans children, it will also help educate cis youth that trans people aren't the ungodly abominations so many older people claim. The sooner people learn to live with the fact that we are in fact human, the sooner we can start to live without fear and violence.
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Sara N
Rachel, I agree about the ratio of kids and young adult books about trans experiences. And I think your reason may be correct. But is it wrong to use that as a tool to gain acceptance and understanding? I've noticed that it tends to fly under the radar just slightly if FtM kids are the focus, mostly due to the "harm" that would be done to a MtF kid. But in the end, yeah, it would be wonderful if my daughter had something other than that 10,000 dresses book that isn't quite the same as being a trans girl.
Rating: -503
Elizabeth Anne Jenkins
In this new era of better understanding of gender dysphoria, books like this provide a chance for children to see what some of their fellow classmates feel, and the difficulties they face. And in some cases they show a transgender child they are not alone in this world. Bravo Wallace Wong! I wish I had had access to such when I was a confused transgender child, with no resources of any kind.
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priscilla
As a parent of a young transgender child, FTM. I am very interested in this book. We have a few but none specific. The difference my son doesn't day "I want to be" he says "I am a boy".
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Steven
Great book that is truly needed. Thank you Wallace for making a difference in this world.
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Dave N. Parkr
Have you read "Luna" ? or "Almost Perfect" ? They are both good MtY books for teens.
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Kate LBT
@Dave N. Parker

Those books aren't about trans girls. They're about people who are living AROUND trans girls, and they focus pretty heavily on the stigma associated with being around a trans girl.

That's not a very empowering meme complex to be feeding trans girls. The LAST thing we need is more books about how much more complicated and painful we make life for the people around us.
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mason
Wallace you truly are a caring soul with so much passion in what you do. Making a difference in society and braking barrios. Keep doing what you know and do best. For everyday you are sincerely helping someone.
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Hedy
Nice review of an important subject. The world needs to be educated and you are taking gentle steps to do this. Congratulations Wallace!!
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olemanriverphoenix
when did this phenom of transgender children get invented?
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Elizabeth Rowell
I am very excited about When Kathy is Keith.Although most of these books for youngsters are MTF most of my transgender student friends are FTM. All I Want To Be is Me a book for young and older children by Phyllis Rothblatt was published in 2011. It has a wonderful song applicable to all that is free on her website. I will share this wonderful book with my students and on our lib guide about the "g/l/t friendly picture books published or made available in the USA. I would appreciate the names of any books for children birth through 8 years of age that are gay/lesbian/transgender friendly that were published in Canada or places outside of the USA. I'm trying to add books from other English speaking countries to our collection of the books published or made available in the USA. erowell@ric.edu
Rating: +485
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