Last week, after a flurry of Famous Five books, I read Gene Kemp’s The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler. One thing that is immediately striking when coming Tyke Tyler to Famous Five is (spoiler alert!) that in both books one of the main characters is a girl who much prefers to be considered a boy. (Sorry if I ruined the fact that Tyke is a girl for you, but I did warn you…).
George and Tyke both have girlish names that they hate (Georgina and Theodora), both will only answer to their chosen, boyish names, both like getting into what is traditionally considered boyish adventures – climbing buildings, exploring abandoned houses, discovering caves and dungeons, camping, and so on. They both even have dogs as sidekicks, although Timmy has a much more central role in Famous Five than Crumble.
When reading Famous Five, I stumbled across articles that informed me that many transgender children connected very strongly with George, and have cited as adults that George was a role model for them growing up. I find this fascinating, as this would never have occurred to me (I also think that this was not at all the intention of Enid Blyton!). But it absolutely makes sense upon reflection. Psychiatrists have examined the character and suggested that George had gender dysmorphia, as her desire to be called ‘Master George’, dress like a boy, and be considered a boy in all ways seems to extend further than just being a tomboy. (I must say, though, as a girl, that I don’t like the way that whenever George does something clever, or brave, Julian says she is as ‘good as a boy’ – as if girls were never clever or brave. But that’s just gender stereotypes from a different era, I suppose).
So after reading these interesting ideas about George, naturally when I was reading The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler I approached it with some of the same ideas about gender identity. I knew when I started reading the book that Tyke was, in fact, a girl, as although I had never read it for myself before, I had the book read to me in class when I was in year 3, and distinctly remember the shock, and almost feeling of betrayal I felt when I discovered that Tyke was not a boy, as I believed, but really ‘Theodora’.
Sexual identity is not something we encounter in books before we reach ‘young adult’ books, as sexuality is considered a taboo topic for children. However, many of my gay friends have mentioned that they identified themselves as ‘gay’ to some extent before they were teenagers – one friend realised he was gay at the age of nine, and I am sure many other children have come up with gender and sexual identity issues at younger ages. But how can a child talk about these issues, these thoughts, in a society where it is considered improper to discuss the very topic of sexuality with a person of that age? It is no wonder that transgender men identified with George in Famous Five, and probably Tyke as well. I am glad that such outstanding characters were deemed role models for those children.
Two Weeks with the Queen was considered controversial when it was published as the main character, a young boy, meets a gay couple, one of which is dying of AIDs. How young is too young to talk about sexuality and sexual identity with children? When should you bring up the different ways that people live, and people love, with your child? These are not questions that I think I am at all equipped to answer, but I find it interesting to contemplate.