CHENNAI: Guthli is stunned when the adults around her ask her to change into boy’s clothes from the skirts that she so loves. Guthli Has Wings, a children’s book written by Kanak Shashi, tackles gender identity in a gentle and accessible way. The picture book was published by Tulika Publishers on June 10 for Pride Month. CE speaks to Shashi about the book.
What motivated you to write a children’s book on gender identity?
I have been exploring gender in my art practice for a long time. It is an accepted fact that the gender divide that we see around us is ‘taught’ to children from the very early stages of life. So, if we want to challenge this process, we need to take up the issue of gender identity head-on, from a very early stage.
Why did you feel that such a topic must be brought up at such a young age, despite many suggesting that it would not be so? Why was it important to do so?
Gender is taught to children from a very early stage. Such teaching need not always be covert (though at times it is), and it has been made a ‘natural’ part of the process of growing up. So, to say that children should not be exposed to such a topic is completely unfounded. Children are, like all of us, immersed deeply in a gendered world.
This book merely tries to apply a brake to this, to question the whole process of gender identities. Children are intelligent beings constantly exploring the world around them. Biases and prejudices are not innate — children learn it at a very young stage from us, from the adult world.
How did you bring up the idea of gender non-conformity in a way children can understand?
I can’t say that I can be sure that children will understand the issue with this book, but I wanted them to have a story of a different child, who doesn’t fit in the mould of the so-called normal child. Young readers may come up with some questions, they may have some confusions, but that is where understanding will begin.
Do you think parents may learn something from your book as well?
I hope so. The whole narrative raises questions, and parents will have to answer them. And to answer their children’s questions, they will have to broaden their understanding, keep an open mind. Gender issues are like a huge pile of books, you just can’t move one without disturbing the others.
If you talk about transgender then you have to understand gender, family, patriarchy, society... so one can say, it could be the beginning of a very long journey of exploring one’s own self.The book is priced at `165 and is available at Tulika bookstores and online.