Mr. Rogers’ incredibly positive message for children: You’re born and stay boys and girls

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by New Neo at

The non-controversial message of public television and education, as well as therapists, was to reassure children that their bodies—whether boy or girl—were as they should be: “Boy are boys right from the start. If you were born a boy, you stay a boy. Girls were girls right from the start. If you were born a girl, you stay a girl, and grow up to be a lady.”

“Everybody’s Fancy” is a song I remember hearing back when I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood years ago with my own child. But I recall thinking that the message seemed a bit unnecessary. Why did kids need reassurance about remaining boys or remaining girls?

Ah, but how the times have changed. I have come to think of the song as both important and prescient. Perhaps Fred Rogers was merely concerned at the time with castration anxiety in kids or something of that sort. The idea that “some are fancy on the outside” and some “on the inside” seems to be a cute-ish way of referring to boys and girls, respectively. The message is of body integrity, goodness, and wholeness, about which today’s children probably need a ton of reassurance. Unfortunately, they’re not watching Mr. Rogers anymore.

If Mr. Rogers were alive to sing this song today, he’d probably be banned. Pay particular attention to the second verse:

Now we have a whole different approach to the subject. Typical are “educational” tools such as this workbook recommended for ages as young as five.

From one of the negative reviews of the book (most are positive, by the way):

If your child wasn’t confused before he/she will be after going through this “workbook.” Perpetuates gender stereotypes & full of leading questions.

Perhaps that’s the point. A few of the many activity titles: Breaking Out of the BinaryMy Space In the SpectrumIs Social Transition Right for Me?

And here’s a quote from the first activity:

When babies are born, one of the first things people want to know is, “Is it a girl?” or “Is it a boy?” It’s like people need to know the answer to these questions before they know how to think or feel about another person. Some people think if they know the sex of a person, they know the gender of a person. They believe those two words mean the same thing. Nope. No. Wrongo!

The label of “boy” or “girl” given to a baby at birth and a person’s gender are two different things, and for some people the two are quite different. This might sound complicated, but knowing your own gender can be rather simple. Most importantly, each person has the right to know and declare their own gender. You are the expert when it comes to your gender!

There are almost undoubtedly plenty more books of this sort, introducing very young children to the idea that body-mind duality is the norm: that body and mind/gender are not in unity but are completely separate entities. They also teach that it is a young child who is the expert on this – once that child has looked at the workbook, preferably, but possibly even before.

Later on we get the following:

People have a mistaken belief that having a penis means you are a boy and having a vulva means you are a girl . . . . The truth is that bodies come in many forms and lots of children don’t fit the mold.

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