With the 21st century media landscape gradually waking up to the inclusion of positive queer narratives, there have been several instances where I've ardently wished a certain book, film or show would've existed when I was young.
However, I've often hesitated in wondering what would've been different. Would I have realized I was queer sooner? Would I have skipped years of gender dysphoria? The list goes on.
Reading 'The Many Colours Of Anshu' may have gotten me closer to the answer. Published by Gaysi Family, author and Illustrator Anshuman Sathe's children's book is a simple, heartfelt tale of self-discovery. Inspired by the life they've lead as a nonbinary person, the book follows a 7-year-old Anshu who's determined to be more than the binary roles prescribed to him.
Encouraging Gender Play
Young minds are endlessly impressionable and we need more children's books that take note of that. 'The Many Colours Of Anshu' not only carries that responsibility well but also nudges young readers to discover themselves freely.
The book begins with a gloomy Anshu, tired of living his life in blue. "There HAS to be more out there for me!" he exclaims, determined to find the colours that match his vivacious self. Thus begins a heartfelt journey of gender play.
Anshu's gender play initially involves wearing bright outfits and floral accessories. Reading about a young child experiment with their appearance, in the safety and support of his family, is as refreshing as it is crucial.
In a note towards the end of the book, the author addresses parents and caregivers and explains that gender play is anything that allows young children to experiment with their gender expression. Whether it's trying different clothes or changing their hair, Sathe urges parents to create a safe, non-judgmental space for children to determine their self-expression through playful modes of trial and error.
Reshaping Gender Roles
Let's face it: It's almost 2023 and children are still being raised with the conditioning that girls are not at par with boys. From gender-specific games to culture-specific rituals, there are countless ways gender roles and stereotypes are indoctrinated in young children.
'The Many Colours Of Anshu' makes a fresh attempt to redirect these gender roles. When urged to wonder who he'd like to emulate, the seven-year-old takes a trip around his house, choosing qualities he'd like to learn from his family.
By showing Anshu aspire to be as cool and strong as his female relatives or as soft and gentle as his male family members, the author not only subverts stifling gender norms in the subtlest of ways but also holds up the possibility of a happy family, devoid of binary rules.
The book comes to a delightful ending, with Anshu realizing that he doesn't have to figure himself out, just yet. With the lines, "I don't have to decide on just one colour. I don't have to be like the other boys and girls. I don't even have to be just a boy or just a girl!" the author underlines the importance of giving children boundless space to discover their authentic selves.
Coming back to my long-standing dilemma, if I had gotten the chance to read 'The Many Colours Of Anshu' when I was a queer child, I might not have breezed past all the confusion and the questioning; but it would have been easier.
Kids - whether queer or not - deserve to be told, in myriad ways, that it's okay to colour outside the lines or explore spaces beyond the binary. And I eagerly await the amount of young minds that are going to be positively impacted by 'The Many Colours Of Anshu'.