When I observed the 2011 Values Voters Summit in Washington D.C., I picked up a copy of Me Tarzan, You Jane by Janice Barrett Graham from the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) information table. A children's companion book to Wild Elephant (alternately known as Chased by an Elephant), Me Tarzan, You Jane encourages children to think of gender in fixed, binary categories and adopt heteronormative views of romance and marriage.
The book begins with young Tarzan meeting Jane in the jungle and immediately recognizing that she is different from him because she is a girl. The text emphasizes that there is no other type of "normal" human being besides male and female, as this is how God created humans. (The world's sizable population of intersex people would strongly disagree.) The differences between male and female, the book insists, are necessary to human life, and respect for this "truth" helps one live in an "orderly" manner.
On the next page, we see a drawing of young Tarzan looking at himself in a mirror hung from a tree. The book tells readers that one's reflection has much to do with being a boy or girl, because if you're a boy, you're wearing "boy clothes" and have somewhat "boyish" hair. Likewise, if you're a girl, you're wearing "girl clothes" and have "girlish" hair. In doing so, one is being the male or female God designed, the text argues. How this passage would resonate with tomboys or gender-nonconforming kids can only be imagined. To boot, since children's clothing is becoming less gender-defined (i.e., children of both sexes wear pants, overalls, etc.), it's not always clear what constitutes boys clothes versus girl's clothes. In short, the text assumes that binary gender roles always apply to children's appearances.
Boys should treat each other as "fellow boys," the book instructs, and girls should treat each other as "fellow girls." This passage left me puzzled. Was it instructing readers not to recognize their peers as transgender or intersex? Was it instructing readers to encourage their peers to behave in traditionally gendered ways? I don't know. Additionally, Me Tarzan, You Jane teaches that boys should become interested in girls as they age, and vice-versa. By demonstrating such a preference for heterosexual feelings, the book disregards children who might discover that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or questioning when they grow older.
Me Tarzan, You Jane insists that being male or female is also reflected in how one thinks and acts. It admonishes children to start learning how to be a boy or girl as they grow up, reminding them that they can learn important ways to be "boyish" or "girlish" from their parents. This, it explains, is why children have both a mother and a father (thereby leaving out single parents, same-sex couples, and other non-traditional families). Children must learn the "right" way to think about gender and act as male or female, the book asserts, comparing it to learning how to eat with a fork and knife. Reading this, I wondered how truly "natural" such gender roles could be if they had to be taught.
Strong romantic feelings, the book insists, are only to be "used" between husbands and wives. The one chief purpose of romantic feelings is mating, which the book claims that only a man and a woman can do. Me Tarzan, You Jane bluntly states that two men cannot mate with each other, nor can two women (which would be very surprising news to millions of sexually active LGBT people worldwide).
The book warns readers that sometimes romantic feelings can be as strong and dangerous as an elephant, and thus people must understand God's rules and boundaries for those feelings. The world is filled with many dangers, including "wrong ideas" and "bad behavior" which come from people who oppose God's rules. Me Tarzan, You Jane encourages readers to think before they act, follow "good, trusty" thoughts, and use God's gift of free will to arrive at correct actions.
I'm not surprised that the PFOX table was distributing copies of Me Tarzan, You Jane, given the organization's stance on homosexuality and support for the "ex-gay" movement. I find it unfortunate, however, that PFOX and the author of Me Tarzan, You Jane would target children with these messages.
In effect, Me Tarzan, You Jane advocates for binary gender roles (without specifying what such gender roles should look like) and heterosexuality as part of God's supposed plan for humanity. The idea that gender is a flexible social construct that occurs along a continuum is not given credence, and the book refuses to legitimize homosexuality and bisexuality.
Me Tarzan, You Jane seems to be a reaction to society's increasing acceptance of LGBT people and new interpretations of gender. By expressing disapproval of these social developments and holding up traditional gender roles and heteronormativity as godly, the book attempts to shape the minds of children. As as much as this attempt to influence children troubles me, I question how effective it will be in moulding children's attitudes toward gender and sexual orientation in the long run. As young readers grow older, they will undoubtedly encounter LGBT people and people who do not conform to rigid gender roles. They will see that such people can be happy and healthy, and that the human race is breathtakingly diverse. As they grow older, some of these young people may realize that they themselves are LGBT, or that the stereotypical gender roles imposed by fundamentalist Christianity do not reflect who they truly are. Whether the messages of books like Me Tarzan, You Jane can endure in an increasingly open-minded society remains to be seen.