They may be inanimate outside of certain Pixar films, but toys can leave a lasting impression on the kids that play with them. This makes them a powerful learning tool — a quality that the educational transgender doll, Sam, uses to help children understand what it means to be transgender or gender non-conforming. Currently in development by the nonprofit Gender Creative Kids Canada, the toy is meant to familiarize kids with a subject that even some adults struggle to understand.
Billed by its creators as the "world's first educational transgender toy," Sam is a nesting doll. Each layer represents a different stage of gender formation, from a happily unaware infant to a conflicted, questioning child. In the end, Sam is finally able to express himself, supported by his friends and family, but at his core, he's still the same person he's always been (which, in the toy's case, happens to be a heart charm). To raise money to produce the doll, Gender Creative Kids Canada recently launched a Kickstarter campaign, where they explain his mission: educating the world about gender identity.
"There are still very few tools available that allow parents or teachers to talk to young children about this sensitive, complex subject," reads the Kickstarter page. "Sam helps children empathize with the emotional challenges of being born a transgender or gender-diverse person."
By teaching children to empathize with transgender people early on, the creators hope that Sam will help prevent transphobia from forming in the next generation. Although he's not meant to be a diagnostic tool, the doll provides transgender children with representation that may otherwise be lacking. Gender Creative Kids Canada's vice president told Mashable that transgender children and their families were consulted throughout the creation process, so Sam's story would be as true to life as a single narrative can get.
Along with the many-layered doll, Sam comes with an informational booklet to help adults answer questions children may have. A donation of $75 or more comes with the Sam toy and physical booklet, while $15 will get you the "E-Sam," which comes with an e-book, digital wallpaper, and a copy of Sam's Story. The latter is an animated short film, produced by Rodolphe Saint-Gelais and Roméo & Fils, depicting Sam's journey through the experiences represented by the doll's layers.
After Gender Creative Kids Canada posted Sam's Story on Facebook in mid-June to promote the doll, it received widespread attention. Currently, the film has more than one million views on the social network, and nearly three million people have left reactions on the post. Not all the comments are positive, but the most poignant messages are those left by parents of transgender children.
"As the mother of a transgender child, I am overwhelmed with LOVE for this! It's beautiful! I shared this with the hope that many people see it," wrote one Facebook user.
So far, the Kickstarter has raised nearly $10,000, but it's aiming for $104,598 USD, or about $136,000 in Canadian dollars, by the end of the campaign on Aug. 12. If it succeeds, the creators are aiming to ship orders by Jun. 2018.
It's no secret that LGBTQ youth have it tough, and transgender children are particularly at risk for issues like bullying and homelessness. With Sam the educational toy, Gender Creative Kids Canada might be on to something — teaching young children to empathize with their gender non-conforming peers certainly can't hurt the fight against transphobia. Meanwhile, the doll will provide transgender kids with the representation they deserve. What's not to love?