Sure, there are a few cases of people in literature changing genders — Orlando from Virginia Woolf's Orlando and Tip/Ozma from the Wizard of Oz series — but you've never seen a princess in a fairy tale do it.
The Royal Heart is a brand-new children's book from author Greg McGoon. He spoke to Mic about why he chose to write fairy tales, how he came to create the character Lyric and what the moral of this story is.
The Royal Heart is the story of Lyric, a child who is assigned male at birth but grows uncomfortable with that identity and eventually, via a little magic, is able to become the person she feels she is — a princess.
McGoon grew up with fairy tales and Disney characters and always saw them as stunning works of art. As he got older, he studied fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm and elsewhere and was fascinated by the symbolism and meaning packed into every story. When it came time to write his own, he didn't want to just reimagine older fairy tales — he wanted to create a new one with an original LGBT character.
The genre, he says, is a perfect one for LGBT representation.
"I returned to the foundation of 'Once Upon a Time' and stopped overthinking," McGoon told Mic. "I said, 'What is it about the fairy tale and what lesson and what value do I want to pull from this?'" And as he was working, he told Mic, the story began to write itself.
"As I was writing, this idea of transformation naturally flowed, and it seemed the most fitting," McGoon said. "The next thing I know, I had a story that I really love. The acknowledgement of love and acceptance is identifiable to anyone."
McGoon felt the story was important for several reasons. First, he said that the discrimination that transgender people face in terms of housing, employment and violence is unacceptable. He said he wanted a narrative that showed a transgender person loving who they are and affirming their identity.
"The transition that transgender people go through is a very visible public moment," he said. "Unless you have millions of dollars like Caitlyn Jenner, a lot of people don't have that luxury to be able to take ownership of who they are, and they live with that struggle, and that's why this story has so much beauty to me."
After Lyric's magical transformation in the woods, Lyric also learns that, while she may no longer one day be "king," she can still be a leader.
"There's no reason for someone to feel 'less than' or unworthy for being who they are," McGoon said. "And in the story, that moment of beautiful transformation lent itself perfectly to that idea."
In fact, McGoon said, the theme of the book can be summed up in just a few quick words.
"It's as simple as 'Here's who I am,' and 'Great, we love you,'" he said.
McGoon's decision to tell this story through a children's book is deliberate, as well.
"You have to start exposing children to the spectrum of lives, so they know how to live in the world as fully functional people," he said. "It's important to reach out, allow them to interact with others and allow them to see the beauty and variety of life instead of just giving them a narrow perspective."
McGoon's passion for teaching children goes beyond just writing books — he's worked with children in theater and creative environments since he was a teenager.
McGoon plans to expand the universe of The Royal Heart with a story of a gay prince. He is also hard at work on a number of other children's books, including one about anxiety and depression and another about a boy who grew up in a candy store — much like McGoon, whose mom owned a candy store when he was young.
But, most importantly, McGoon says that, one day, he hopes to be a parent, which is why he writes books like The Royal Heart.
"I think family loving their children for who they are is crucial and essential for a valuable life, and I think that should be represented in stories," he said. "The only response that's logical is love and support."