Despite the strides we’ve made in the acceptance of transgender men and women – from the prominence of Caitlyn Jenner, acclaimed series like “Transparent,” and the increased visibility of actresses like Laverne Cox – there is still a tremendous stigma surrounding the transgender community. Transgender men and women are far more likely to be homeless than the general population and they are subjected to violent crimes and murder at alarmingly high and disproportionate rates. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there were a record number of murders of transgender individuals in 2016 – a mark that 2017 is on pace to eclipse. Transgender and genderqueer individuals continue to be misunderstood, marginalized, and stigmatized – and often intentionally.
I know that there are many like me – cisgender and/or straight people – who think of themselves as allies to the queer community. I also know that many of us miss one particularly key component in being an ally – listening, really listening to our LGBTQ friends. It’s easy to see an image on Facebook or an article on Trump’s proposed ban on transgender men and women serving in the military and feel outraged. It’s even easier to express that outrage in 140 characters or less. What’s more difficult is to take the time to understand experiences outside of our own and to begin to shed the deeply ingrained perceptions many of us carry regarding gender, sex, and identity – largely because we often don’t even realize we’re carrying these perceptions. To be an effective ally, we need to educate ourselves and make an effort to understand as much as possible the experience of those we’re purportedly seeking to help. Lucky for all of, there is no shortage of literature to help us understand the transgender experience.
Literature written by transgender men and women has been steadily expanding for years thanks in part to the mainstream presence of authors like Jennifer Finney Boylan and Janet Mock. The books we’ve pulled together here are little more than a sampling, but will hopefully serve as a guidepost for gaining an understanding into the trans community and the complexities of gender, sex, and identity.
An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs
Edited by Jonathan Ames
This 2005 anthology edited by Jonathan Ames presents the personal narratives of transgender men and women. Within, we meet Christine Jorgensen, a transgender woman and the first person to become widely known in the U.S. for having sex reassignment surgery, and Carolyn Cossey, a former model and Bond Girl, who was outed in the tabloid press, and fifteen others. Sexual Metamorphosis is an insightful and compulsively readable collection, offering a broad view into transgender issues.
The Transformation of an American Family
Amy Ellis Nutt
This powerful true story chronicles the journey of the Maines family – Wayne and Kelly, their transgender daughter Nicole, and Nicole’s twin brother, Jonas. Theirs is a journey that is similar to so many families’ stories – too many of which have ended tragically. Thankfully, the Maines found a way to challenge their own deeply held views on gender and identity and to support and love their daughter for who she is.
As evident in his book A Murder Over a Girl, psychologist Ken Corbett was unsettled by the way gender identity and race were largely sidestepped in the murder of queer teen Lawrence King, who, according to Corbett’s book had begun to identify as Letitia. A Murder Over a Girl is a difficult but important read that brings to light a worst-case-possible instance of hate crime.
Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights
The Riddle of Gender is an examination of issues of gender identity from a multitude of angles – historical, sociological, psychological, medical. Drawing on meticulous research as well as interviews with prominent transgender men and women, with The Riddle of Gender Deborah Rudacille offers an incredibly readable deep dive into the subject’s complexities.
A Life in Two Genders
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s strikingly powerful – and oft-hilarious – memoir was the first bestseller by a transgender American. In this 2003 book, Boylan, who was designated male at birth, provides a remarkably candid account of her transition and its impact on every facet of her life, including her relationship with her two sons and her wife, Grace.
On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
Ahead of its time when first published in 1994, Gender Outlaw continues to be an important read for anyone seeking to understand the complexities of gender and identity in a society that largely continues to insist on binary assumptions. Opening with the words, “I know I’m not a man … and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either … The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other,” Kate Bornstein – a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke – provides an insightful and occasionally uproarious examination of gender, identity, and societal notions of male and female.
Susan Stryker’s Transgender History provides a broad view of American transgender history and is a perfect introduction to the various movements, events, and writings that have brought us to where we are today. Stryker’s work offers a comprehensive and digestible starting point for those seeking to learn more about the rising visibility of transgender issues in recent years.
Transgender women of color are a particularly vulnerable part of the transgender community and subject to violence at alarmingly high rates. Janet Mock’s unflinching and powerful memoir recounts her experience growing up multiracial, poor, and trans in a country where individuals from any one of those groups are often marginalized and left vulnerable. Her memoir is a necessary read that helps to shine a light on a perpetually demeaned and misunderstood population.
Transgender Teens Speak Out
Transgender teenagers have unfortunately and unsurprisingly become something of a lightning rod of societal controversy in recent years, but it’s not for valid reasons like their susceptibility to violence, rate of homelessness, and shocking levels of suicide. Rather, it’s the refusal by a large portion of the population to understand anything beyond a binary conception of gender and the difficulties inherent to coming to terms with one’s gender identity in the midst of the already immensely confusing period of adolescence that rises to the surface of conversation. For Beyond Magenta, author and photographer Susan Kuklin interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral teens. She provides a powerful and honest view into an increasingly important and complex issue.
Thomas Page McBee
When Thomas Page McBee, who was designated female at birth, began his transition, he found himself looking at the question of what it really means to be a man. He sought answers in an unexpected and painful place: by focusing on two men who impacted his life most – his abusive father and the mugger who nearly killed him. In this extraordinary and visceral memoir, McBee seeks to understand and communicate his own journey toward self-realization.