In a year when Caitlyn Jenner made the most headlines for being transgender, it’s delightful to see the increasing number of trans narratives hitting bookshelves. A trio of flawed but immensely readable memoirs by trans people are worthy of attention. Frankly Kellie: Becoming a Woman in a Man’s World (Blink Publishing) takes a fascinating look at Kellie Maloney’s life as one of the world’s most successful boxing managers, the person who led Lennox Lewis to his heavyweight championship. It’s surprising that this book by Maloney, who came out in 2014 and later appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K., didn’t get more attention, because it’s a fascinating look at a blemished person raised male in a blue-collar Irish family in 1950s South London who gains fame in one of the world’s most hypermasculine sports, all the while struggling with gender dysphoria.
While trans women made a lot of headlines this year — both good and bad — men remained mostly invisible. Memoirs from Jeremy L. Wallace and Willy Wilkinson attempted to change that. In Wallace’s Taking the Scenic Route to Manhood, the author recounts coming of age in the wrong body, dealing with depression and suicidal ideation, “finding the courage to jump,” and understanding there’s little instant gratification in transition. Now a sought-after public speaker, Wallace is big on entrepreneurship and living your dream, so the memoir feels a bit inspirational, a rarity in such books.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson’s multilayered work, Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency, covers so much, his own life and the stats and background impacting trans men of color in particular in the U.S. It follows his identity shift from butch to a man, coming out in the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community, being one of “only two Asian dykes” working in the AIDS field in the early '90s, battling a difficult coming-out (not as trans, but as a person with a chronic illness), when the word “tranny” went from pride to pejorative, losing trans friends to suicide, and speaking in front of a crowd the day after anesthesia (“I got new just this summer!” he says to a wildly enthusiastic crowd when talking about medical access). Wilkinson is a respected expert on trans health (he launched the Healthcare Access Project at Transgender Law Center and the first large-scale research project on HIV and trans men) and a whip-smart speaker and cultural competency trainer. So it’s refreshing that his really intelligent and approachable memoir ends with a chapter on what allies, businesses, and organizations can do to be trans-affirming. I read Born on the Edge over a weekend, stopping every few pages to share with my copilot memories of San Francisco, of the lesbian community, of shared struggles, and both moments and feelings I shared with Wilkinson. Many memoirs take you to a different time and place, immersing you in the writer’s world, but in many ways Wilkinson immersed me in my own world, remembering our shared struggles, the geography of our coming into ourselves dovetailing.