By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com November 19 2011 6:30 PM ET
As the world memorializes tomorrow's Transgender Day of Remembrance our community will primarily focus on the discrimination and violence faced by trans people. But it's a good time to educate yourself on why transgender people are varied, nuanced,and as complex as any others. While there are dozens of wonderful novels with trans characters (like Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues or T Cooper's Some of the Parts), non-fiction books offer up the best way to understand and explore the T in the LGBT. There are far too many to mention here, so we've skipped a couple of award winning takes on gender variance including two must-reads, Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman and Nobody Passes by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore) and three more that should be required reading for college students (Deborah Rudacille's amazing The Riddle of Gender, Transgender Rights by Paisley Currah, Richard M. Juang, and Shannon Price Minter, and The Transgender Studies Reader by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle). The rest of these make up our Trans 101 bookshelf.
The Testosterone Files ($11, Seal)
One of the more riveting memoirs by transgender individuals, Max Valerio Wolf's Testosterone Files is raw and aggressive account of the Native American Latino Sephardic poet and performer's journey from lesbian-feminist to transgender man (a viewing of Raging Bull, at 23, plays a role in his coming out).What Valerio does, that raises more than eyebrows, is talk honestly about his new politically incorrect sexual desires, his growing distance from women, and the overall construction of maleness in our culture.
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity ($11, Seal)
Not just a memoir, Julia Serano's Whipping Girl is more like a manifesto by the transgender lesbian activist and professional biologist. This 2007 book is a collection of experiences around Serano's transition and a growing awareness that a widespread cultural abhorrence of femininity shapes our attitudes to towards transgender women.
Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism ($27, Cleis)
Califia's meticulously researched Sex Changes tackles the lives of early transgender pioneers as well as modern trans activists looks at everything from biology and sociology to politics. Anything written by this sex radical therapist is frank and provocative, and this book is no exception.
Transgender History ($9, Seal Studies)
Trans author Susan Stryker's 2008 primer covers American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today like a high school textbook, with chapters on transsexualism post World War II and the '70s introduction of the era of identity politics. Transgender History also includes major speeches, bios, and excerpts from transgender memoirs.
The Lives of Transgender People ($24, Columbia University Press)
In this new groundbreaking book, out Nov. 22, authors Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin respond to a critical need for greater perspectives on transgender life, analyzing one of the largest surveys ever conducted in the U.S on gender development and identity-making among transsexual men and women, crossdressers, and genderqueer individuals. The Lives of Transgender People tracks the formation of gender identity across 3,500 individuals, beginning in childhood and marking the "touchstones" that led participants to identify as transgender. Beemyn and Rankin discuss the psychological toll of living in secrecy and fear and the ongoing discrimination, violence, and social and economic disenfranchisement that trans people still face, even in an age where a trans celebrity can headline a reality TV show on primetime TV.
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders ($10, Broadway)
Anna Quindlen probably said it best when she said, “Probably no book I’ve read in recent years has made me so question my basic assumptions about both the centrality and the permeability of gender, and made me recognize myself in a situation I’ve never known and have never faced." Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There is probably one of the best trans memoirs because it's funny, moving, annoying, and revealing and at it's heart a story that's so universally about acceptance it's no surprise it became a best-seller.
Becoming a Visible Man ($25, Vanderbilt)
One of the leading transgender activists in the world, Jamison Green's earnest autobiography offers a brilliant analysis of the multiple challenges of social transition written by a man that for over a decade has provided educational programs for corporations, colleges, and cops, among others. Becoming a Visible Man is a must-read for many folks (especially trans men and the people who love them) and the threads on Green's life as a lesbian parent prior to coming out as trans will be riveting for many readers.
She’s Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband ($15, Seal)
Helen Boyd's first memoir, My Husband Betty, introduced the world to her and her cross-dressing husband and her own concerns about whether the man she married is a cross-dresser or a transgender woman just waiting to transition. She's Not the Man I Married is a funny, sometimes infuriating follow up in which Boyd deftly explores the role of gender in her own marriage and culture at large and gives us a thinking straight girl's treatise on the complex world of gender identity.
The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals ($12, Cleis)
Lesbian author Rachel Pepper and Stephanie A. Brill teamed up to create this guidebook, the first of its kind to look at the unique challenges facing families with children who are gender-variant or questioning. The Transgender Child includes extensive research and real information on laws and psychology and while it looks at gender from birth to college, the authors tackle questions many parents ask at some point in their lives including, "Is this just a phase?"
Gender Outlaw ($11, Vintage)
Author Kate Bornstein (above) is a transgender lesbian who has bucked the system, considering herself a true gender outlaw by challenging what folks think about
gender, sexual orientation, and womanhood. Gender Outlaw combines memoir with cultural critique and even her own dramatic writing.
Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience ($15, Beacon)
After 42 years of life as a straight woman, author Matt Kailey began living as a man (thanks in no small dose to testosterone, surgery and some good therapy). In Just Add Hormones, Kailey offers insider's perspective on life as a trans man (from pronouns to packing) but it's his analysis of his own experience that makes it worth a read.
Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman ($23,Beacon)
Stone Butch Blues author Leslie Feinberg has been a part of the transgender movement since pre-Stonewall day, and in this tome he tackles old beliefs about gender. Some of the best parts of Warriors, are in the combination of historical cases of gender variance rarely known in wider culture (like Rebecca and Her Daughters, a band of mid-century Welsh men who dressed like women to ransack toolbooths) with singular stories of individuals who challenge gender norms in ways that even some trans folks find confounding.
Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers ($12, Mariner Books)
When lesbian journalist Cris Beam moved to Los Angeles, she planned to volunteer a few hours at a school for queer and trans kids. But what started as a simple assignment soon became part of a social group of trans girls who accept her into their world. In Transparent, Beam introduces us to these girls (Foxxjazell, Ariel, Christina, and Dominique) and their often heartbreaking but always defiant lives.