Stella Maxwell
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14 Books That Tackle Trans Sex, Love, and Revolution

two trans students reading book, one feminine, one masculine, both African-American

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Introduction to Transgender Studies by Ardel Haefele-Thomas is a must-read for anyone needing an education on transgender history, and it is the first introductory textbook intended for undergraduates in trans studies. Haefele-Thomas, who is also
 chair of LGBT studies at City College of San Francisco, expertly connects 
the global history of gender diversity through the centuries, exploring how 
intersecting identities like race, sexual orientation, class, religion, and gender
 have crafted the trans experience outside the binary. A vital resource for students, teachers, lawyers, and activists fighting for equality, Transgender Studies is the perfect tool all generations will need to build a better future. (Harrington Park Press) — David Artavia

Queer Sex: A Trans and Non-Binary Guide to Intimacy, Pleasure, and Relationships by Juno Roche starts as a hilarious confessional of a British, HIV-positive self-identified “neo-vagina virgin” falling short of the adroit and confident seductress she imagined she’d become once she was no longer burdened with cock and balls. Although she had assumed she’d be a heterosexual, Roche discovers she now finds a lot of people attractive and wonders: “What does that make me, and what should I do about it?” To find an answer, Roche sets out to meet and interview some well-known figures in the trans and non-binary community. Presented in a Q&A format and framed by introductory notes and a conclusion about what she’s learned from the conversations, the interviews themselves are often as revealing about Roche as her subjects. She speaks with a diverse group of individuals including nonbinary and trans couples, trans sex workers, swingers, and someone likely on the ace spectrum. Through the process, Roche begins exploring sexuality (trying her first vibrator, signing up for dating apps), and by the book’s end she is more confident. But she’s still a virgin, still lonely, still missing physical intimacy of any kind. Thankfully her sense of humor keeps that from being a huge bummer. (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) — Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Transgender Sex Work and Society  is an over 400-page tome that features contributions from researchers around the globe, whose far-flung analysis are synthesized and contextualized by editor Larry Nuttbrock . Aimed primarily at (non-trans) service providers, researchers, and policy administrators, the volume examines issues such as mental health, substance use, relationships, law enforcement interactions, and health concerns (particularly HIV). Acknowledging the wide diversity of gender expansive people around the world — for many whom sex work cannot be separated from their cultural settings or historical conceptions of gender — Nuttbrock defends the use of the umbrella term because “there is nonetheless considerable uniformity in the ways all these individuals are misunderstood and socially marginalized.” The conclusion offers areas ripe for continued research, one of the most intriguing and suggests examining how sexuality plays a role in exploring, reaffirming, or shaping gender identity and expression. Nuttbrock recognizes that many trans sex workers view their work as gender affirming and argues that further understanding transgender sexuality would benefit those hoping to serve the global trans population. (Harrington Park Press) — JAM 

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Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by trans historian Susan Stryker. We just got around to reading this 2017 edition, which has been thoroughly updated since Stryker’s seminal work first appeared a decade ago. Although its title still doesn’t clarify the narrowness of her focus, Stryker now makes it clear in the prologue: this is the post-World War history of the transgender movement in the United States. Similarly, Stryker spells out her privileges (and lack thereof) as a non-passing, late transitioning, white trans lesbian in academia. The revised history includes a new chapter, “The Tipping Point?” about the movement since 2008, examining the highs — including pop cultural visibility and trans media creation, and the role of trans people in intersectional movements from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter — and lows, including bathroom bills and Trump’s election. Unfortunately, there remain the occasional references in the book that still beg for further clarification. For example, Deborah Rudacille, author of 2005’s The Riddle of Gender, now has enough reservations about some of her work’s conclusions (about an environmental basis for gender dysphoria) that having them restated without caveats seems unfortunate. But Stryker is an apt historian on transgender issues in the U.S. (Seal Press) — JAM 

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis, a trans man of color, asks us to reconsider our kneejerk reliance on gender categorization. Although director of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Temple University, Davis avoids overly academic language as he provides case studies showing the limitations of sex segregation or sex classification. He argues that there are better methods (and suggests what those might look like) to resolve society’s legitimate need to provide identification papers, collect data, support women, provide safe bathrooms, and encourage competitive sports than insisting on segregating men and women, or expecting all humans to conform with binary gender expectations. (New York University Press) — JAM

Histories of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-Peterson destroys the myth that trans kids are a new phenomenon, and this is the first generation of trans children, as if trans kids were invented by the medical technologies that enable puberty suppression. Instead, Gill-Peterson’s groundbreaking scholarship traces gender expansive children back at least a century, finding that trans kids — including children of color — also played a central role in the medicalization of sex and gender. Children have always been imagined as somewhat plastic, and doctors have for decades been certain they could dictate a kid’s gender through various interventions, at least when it’s come to (white) intersex children. It’s also worth noting, as this book does, that those designated children are deprived the right to make their own medical decisions, and this has had the impact of infantilizing trans adolescents and young adults whose gender identity continues to be questioned. While addressing the medicalization of trans kids, Gill-Peterson also reiterates that trans children have never needed medicine to live trans lives. This thoroughly researched work clearly establishes that those we think of as transgender children (and their issues, including bathroom access) existed long before the term transgender was adopted. (University of Minnesota Press) — JAM 

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CampTV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History by Quinlan Miller takes a renewed look at the depictions of gender roles and sexual attitudes in television situation comedies in the 1950s and 1960s. Rather than accepting current analyses lamenting the birth of LGBTQ characters and themes, Miller instead redefines the parameters of camp to include the impact of vaudevillian roots, and then provides examples of gender nonconformity and queer representation in the comedy of the time. Well-known actors such as Ann B. Davis, Paul Lynde, and Charles Nelson Reilly routinely esteemed a camp aesthetic that left a lasting impact. Miller is assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon. (Duke University Press) — Donald Padgett

Men in Place: Trans Masculinity, Race, and Sexuality in America by Miriam J. Abelson explores the shifting meanings of masculinity across cities and rural America. Through interviews with trans men in often overlooked areas in the American West, Southeast, and Midwest, Abelson reveals how the experience of race, sexuality, and gender are affected by the places and spaces they inhabit. Men in Places shows how the concept of what it means to be a man is more fluid than originally thought, but instead shifts depending upon environment and community. Abelson is assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Portland State University. (University of Minnesota Press) — DP

Unbound: Transgender Men And The Remaking Of Identity by Arlene Stein is the paperback release of the examination of a new generation of transmasculine individuals. This powerful and illuminating book is the result of years of interviews with hundreds of individuals across the country to help a wider audience understand how trans people experience and conceive of their identities and sexuality. Unbound follows four transition patients over the course of a year in an effort to show how a younger transgender generation are refashioning not just their identities but also challenging the misconceptions of society. Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University as well as the director of the Institute for Research on Women, the author of six books, and the winner of the Ruth Benedict Prize for her book The Stranger Next Door. (Pantheon Books) — DP

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Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family by Amanda Jetté Knox follows the journey of one family as they learn to survive and then ultimately embrace transition, turning their story into an inspirational roadmap for others living through similar situations. How does one react when your child reveals they are transgender, only to learn a few years later that her spouse is transgender as well? That’s the story told in Love Lives Here. All Amanda Knox ever wanted was a stable life. Her home life as a child was loving but chaotic, and she never knew her biological father. Knox was mercilessly bullied as a child and entered a counseling program for alcohol addiction at the age of 14. After meeting the love of her life as a teen and marrying him a few years later, she was leading the life of which she had always dreamed. She had a stable relationship with her husband, and together they had three sons. Soon, though, their middle child avoided school and struggled with depression. Her son eventually came out as transgender at the age of 11. Knox supported her daughter fully and became an activist in support of the cause. Despite her efforts, though, she wasn’t fully prepared when her spouse announced that he, too, was transgender. Love Lives Here tells the story of a family learning to accommodate and then embrace transition. In the process, they hope to become role models for others facing the uncertainties of change. (Viking) — DP

Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride is the inspiring story of the National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign and transgender rights activist. In 2016 at the age of 26, McBride became the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention, but she was making history and a difference long before she took the Democratic stage in Philadelphia, Penn. She was active in several political campaigns including the late Beau Biden’s 2010 campaign for Delaware Attorney General and Governor Jack Markell’s 2008 campaign. As student body president at American University in the nation’s capital, she struggled with the decision to come out. During her last week in office, she announced she was a transgender woman in her school’s newspaper. Rather than receiving backlash, McBride was embraced and received messages of support from many people including both Attorney General Biden as well as his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden. She later went to intern as the first out transgender person to work in the White House in any capacity when she worked on LGBTQ issues in the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Now in paperback, Tomorrow Will Be Different is an informative and empowering story of acceptance and a desire to do what is right. McBride’s story is both deeply personal but also inspirational and encouraging. Whether it’s her efforts in advocating for legal protections and hate crime legislation, or finding her first love, Andy, a transgender man and fellow activist, her story is sure to resonate with the reader. (Three Rivers Press) — DP

In My Mind’s Eye is a collection of 188 daily musings by world-renowned transgender author Jan Morris. Now 91, Morris is still with the same woman she married and had four children with prior to her 1972 transition. As a journalist, Morris wrote for The Times, accompanying the expedition of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay while covering the first ascent of Mount Everest for the British paper in 1953. She went on to write 40 books, including the bestselling trilogy Pax Britannica (1968-‘78) and her 1974 autobiography, Conundrum. In her latest, she writes about aging, the cadence of her married life, and the state of the world. The Welsh author deplores Trump but reminds us world affairs were also totally fucked up back when she was young, during World War II. (Faber) — JAM

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Woman Enough: How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport by Kristen Worley and Johanna Schneller follows world-class cyclist Worley’s career, and her biggest challenge as being the first Canadian to undergo “authentication” under the International Olympic Committee’s “Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sport” evaluation, in 2006. Worley, who identifies as “a fully transitioned XY female,” endured a “humiliating” and invasive physical examination, questions about her sexuality, and release of her full medical records. She won but was forced to follow certain medical stipulations she believes ended her competitiveness and impacted her long-term health. Citing the process as discriminatory and a violation of her human rights, she sued. In response to a key ruling in Worley’s favor by the Human Rights Tribunal Of Ontario, in 2017, The Union Cycliste Internationale, Cycling Canada, and the Ontario Cycling Association agreed to reevaluate their policies. The court ruled they had no jurisdiction over the Olympics. Worley continues to advocate for an end to gender policing in sports. (Random House Canada) — JAM

Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve is the story of Leo Stanhope, a man not unlike his contemporaries in 1880s London. Despite shallow pockets, he has big dreams, including sharing a home and life with his beloved Maria. However, one of Leo’s dreams is very different from the other young men around him. He secretly hopes for a world that will one day see and accept him for who he is, and not judge him for what exists (or doesn’t) between his legs. Though the main character is of transgender experience, Half Moon Street is not a tale of one’s struggle to find themselves or transition, but rather an exciting period novel about someone who happens to be trans. Initially, author Reeve says he hesitated creating a trans lead due to fears of appropriating the transgender experience, but ultimately Leo’s story was one he felt compelled to tell. “Trans issues weren’t even touched on in Victorian novels,” says Reeve, “but in truth the history of the period contains many examples of trans people. And they deserve to be part of the literary landscape.” (Felony & Mayhem) — DP

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