As everyone memorializes Transgender Day of Remembrance this weekend, it’s easy for folks to forget that transgender people aren’t just victims, their lives are as complex and nuanced and varied as everyone else’s. Since there are too many brilliant transgender novels to list here (like Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, T Cooper’s Some of the Parts), we stuck to non-fiction that both educates and entertains. We left out some brilliant books about gender variance (S. Bear Bergman’s Butch is a Noun and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s Nobody Passes) and three books that should be on every collegiate shelf: The Riddle of Gender by Deborah Rudacille; Transgender Rights by Paisley Currah, Richard M. Juang, and Shannon Price Minter; and The Transgender Studies Reader by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle. What’s left is a bevy of must-reads for anyone who cares about gender equality and social justice.
One of the more riveting memoirs by transgender individuals, Max Valerio Wolf's 2006 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. Whipping Girl documents Serano's experiences and her growing awareness that a widespread cultural abhorrence of femininity shapes our attitudes to towards transgender women.
The Lives of Transgender People ($28, Columbia University Press)
Recognizing a critical need for greater perspectives on transgender life, authors Genny Beemyn (director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Susan Rankin (an associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University) analyze one of the largest surveys ever conducted in the U.S, of trans women and men, crossdressers, and genderqueer individuals. Studying nearly 3,500 participants for The Lives of Transgender People, the authors track the formation of gender identity across individuals and groups, beginning in childhood and marking the "touchstones" that led participants to identify as transgender. The Lives of Transgender People also uncovers the toll that bias, violence, and economic disenfranchisement takes on individuals, even in a day and age where a transgender person can headline a reality TV show.
Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers ($12, Mariner Books)
When lesbian journalist Cris Beam moved to Los Angeles, she decided to volunteer at a school for gay and transgender kids. The move was life-changing for Beam who found herself involved with a group of transgirls — Foxxjazell, Dominique, Christina, and Ariel — who let her witness their fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, but always defiant lives. Transparent is easily one of the best books about trans lives written by an author who doesn’t identify as transgender.
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 and looks at everything from biology and sociology to politics. Anything by this sex radical therapist is frank and provocative and Sex Changes is no exception.
Transgender History ($9, Seal Studies)
Trans author Susan Stryker's primer covers American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today with chapters on transsexualism post-World War II and the impact of the 1970s of identity politics. Transgender History also includes major speeches, bios, and excerpts from transgender memoirs.
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 an insider's perspective on life as a trans man (from pronouns to packing), but it's his analysis of these experiences that makes it worth a read.
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. In She’s Not the Man, the funny, sometimes infuriating follow up, 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.
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.
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. It 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?"
Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman ($23, Beacon)
Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues, has been a part of the transgender movement since the pre-Stonewall days and she uses her considerable knowledge to talk about social perceptions of gender, cross-dressing, and the body. But Transgender Warriors is at its best combining historical facts (ever hear of Rebecca and Her Daughters, the band of crossdressing mid-century Welsh revolutionaries?) with the modern reality of gender non-conforming lives.
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders ($10, Broadway)
Anna Quindlen probably stated 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.” That’s because Jennifer Finney Boylan’s She’s Not There is a witty, moving, and occasionally frustrating exploration of Boylan’s self discovery and the trajectory from man to woman. It’s little wonder this memoir became a best-seller.
Gender Outlaw ($11, Vintage)
Kate Bornstein is a lesbian trans woman who likes to say she’s a gender outlaw for breaking the laws of nature. Combining memoir, cultural criticism, and her own dramatic writing, Gender Outlaw explains why folks don’t understand the difference between gender and sexual orientation, how gender is a cultural construct, and why fighting the gender binary is a mandatory mission for many.