A Review of “Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary” A book on the nonbinary experience by Andrea Bennett (They/them)
By Finch Pierson (He/they)
Hello people. This is Finch again. Reviewing a book.
Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary was written by Andrea Bennett. I picked up this book among others on a trip to Seattle with some friends. I finally found an entire section of queer literature, something I was kept from as a child and young adult and something I had had so much trouble in finding resources – until now. As a transgender, bisexual individual, queer history and literature is very important to me. I am interested in learning more.
The book was published in in 2020 by Arsenal Pulp Press.
I will probably be writing this review chapter by chapter as each chapter is made up of a collection of essays. I also included a list of terms and the sources at the bottom of the article.
Sets up the story well, explaining that the book is a collection of essays. It also goes into how the author wrote the book. They describe the process of writing while also working and parenting. The introduction is short and to the point, focusing on quickly setting up some background and context for the essays that follow and form the book.
In the first chapter, or essay, Bennett describes scenes from their childhood and the importance of labels such as “Tomboy” (the namesake of the essay). Bennet describes the importance of labels by saying, “If I can’t describe who I am in this world—I am who I am, whether or not I can describe it—then I can’t seek out others like me” (Bennett pp. 15). This quote shows the importance that labelling can have for an individual in describing themselves and finding a community.
Bennett talks of the importance of labels such as Tomboy in helping young people to explain their identities, they express how it is important for people to speak in an affirmative way, such as ‘I am’ rather than “I’m not, I’m not, I’m not” (Bennett pp. 16). They delve into the discussion of whether or not some labels such as “Tomboy” should be abandoned for their strong connection and dependency on gender stereotypes, or whether these labels can still be used as many people may find that they identify strongly with them. They discuss how the term was useful to them growing up and that it may still be useful to other qenderqueer youths.
The term “Tomboy” is seen as a way of describing a space between masculinity or femininity that someone who is afab may use to help them in their journey of self-discovery. It is an older term that is slowly fading out of use as we begin to better understand gender and stereotypes.
This essay focuses on the life of a person named David. He is someone who doesn’t really take a label with regards to gender or sexuality. As the essay states “David doesn’t really care enough to pick a label. If he had to, he’d choose agender” (Bennett pp. 17). This idea of not necessarily needing or wanting a label in a way contrasts with the ideas expressed in “Tomboy” but also exists with it. Taking the two chapters together it can be understood that labels are important to some and should be preserved, yet they are not necessary to all. It is also interesting to note that a label is never forced on David, he is never assigned anything and his experience can be described simply using umbrella terms such as “queer”. David is described using he/him pronouns throughout the essay so that is what I will be using here.
David is someone who spent years slowly coming to terms with his identity and how that affected his relationship with his parents. He is someone who grew up in a time and place where homophobia was rampant and clearly present within his school. He is not completely devoid of some form of community, but his life leaves him feeling isolated. The essay overall seems to be a form of homage to David, something that strives to explain a person and their life. To give a reason behind their experiences and their pain. It is just a glimpse into his life, yet it shows so much and is written in a kind and almost loving way.
The essay gives life to David’s struggles and seemingly tries to put to words all that he has been feeling in his life. The essay ends on a happy note and seems to have the purpose of respecting the life of the individual without trying to fit them into a box of a label or stereotype, but just letting him exist as a human and telling his story with honesty and respect.
This essay explores how his parents treated him and tries to understand them. It gives an honest look at their past and present relationship without trying to force answers. It doesn’t give a reason for everything because it acknowledges it can’t. Overall, the essay expresses a message of the potential of healing and a chance at a better life and recovery from the past.
While reading this I realized that this is how I want someone to write my obituary or just tell the story of my life. Honestly, without trying to give answers that aren’t there or force labels on me that I haven’t given myself. I would just want the honesty of the good and the bad that has happened and has been done.
This essay felt much shorter than the other two in this chapter, it follows the life of a nonbinary person named John (they/them). They grew up in a small town in Ontario with two brothers. The essay describes their life as they went from knowing nothing of queerness to finally being able to explore their identity.
This essay has a sadder tone, as it talks of John’s experiences with feeling uncomfortable coming out based on how they will be viewed and the judgement they receive from their siblings. John’s journey is of someone who took their time and gave themselves permission to explore and try to understand themselves.
They often take the path of not explaining their identity and instead letting people come to their own realizations about them. They don’t really have face to face conversations about it, but instead let their identity be understood slowly by others. In some ways John indicates that they regret this and feel like they should sit down and speak with others about it.
This essay explores a different concept of queer identities. Showing a perspective where they do not necessarily need to be explained and a person can just exist. This essay explores how an individual can choose to be open about how they identify or not and how that choice is solely theirs. This essay explores both the pros and cons of avoiding speaking about one’s own identity and how that can affect them and the reasons a person might make that choice.
It also makes it clear that John may one day change their mind and have conversations about their identity with others and they are fine with that. They talk of potentially meeting an old friend in the future and how they would feel more comfortable telling the friend about their identity and see their reaction before meeting them in person.
I can understand this internal battle of whether or not I should tell someone. I’ve often had the internal battle of whether or not I should tell people how I identify and who I am, because I feared that these people, whom I cared about, would reject the real me. I have lost people since coming out and that leads me to sometimes hesitate before explaining to friends my gender and identity. I have come to the conclusion, personally, that I only want to continue friendships and relationships with people who fully love the real me, and not their idea of what they want or expect me to be. I also value openness in relationships with regards to my life. I always try to answer every question with honesty and invite people to ask any questions they might have about me. This is my personal choice though, and everyone should be free to make their own decisions with regard to disclosing their identity or sexual orientation and I appreciate that this essay seems to support that idea.
Overall, this first chapter discusses the many ways people may choose to identify and the importance of having the freedom to choose (or not to choose) to identify oneself. This chapter explores how these choices may affect and individual and how they may or may not choose to disclose their identity to others. It recognizes the variety of experiences and how one may follow many different paths in life to come to understand themselves. There were many overarching themes, such as growing up without knowledge of the varieties of human experiences and with much knowledge of possible identities and how this affected each individual throughout their lives. This first chapter was written in an easy to understand way that also allowed for complex topics and ideas to be presented and explored. Needless to say, but clearly I’m gonna say it, this chapter has drawn me into the book and what it represents and what it will explore and do. I will not be able to read the next chapter until I sleep, but I will be thinking about what I have read until I do.
Overall thoughts on the first chapter
I am enjoying reading this book so far and hoping to finish and publish my review of the next chapter when I can. I broke the book review up like this because it would have been entirely too long a review otherwise and the collection of essays formatting made it easier to do it this way.
Thanks for reading if you got this far. Hopefully you’ll return for the next part when it comes out.
Reviewed by Finch Pierson (he/they)
Here is a link to purchase the book directly from the publisher.
Priced at $21.95 and $18.95 in the United States
I wish I could remember the name of the bookstore where I purchased this book. It was in Seattle. I will try to find it and add the name to my review of the next chapter as well as a description of the shop and my experience there.
Here is a link to Andrea Bennett’s personal website where you can find more information about them and their other works.
Full respect to the author, please support them by purchasing their book or other methods if you can, but no pressure. I highly recommend this book as it was an incredibly enjoyable read and helped me to process something of myself and my past as I was reading it.
As always, if you have any questions or comments please write them down below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I try to check my email semi-regularly, but if I miss your email feel free to resend it and I will do my best to reply in a timely manner.
My Twitter is @FinchPierson message me if you have any questions or wish to chat. I dunno.
Terms that you probably need to know
Agender: Being without a gender. A person who is agender is a person who does not have a gender. This identity is generally placed under the Transgender umbrella.
Homophobia: “The homophobia definition is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual” (Planned Parenthood 1).
Homophobe: A person who is Homophobic.
Transphobia: “Transphobia is the fear, hatred, disbelief, or mistrust of people who are transgender, thought to be transgender, or whose gender expression doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles. Transphobia can prevent transgender and gender nonconforming people from living full lives free from harm” (Planned Parenthood 2).
Transphobe: Someone who is Transphobic. TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) fall under this category.
Nonbinary: A person who identifies as neither a man nor a woman.
Transgender: A person whose gender does not match their sex assigned at birth.
The Gender Binary: The social norm present in some cultures of seeing gender as either “man” or “woman. The idea of their being a binary at all is not present in all cultures, but creates ‘gender norms’ where it does exist.
Gender Norms: These vary by culture, but they are what is considered “normal” behavior for a person of a specific gender within their culture. These vary by culture, area, and time period. An example would be the “blue is for boys and pink is for girls” stereotype that appeared relatively recently (this is a reversal of how it was in the past when “blue was believed to symbolize femininity and pink was believed to be associated with masculinity).
Bennett, Andrea. “Like A Boy But Not A Boy: Navigating Life, Mental Health, and Parenthood Outside the Gender Binary” Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020.
1 “What is Homophobia?” Planned Parenthood. Accessed Jan. 11, 2022. What is homophobia? (plannedparenthood.org)
2 “What’s Transphobia?” Planned Parenthood. Accessed Jan. 11, 2022. What’s Transphobia? | Facts About Transphobic Discrimination (plannedparenthood.org)
used my personal life as a source. So that’s a thing, just thought I’d note that down because my college professors can’t decide if I can plagiarize myself for some reason. Comment down below if you think you can self-plagiarize, because I repeat myself constantly (I have a crappy memory) so I may be guilty of that.
Don’t come for me.
I will run.