Books

Navigating the Lives of Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals (Part One)

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)

Edited by P.A. Wilson and the Perusing Muse

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.

Introduction

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.

Chapter One

“Tomboy”

 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.

“david”

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.

“john”

  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.

ISBN 978-1-55152-821-2

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 finchpierson@gmail.com. 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).

Sources

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.

Who knows.

Don’t come for me.

I will run.

Books

: Decoding the Trans Generation :

Travers, A. (2018). The trans generation: how trans kids (and their parents) are creating a gender revolution. New York, New York University Press. Pp. 263. $18.95

Dr. Ann Travers (they/them) in their book “The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) are Creating a Gender Revolution”, covers a variety of topics regarding the lives of trans children and their families. Dr. Travers themself identifies as transgender, or trans, and uses they/them pronouns to refer to themself throughout the book. They briefly mention their own experience of being trans and then go on to describe how they went about writing this book. For this book they interviewed 19 transgender (and gender nonconforming) kids and young adults and 23 parents of transgender (and gender nonconforming) kids (5). They choose the subjects of their interview from both the United States and Canada.

Those interviewed told the stories of the struggles they faced, and Travers added in their own observations. They covered topics such as discrimination, bathroom laws, gender segregated spaces, family circumstances, transitioning, healthcare, and general safety. Travers presented various plans and how they are and are not effective for solving problems related to the lives of trans people, they support these statements with a combination of scientifically backed medical information, statistics, and the personal experiences of those they interviewed. While, clearly, Travers has a bias toward what would be considered more liberal views, they are very careful to refrain from giving emotion-based arguments to demonstrate their points. While they do rely partially on the personal testimonies of others, they back everything being said with data. They also report going back between months and years later to check upon the individuals interviewed and their families and note any changes to circumstances. They are also clear in that they will not give the real names of those interviewed for those individuals’ safeties. Their commitment to giving data and statistics and providing clear references for these makes this book worth reading for those with any form of political views for its informative value.

The book has a pleasing format that makes it easy to understand and read through. Travers uses blocks of quote with differing formatting from the rest of the text to give a visual break between ideas. They also separate sections in chapters and give specific headings to allow those reading to understand what is being said and addressed in each. The inclusion of extra resources at the back of the book is also quite helpful. The transitions between testimonials and other information are smooth as well.

One very important aspect addressed throughout the book is the concept of labelling, both how people choose to be labelled and how others label them (especially in the case of institutions). On this Travers notes, “Government identification often presents trans people with an insurmountable barrier to social transition. “M” or “F” sez markers on government identification play a fundamental role in imposing a binary based sex category on kids and in enabling or preventing freedom of movement” (27). Throughout the book Travers explains that this can easily out a trans person who was formerly stealth (meaning they are able to present as their gender in an affirming way and are not known to be trans). While they may be able to later petition to have these markers changed eventually, there are many who do not define themselves along the assumed binary (male vs. female) at all and as such these markers can be especially painful as there are rarely other options. Travers goes on throughout the book to suggest that there may be no real binary at all and that the spectrum of gender is much more complicated than what can be summed up using one of the three most common labels; male, female, and nonbinary (5).

This is the basis of the idea behind the “Gender Revolution” that Travers explains (1). While the title of the book may be confusing for some, it in many ways accurately portrays the overarching theme of the work. This book extensively discusses gender theory, gender identities, legislation regarding these, and the difficulties and challenged faced by transgender individuals and those closest to them. Travers makes sure to not only interview the parents of these kids, but the kids themselves to get the most accurate picture of their lives. They also look into the histories of events and the institutions that either helped or harmed these children and their parents. They included children of various ages, identities, races, backgrounds, etc. They interviewed many parents as well, including one parent who had lost their transgender child to suicide, to hear about the parents’ perspectives on what was happening in the lives of their children.

At the end of the book travers gives a four point action plan with the goal of helping transgender individuals, this includes pushing institutions to change their attitudes and behaviors towards those who are trans, making healthcare more accessible, tearing down gender separating systems, and making assisting trans kids and making their lives easier the main focus of new political actions. This is the conclusion that Travers brings to their book, giving their views, bias, and intentions explicitly to avoid any possibility of conclusion. This plan is what they spent over a hundred pages backing with research and testimonies.

            Before Travers begins, they go through explaining the various definitions they will be using. This makes the text in and of itself much easier to read and understand. They also pause to explain specific circumstances and meanings throughout the chapters to give the readers a chance to fully understand the information they are being given. This educational formatting is furthered by the inclusions in the back of the book, such as three appendixes offering various information, a glossary full of definitions for terms used in the book, several pages of notes for clarification, an extensive bibliography that gives many options for further research, and an index. All of this added together, along with the books style, makes it ideal for use as a teaching tool. One could begin reading with virtually no knowledge on the subject and still be able to understand the book’s content. That is not to say the book is best for all audiences, the book does cover such topics as sexual assault, physical assault, abuse, hate crimes, self-harm, suicide and suicide attempts, and other sensitive topics, as such, audiences who may be triggered or are not in a good mental or emotional state to read about such things should most likely not attempt to read this book. This book would be ideal for one wishing to learn more about the life experiences of those who are in the LGBTQ+ Community (not just transgender individuals), gender theory, or legislation regarding such topics and its effects on society.

            Overall, this book is worth reading for almost anyone who wishes to learn more about the diverse experiences of others. It is worthwhile as an educational tool as well and cites many other research tools that the author used. The amount of information they provide and the way in which they conducted their research are excellent. A negative would be their inability to cover certain topics in depth, go farther in explaining the situations regarding certain events, and that while they did a lot to address the diversity among the LGBTQ+ community, they could have done more to address the history behind certain views and events. While they did give a very comprehensive explanation of terms used, they were unable to address many other aspects of what it means to be a member of the community. Despite these downsides, one positive was that they were able to, with grace and dignity, discuss the tragic death by suicide of one child. This child’s mother was interviewed, and Travers worked to make clear the struggles the both the child and his mother went through and did not dishonor his life or legacy. In conclusion, this book is well worth reading and potentially using in a classroom setting to educate students and teachers alike on an aspect of diversity in the world that is often unaddressed or addressed poorly in today’s society.  

Reviewed by Finch Pierson

Citation Style: APA

Please support Dr. Ann Travers (they/them) if you can, the link to buy their book is: https://nyupress.org/9781479885794/

They have many lectures available on YouTube and there are many more reviews of their book available there. If you cannot purchase their book I hope you are able find it at a library near you. They have also written several other books that I look forward to reading soon.

Prequel or something to everything I said

            I chose this book because it was important to me to be able to read some more queer literature. As a trans person I am super interested in literature on people in my community. It was difficult to find this book as it was not in the system for the college I went to. I was manually wandering the aisles for anything queer related that was even mildly positive and scientific. I finally found a section with titles such as “Gay is Good” and “Gay is Bad” sitting almost next to each other. This held all the books that wouldn’t come up in my search of the system. I was so excited that I took out a ridiculous amount of books from the library and carried them to class (lowkey probably outing myself to everyone with all the rainbow covers).

            Here is where I finally found the book “The trans generation: how trans kids (and their parents) are creating a gender revolution” by Dr. Ann Travers. This paper was my final for the required class I was taking at this college. It was my way of subtlety outing myself to my professor. I enjoyed writing this paper though I have made some edits and plan to make a revised version once I have access to the book again. Full respect to Dr. Travers for all their work in writing this book. It was a hard read that was painful at points though it was comforting to find some queer literature somewhere on the campus.

            As someone who has also dealt with being suicidal and attempts, it was difficult to read about other trans people (especially kids) and their battles with suicidal thoughts. It was especially difficult to hear about the child who was given a name the same as mine who ended up dying.

            So I guess this is my introduction to you all. My name is Finch Pierson I am a trans man and I use He/Him and They/Them pronouns. I am bisexual. I will be guest writing on occasion. Most of what I will be writing will be on topics such as queer culture and literature and stuff like that. There will be a lot of other stuff as well. Not sure what will happen yet.

If you have any questions feel free to ask me. My email is Finchpierson@gmail.com. I will try to respond as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Finch Pierson

He/they