Friday, May 14, 2010

Guest Post: Transgender Non-Fiction

Today's guest post comes from Cass at Bonjour Cass! Thank you for being with us, Cass!

Make sure to check at the bottom of this post for giveaway information!


When I was in high school, my mother and I would frequently have dinner at a local sit-down restaurant. My mom, who at the time was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer, had taken to wearing a cap to cover her baldness and wore sweat shirts and elastic waisted pants for comfort, but still had energy enough to go out for dinner. On our last visit to this particular restaurant, our waitress, a young, pleasant woman, seemed flustered after giving us our menus. Mom, who was quite shy herself, give her an encouraging smile, assuming the waitress was having a difficult evening. After a few endlessly awkward moments involving my mom trying to get the young woman to relax and the waitress staring blank-faced at her, the waitress asked, "Can I get you anything to drink, sir?"

This was my first (although certainly not my last) encounter with misgendering and incorrect pronouns. To be clear, my mother (who has since passed) was cisgender and did not identify as transgender, but due to her disease she was not immediately identifiable as a woman, at least to the waitress. She looked at my mother, saw a person with no hair and no breasts wearing an androgynous outfit and read my mother as being a man.

Each time we see someone, we read their appearance for gender cues, such as hair style and clothing; we then use these cues--consciously or subconsciously--to make an assumption about whether that person is a man or a woman. The hurt and pain my mother felt when the waitress used an incorrect pronoun is something that many trans men and women experience on a regular basis. (Note: A trans man is a person who was assigned female at birth but who identifies as a man, just as a trans woman is a person who was assigned male at birth but identifies as being a woman.)

I am a cisgender, queer-identified trans-ally; my boyfriend, Ethan, is a trans man (hi, love!) who is wonderful. I started reading about transgender identities and gender theory as a Women and Gender Studies major in college six years ago, and over that time I've amassed quite a collection and have read dozens of excellent, good, decent, and not-so-good books on the subject.

The following is a list of non-fiction books on transgender history, gender identity, and the transgender movement, all of which I own and highly recommend. They are all written by trans-identified folk. This list is by no means comprehensive.

Transgender History
Susan Stryker

An excellent introduction to trans history with a focus on trans women.
Why I Like It: It's very readable, and it comes with bonus discussion questions! I kind of have a weakness for discussion questions.
Best If: You prefer straightforward history and want something published more recently.

Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer
Riki Wilchins

The title kind of explains it all.
Why I Like It: This book starts out all "here is some basic information about the history of the women's movement and the gay movement and the transgender movement" and then Wilchins is all HEY! HOW ABOUT SOME THEORY! And then, you know, I went "OH WOW THAT IS SOME THEORY" and my brain hurt a little but in a good way.
Best If: You prefer a little theory with your history.

Transgender Warriors: Making History From Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman
Leslie Feinberg

Feinberg is best known for hir excellent novel Stone Butch Blues, which I would beg you to read if this wasn't a list of non-fiction. In the preface of Transgender Warriors, ze describes the book as being "...the heart of my life's work. When I clenched my fists and shouted back at slurs aimed to strip me of my humanity, this was the certainty behind my anger. When I sputtered in pain at well-meaning individuals who told me, 'I just don't get what you are?' - this is what I meant. Today, Transgender Warriors is my answer. This is the core of my pride."
Why I Like It: Seriously, did you read that quote?
Best If: You prefer a little narrative with THE HEART OF SOMEONE'S LIFE WORK.

Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism
Patrick Calfia

More opinion, analyzing, and criticism than plain history.
Why I Like It: Califia happens to be one of my very favorite authors and in my opinion this is his best non-fiction work. There's an excellent chapter on transphobia in the feminist community as well as a chapter comparing Stone Butch Blues by Feinberg to S/He by Minnie Bruce Pratt, who is Feinberg's partner and an amazing writer. My nerd-ar went through the roof when I read that chapter.
Best If: You enjoy excellent non-fiction. Also if you want to impress at parties.

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rule of Gender and Conformity
edited by Matt Bernstein Sycamore

All short, first-person narratives from a variety of people with different identities and their experience with passing--not limited to gender.
Why I Like It: When discussing a topic as personal as identity, I think it's much more effective to have multiple writers discussing a variety of experiences.
Best If: You are looking for more diversity of opinion.

Genderqueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary
edited by Joan Nestle, Riki Wilchins, and Clare Howell

Why I Like It: Genderqueer is one of the few books on my shelf that has post it notes marking certain essays (fyi, they are "Loving Outside Simple Lines" by Sonya Bolus and "Fading to Pink" by Robin Maltz.
Best If: You are looking for more diversity of opinion and for a greater understanding of "genderqueer." Or if you just enjoy good writing. Or if you want to read the essays I mention and discuss them with me. Just sayin'.

(If you have any questions about gender identity or the books I've mentioned, or if you've read them and want to discuss them, or if you find something wonderful you'd like to share, please feel free to email me at bonjourcass AT gmail DOT com. Especially if you want to talk about books. :) )

Giveaway: Cass has generously agreed to donate a copy of Sex Changes by Patrick Califia (see above for description). In order to win the book, all you have to do is participate in May's Transgender mini-challenge.

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