For Transgender Day of Visibility this year, March 31, 2021, I set out to make a list of books that I want to read that dealt with what it means to be transgender. I wanted the focus of this list to be informative about trans issues and politics, while also exploring transgender life throughout history. That being said, the list also includes some more leisurely reads that are great insights into someone's specific experience.
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton, a transgender scholar, author, and activist, offering an incredible insight to how Black people pioneered being out as transgender. Following Black History Month, I find it important to include this in-depth account of Black transgender figures from the United States. Often, white people, or in this case white transgender people, ignore the strides made by people of color, and this book exemplifies those prominent transgender people of color who advocated for trans identity. It’s also a great source and reference for historical events that took place that could help readers with awareness and understanding of the trans community.
My next book may not seem that important to what this list aims at but I think it is highly important to include. I Am Jazz, by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, is a children’s book aimed at informing and promoting inclusion between the transgender community and cisgender people. The book is highly controversial, earning a spot on the 100 most banned books list, as it is aimed at educating small children about trans issues. However, having this positive conversation and awareness at a young age is vital; not only does it help teach about gender identity, but it can allow children to have better insight to themselves. I include if for all these reasons, but also because it is a nice, fun and short read with a trans author.
The young adult novel, Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender is something I think will fit perfectly on my bookshelf! The description is enticing, an enthralling teenage story about the trials and tribulations of a black, queer, transgender kid who falls into a quasi-love triangle. It encompasses all the realness of what identity means, which is why I put it so high on my list. Felix Ever After also looks like the perfect combination of entertaining writing, while keeping a level of self-awareness that makes it accurately informative of real-life situations transgender people can find themselves in.
For a quick, firsthand perspective of what being gender nonconforming/nonbinary looks and feels like, I choose to include Alok Vaid-Menon’s pocketbook Beyond the Gender Binary. The book's aim is to look Beyond the Gender Binary by conceptualizing gender in full color, not just in terms of male or female. It also tackles the topic of gender as a social construct and the oppression of those identifying as transgender or nonbinary today. Reviews say that it deconstructs Western ideals of gender and the expectations that come along with that, while remaining incredibly personal and relatable. Overall, this short, inspiring book appears to be a great candidate to read and reflect upon this month.
To appease my need for something with dark humor, I look to Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thon for an outlet. Although it is a work of fiction, Kai writes real circumstances in a mystical, magical world that makes you love the fierce, Asian, transgender woman that is the main character. I have never seen anything like this, which makes it incredibly intriguing. It’s uniqueness in humor and storytelling adds to its already flamboyant aesthetic which gives it a spot on my list—not to mention I can't wait to find out what a fictional memoir is like.
This next book is a 2015 Stonewall Honor book. Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out is a culmination of work with first hand experiences and perspective from transgender and nonbinary teens taken from interviews the author did with them. Based on its cover it seems geared towards those who may not have any real life experience with transgender people; that would make this a great book to refer to if you're in the community and want to have discussions with people who are not or just might not be aware. Either way, it seems to be an informative book that a lot of dedication went into making.
Last but certainly not least, is Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much More by Janet Mock. It is her personal account of what her journey as a transgender woman looked like growing up in the cisgender world. Her memoir follows all important aspects of her life: struggling in early childhood to understand who she was, all the way to her finding love in a world that made her think she was unlovable. Redefining Realness appears to be the perfect, relatable read for transgender people and a great resource for those who want to learn more from a first person perspective. She seems to her story with all the hairy details in a beautiful way and for that reason it tops off my list.
Lee Hatcher is a trans man from Nashville, currently a student at New York University