Pride Week Book Review
Life is filled with transitions of all kinds; but beyond any doubt, one of the most difficult and wrenching transitions a person can go through is gender transition. Within the past few years, there has been an explosion of books dealing with gender identity issues, specifically transgender people who transition. These include histories, social and political issues and personal biographies. It’s the personal stories that vividly illustrate the struggles and triumphs of those who going through gender transition.
Chaz Bono publicly announced his transition in 2009; his biography, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, was released this past spring along with a web forum and documentary. In Transition, Bono describes his tumultuous youth as the “daughter” of two celebrity parents, and later on, his controversial coming out as a lesbian to both his family and the public. But, the undercurrent of something else, still unresolved, underlies much of his book, until the point at which he finally realized he was actually a man. Struggling with the grief of losing his father and a partner, and recovering from an addiction, Bono began to confront himself and then, the challenging process of coming out, once again, before transitioning.
If Chaz Bono had been an adult in the 1940s, his difficult struggle would been nearly impossible. This is illustrated in the story of Michael Dillon in Pagan Kennedy’s The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution. Dillon’s awareness of himself as a male trapped in a female body, as is typical, started when he was very young; but being young in the early twentieth-century meant growing up in a world with almost no scientific knowledge of what a transgender person was and in a society where people feared difference from the norm. Dillon began to present in a masculine fashion in university, transitioning just after the Second World War. Kennedy’s book is also about Roberta Cowell, a former RAF bomber and a transgender woman who heard about Dillon’s writings on gender reassignment surgery and sought his advice. Unfortunately, Dillon’s story does not end well; he died in 1963, on a Buddhist retreat in the Himalayas, alone, having struggled against society’s prejudices in order to settle down to a career and a family as a man, but such were the times.
Transparent: Love, Family and Living The T with Transgender Teenagers, by freelance writer Cris Beam, is the illuminating and heart-wrenching story of Beam’s work as a volunteer at an inner-city school for LGBTQ youth in Los Angeles; it is here where she took four transgender teenage girls under her wing. We see the girls’ struggles with living in poverty, or on the streets, and being transgender. Along the way, they deal with abusive families, street gangs, unstable employment and, in one case, incarceration. Beam tells her story while giving voice to those of the girls, with all the anxiety, warmth and compassion of a mother concerned for her daughters in a world fraught with fear and violence.
Have you read any other LGBTQ-related books? Feel free to comment.
Happy Pride Week!