Invisible In-betweens: Gender Identity 201

Gender identity is a hot topic in politics and culture lately, and for good reason. More people than ever before are feeling comfortable expressing the true range of their gender identity, but that means a lot of new and unfamiliar concepts are coming into the mainstream. If you’re overwhelmed, worried, or confused about what it all means, that’s okay – we can help with that! Research has shown that reading books, especially fiction, about people different from you can help build your empathy and understanding for them. I’m a firm believer that if we could only understand each other better and have compassion for each other, the world would be a kinder place – so if you liked my previous recommendations (or if you missed them entirely) try one of these titles to build a better understanding of a complicated issue. My focus this time around is on the muddled, fluid, unclear in-between places where gender isn’t clear-cut.

  

For a comprehensive look at gender diversity, try They/Them/Their by Eris Young – available through interlibrary loan, it focuses mostly on gender diversity in the United Kingdom, but with applicable concepts for US audiences. What I especially like about this book is its careful discussion of various terms and their meanings, and its heavy use of first-person accounts describing real-life experiences. If you’re completely new to the world of gender diversity, this is a great place to start.

        

If you’d like a book that helps you get used to hearing gender-neutral pronouns, and focuses on adventures and everyday activities of gender-diverse people, try one of these great titles. The Love Study is a light-hearted romance between a man with a fear of commitment and a genderqueer YouTuber. Finna by Nino Cipri is a funny sci-fi take on working retail, featuring Ava, an anxious girl, and her recent ex, genderqueer Jules. Mask of Shadows is the dark and exciting fantasy adventure of Sal, a genderfluid thief who takes the opportunity to audition to be an assassin for the queen, only to find themself falling in love with scribe Elise. Spin With Me is a sweet story of the mutual crush that blossoms between Essie, the reluctant new girl in town, and Ollie, a non-binary classmate passionate about LGBTQ advocacy.

 

For a meaningful memoir, try Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Identity by Corey Maison. I especially recommend Gender Queer if you’re not familiar with alternative pronouns: the author uses e/em/eir instead of he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs. These books are especially good for seeing life from a gender-diverse person’s perspective, because they detail the processes and emotions surrounding the authors’ quests to live authentically as themselves.

For a comics treatment, try Be Gay, Do Comics, edited by Matt Bors, and A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. Be Gay, Do Comics is a massive anthology of comics describing the wide world of LGBTQ+ experience, including the spectrum of gender diversity and the struggle of pronouns. A Quick and Easy Guide is, well, exactly what it sounds like. If you’re confused by the singular they/them pronouns or aren’t really familiar with how it works, this is a good book to start with, not least because it includes perspectives from both inside and outside the non-binary gender experience. See also A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J.R. Zuckerberg.

 

Finally, make it manga (Japanese graphic novels) with My Androgynous Boyfriend by Tamekou, The Bride Was A Boy by Chii, and Love Me for What I Am by Kata Konayama. These beautifully and/or adorably illustrated graphic novels tell the story of gender-diverse people as they fit into (or stand out of) everyday society. In My Androgynous Boyfriend, an average girl dates a boy skilled in the arts of makeup, nails, hair, and fashion – and they navigate the response of society to his unconventional self-expression. In The Bride Was A Boy, a transgender bride shares her journey through transition into love and matrimony, with cute humor along the way. Finally, Love Me for What I Am focuses on a non-binary teen finding community and acceptance working at an unusual café.

The Love Study by Kris Ripper

I’ve got two ways out of a reading slump: sweet, fluffy romances and children’s chapter books. Since I got into a bit of a slump as winter turned to spring, I went for a fluffy romance – that I liked – The Love Study by Kris Ripper. This book is a win for portraying happy endings, casual positive representation, and the power of friendship!

The main character and narrator is Declan, a temp with a great group of friends and major commitment issues. His friends love to introduce him by saying he left his last boyfriend at the altar, which he did. Since then, he’s sworn off romance, but now he’s starting to wonder if it’s time to try again. Enter Sidney, the group’s newest friend, who’s looking for someone to come on their YouTube show for a series called The Love Study. Declan agrees to go on a series of blind dates arranged by Sidney, and then to discuss them on the YouTube show, both to explore his relationship issues and to give dating advice to the viewers. The dates go okay, though he doesn’t really connect with any of them. That’s probably because the only person he is connecting with is Sidney — but since Sidney also doesn’t date, can they overcome their respective relationship fears and make something work for them?

I really loved how self-aware Declan is; he never tries to be macho or hide his feelings. He cares a lot, and he expresses that care in long, endearing rambles. He never stops apologizing to his former boyfriend, now good friend, Mason, who he left at the altar, but instead acknowledges how horrible it was for him to do that to someone he cared about and never fails to drop in a sincere “So sorry for that, again” every time it comes up. He’s always aware of his own faults and tries to make other people comfortable and put their feelings first. Frankly, I’ve never read a romantic hero like him before and I found it so refreshing. I also loved Sidney because they were such a distinct character with their own personality, their own fashion sense, and their own approach to things. They’re more reserved and thoughtful, but don’t hesitate to voice their honest and transparent opinion when asked. Two romantic characters that can and do communicate with each other? Shocking (and delightful)! Of course, their communication isn’t perfect, and Declan has some mental health issues to work through — or there wouldn’t be a story — but as these kind of issues, resolutions and happily-ever-afters go, I think this book did a good job of presenting a unique and realistic scenario.

The whole book was beautifully wholesome and transparent; I’ve never read a less problematic romance (or book in general) for adults. Sidney’s gender and pronouns are treated casually and with complete acceptance; no inappropriate or invasive questions were asked. Declan’s group of friends is loving and supportive, even though they don’t hesitate to roast Declan mercilessly; the group also includes a range of personalities, ethnicities, and gender identities which again receive full and unquestioned support.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone for a gentle read, a utopian view of the world, and a sweet romance.