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.

Either, Both, Neither: Gender Identity 101

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the best way for me to learn about a big, confusing topic is to read both fiction AND non-fiction about it. Fiction often helps us make sense of things in a story-telling, empathetic way, while non-fiction is more explanatory and logical. Reading one (or two) of each on the same topic can help me get a well-rounded view of a complicated idea. Today I’d like to show you what I mean by talking about gender identity. This is a big and messy topic that is coming up more and more in politics, popular culture, and general conversation – and speaking as a genderqueer, genderfluid, gender-vague person myself I do think it’s something more people should know about. But where to start, with such a huge area of research, history, and complex personal experiences to draw from? Good news: there are some really great books for that – all available through the library! All you need to bring is your library card and an open mind. Here are just a few titles I’d recommend trying to help you better understand your gender-diverse neighbors, coworkers, family members – or in my case, your librarian!

NONFICTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon is a brief, manifesto-style book, packed with thoughtful insights and explanations of just what “the gender binary” means, along with how (and why) people like them want to disrupt it. Primarily, Vaid-Menon focuses on how your expression of gender is an act of creativity, imagination, and liberation.

How to They/Them by Stuart Getty is a light-hearted, visually engaging book which acts as both a guidebook/dictionary of the world of gender-nonconformity, and as a memoir. Getty explains these confusing topics through the lens of their own personal experiences, in order to help anyone and everyone understand.

What’s Your Pronoun? by Dennis E. Baron is a title for those deeply concerned with the grammar of gender identity. Baron delves deep into the long, long history of gender-neutral pronouns, explaining all the different options that have been used over time and why they matter.

FICTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Salem by Hal Shrieve is my most recent fiction read on this topic: a powerful and gritty YA urban fantasy. The book focuses on Z, a genderqueer teenager who has recently become a zombie. Together with their new friend Aysel, an unregistered werewolf, they struggle to survive in a town deeply, violently prejudiced against them. Z’s experiences both as a zombie and as a genderqueer teen show the rejection, dismissal, and suspicion faced by transgender individuals in the real world. I appreciated that despite the book’s dark depiction of society, the ending was hopeful.

I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver is another great but somewhat intense YA read. In this realistic fiction book, Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary and is kicked out of the house. They move in with their estranged older sister, but struggle to overcome the trauma of their parents’ rejection, at last finding healing in a new romance with classmate Nathan. I like this book because it’s honest about how hard it is to navigate a complicated gender identity with both supportive and unsupportive family members. It’s also a good portrayal of living with anxiety, and has a hopeful ending.

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan is a fun fiction title I would recommend to get introduced to this topic. This is the second installment in Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, and in this book Magnus meets the feisty Alex Fierro, a genderfluid shapeshifter. As he builds an alliance and a friendship with Alex, Magnus (and the reader) gets a crash course in what it means to be genderfluid, including how pronouns work for those who are sometimes male and sometimes female. I recommend this book for a more light-hearted introduction to a complicated issue.

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Yellow wallpaperIt isn’t a new book by any means, but I found the themes and the writing of the short stories in The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings so timeless that it could be.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her stories about a hundred years ago. If you think of authors who lived at the turn of the 20th century to be stodgy, you may be as surprised as I was by Gilman’s candor and (sometimes) humor about gender identity, mental health and social norms. These themes are very much hot-button issues today.

“Herland” is the story that most made me want to check out the book, but I enjoyed all of them. In this utopian fantasy, a group of three male explorers set out to find a secret, all-female civilization rumored to exist in the seclusion of the forest. Their tantalizing visions of what they hope to encounter is not exactly what they actually find!

For a different -but no less interesting- take on the all-female society theme, you may want to check out the graphic novel Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.