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.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

I had not heard anything about this book before I checked it out on OverDrive, but the plot appealed to me right from the beginning as it’s a twisty thriller with a noir feel. Mysteries abound in Lippman’s newest book as a housewife decides to upend her entire life in order to make a new name for herself.

Lady in the Lake  by Laura Lippman is a psychological thriller mixed with elements of classic crime noir set in 1960s Baltimore. Madeline ‘Maddie’ Schwartz is a housewife, happy with her pampered easy life. Well, she was satisfied with that life up until this year when she decided to leave her eighteen year marriage to start over and live a passionate life that was more meaningful.

Starting a new life, Maddie wants to make a difference. After learning of a young girl’s disappearance, she decides to help police look for the girl. Using those interactions as a step-up, Maddie works her way onto the staff of the city’s newspaper, the Star. Trying to make a name for herself, Maddie is on the lookout for a story that will help her rise to fame. She finds the story of a missing woman whose body was found in the fountain of the park lake and decides to investigate.

A young African-American woman who enjoyed a good time, Cleo Sherwood disappeared one night. No one seems concerned with how the woman ended up there, so Maddie begins to dig into her disappearance. Cleo’s ghost is not happy with Maddie poking around into her life and death. She just wants to be left alone.

This book changes perspectives between many different characters as readers learn about the characters on the periphery of Maddie’s life. As she looks into Cleo’s murder, Maddie investigates a wide number of people, but fails to truly see what lies right in front of her. Her inability to see this leads to dangerous consequences for herself, those closest to her, and the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book. Since this book jumps around to multiple points of view, the narrator is able to add different accents, dialogue, and authentic speech to each character. This definitely made the listen more than worthwhile and helped me keep the multitude of characters separate in my head.

Lippmann based the crimes that occur in this book on two real-life disappearances. If you’re interested in learning more, Lippman did an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered that covers her inspiration.


This book is available in the following formats: