Let’s recommend some transgender books.
For the latest post in my recommendation series, I’ll be highlighting some of my favourite books to include transgender characters, or to explore trans-issues. With discussion on gender at large very much needed, and the normalisation of difference key in opening up those channels of conversation, I think we could all stand to read about experiences that differ from our own. That said, I tried to include a diverse mix of books that will hopefully appeal to a wide readership; trans, cis, young, old, or otherwise.
Trumpet by Jackie Kay
The subject matter explored in Trumpet could very easily have seen the story slip into undo sensationalism, but the care and compassion that Kay grants the characters stops that from ever happening. The story centres around Joss, a publicly respected musician and family-man who is discovered only upon death to have been biologically female. We see the way various people who knew Joss and members of the public react to the revelation, but at its core, this is a heartfelt story about love. Joss’ widow, Millie, is a fantastically well-realised character, and through her, Kay shows us that we fall in love with a person, not the body they are in. The confusion and bitterness felt by their son is also heavily explored, but from an unexpected angle that I really appreciated.
The Gender Games by Juno Dawson
This is a great piece of own-voice non-fiction from a transgender author who is frank, funny and informative. Dawson mixes fact with personal experience in this quasi-memoir, exploring gender as a concept. This includes looking at the ways we subconsciously force expectations on children from birth (and why this is bad for everyone), and sharing honest stories about her own experiences whilst transitioning. She also touches on the differences she has encountered between living as a man and living as a woman. The book educates without ever bogging you down in stats, and has enough cutting-quips and brilliant pop-culture references to keep you laughing throughout.
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
An impending Ice Age forms the backdrop of this quiet, character driven tale that is set in a caravan park in Scotland. It focusses on the lives of three lost souls as they strive to find their place in a world they no longer understand. One of those characters is Stella, a feisty, brave, inquisitive, witty and headstrong trans girl. She forms the nucleus of the whole book, and I thought the looming grip of puberty which will transform her body in ways she fears more than anything was mirrored beautifully in the menacing spread of lethal ice and snow across the landscape. She also has a wonderful relationship with her mother, which is another real highlight of the book.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
As much as it’s important to read books that fully shine the light on trans characters and issues, I think it’s also important that books exist in which trans people (and other minority groups) are simply presented like any other character, in which their gender identity is never the focus or point of the story, and they just so happen to be trans in the spirit of true, reflective diversity. This is very much the case with Eriko in Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. Though she’s a supporting character with a relatively small role, she’s instantly endearing and charismatic. I loved that both her son and the book’s heroine never question her gender identity, and are instead completely laid-back and accepting about it. It’s simply never an issue. This kind of normalisation through fiction is vital.
George by Alex Gino
Seeing yourself reflected in the books you read as a child can be a profoundly powerful experience. That’s why I’m so glad George exists for young trans kids. The premise is simple but highly effective, in that everyone sees George as a boy, but she knows deep inside that she’s really a girl. With the school play of Charlotte’s Web coming up, she figures that securing the role of Charlotte will be the best way to help everyone else see her for who she really is. It’s a touching story for any age, and one that has the kind of power that could change kids’ lives.
What are some of your favourite transgender books? Let’s chat about them in the comments.