9 Must Read Books About Transgender Life

9 Must Read Books About Transgender Life

Reading has long been thought to foster empathy in readers, which is exactly what a particular set of North Carolina Republicans could use more of.

About a month ago, these elected officials passed a bill that would prevent people from using the gender-codified restroom that does not match the gender listed on the person's birth certificate. If enacted, transgender people, as well as people of other non-binary gender identities, would be punished for using the restroom of the gender they identify with. 

I won't go into how impossible this bill would be to enforce given that few people carry their birth certificates on their person and that people can have their government-issued IDs changed to reflect their chosen gender. I won't rail on about how the primary argument that these Republicans are using to push this bill is to "protect the children" is ludicrous given that there have been Republican legislators soliciting sex in bathrooms. And I won't state the obvious fact that there are already laws against sexual assault and molestation, thus the bill would accomplish nothing. Except to make transgender people uncomfortable.  

Ergo, some empathy is in order! I did some research on books by and about transgender people and found a LOT of thoughtful, compelling reads. As good citizens of humanity it's important to educate ourselves about the experiences of marginalized people in hopes of building a better world. And what better way to do that than through our favorite hobby? Check out these 9 must read books about transgender life. 


She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Published in 2004, She's Not There was one of the first books by a transgender author to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. Boylan navigates the tension of a person holding closely and ultimately revealing a life-altering secret. If ever there was a memoir about learning how to be comfortable in your own skin, this is it.  


Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

With all the societal expectations society places on girls---a love of all things pink, playing with dolls, and the like---it's not easy being one when you don't identify with a traditional sense of femininity. Even so, you may not fully identify with masculinity either. Growing up navigating a non-binary gender identity is challenging and Liz finds that being in the middle and having the best of both worlds is harder than she thought. Tomboy is a must read, particularly for people in middle school and high school still trying to figure out parents, romance, and how to be yourself. 


Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

In the dystopian fiction novel Lizard Radio, Kivali is bullied for being a girl in boy's clothes. Neither group fully accepts her and she struggles to belong, until she moves in with a noncomformist artist who tells her she's a part of a mysterious race of people and has the ability to save the world. Winding through drugs, curious disappearances, tough questions, and her unique talent of tapping into her animal self, Kivali learns that her unique combination of talents allows her to fulfill her destiny. 


Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein

The national statistics on LGBTQ teen suicide is staggering. According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, over 30% of LGBTQ youth report at least one suicide attempt within the past year. OVER THIRTY PERCENT. If that doesn't bother you, get a stethoscope---your heart is missing. Thank goodness Bornstein put together this survival guide to encourage teens to proudly and unapologetically be themselves. No telling how many lives Hello Cruel World has saved. 


A + E 4ever by I. Merey

What I really like about A + E 4ever is that it truly explores genderqueer-ness. Unlike some of the other books where the author/protagonist finds his/her true self, this book is all about accepting that sometimes your identity doesn't have a label. The story follows two best friends, male and female, both genderqueer at the intersection of love and friendship, gay and straight, and all the feelings that come with living at the crossroads of who you are and who society wants you to be. The story is the essence of non-binary identity. 


Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More by Janet Mock 

Redefining Realness is such a beautiful book because it's a manifesto on intersectionality and a rags to riches story all rolled into one. There are discussions of gender identity, race/multiculturalism, and growing up at a disadvantaged socioeconomic status. Despite the challenges set against her, Janet's bravery fueled her to get her sexual reassignment surgery at 18 and go on to become editor of People.com. Her memoir is a powerful testament to what you can do when you are unwaveringly and unapologetically yourself, and when you don't let anyone stand in your way. 


Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger 

This novel is for everyone who has stupidly claimed that being transgender "isn't natural." As Angela undergoes her transition to Grady, the person who best understands him is also a person who understands science. Through the lens of the parrotfish, which by natural phenomenon may change gender as needed, we learn just how natural not identifying with your birth gender really is. Parrotfish is not the kind of book you can let your thoughts swim away from. 


George by Alex Gino

I can seriously relate to this book because I once tried to audition for the part of the Scarecrow in my high school's rendition of The Wizard of Oz and was told by the theater teacher that there was no way she was having a girl play the Scarecrow. In George, the namesake George wants the part of Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte's Web. The teacher won't let George audition as Charlotte, but she and her best friend devise a plan that would allow George to be Charlotte and to show everyone her true self. 


Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness, and Becoming a Man by Thomas Page McBee

This book is powerful, powerful, powerful. McBee poses the complicated question of defining masculinity by examining his life with his abusive father and a mugger who sought to kill him, but who ultimately had the mercy to release him. Man Alive is a hard look at the complex nature of the concept of masculinity and what it really means to be a man. Rather than being a confessional, as often memoirs are, McBee strives to tell a universal story through his unique experience.  


Share your favorite books about transgender life in the comments! 

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