A tale of two trans teen books… OK, these books don’t have too much in common, but I read them back to back and can’t help comparing. They’re both by authors who are not transgender, and I approached them both with trepidation. One did a better job winning me over than the other. Here are my thoughts:


Freakboy by Kristen Elizabeth Clark is a novel in verse told from the point of view of three characters: Brendan, who is struggling with depression and dysphoria; Vanessa, Brendan’s tough but sensitive girlfriend; and Angel, an adult trans woman who extends a lifeline to Brendan. The title of this one kept me away for a while (and honestly, I still kind of hate it - what young person questioning their gender wants to pick up a book with this insult on the cover?), but I decided to give it a chance because of the author’s preface. Clark emphasizes that she is writing a transgender narrative, not the transgender narrative. This book does have its problems - Angel (a character of color) employs slang that sometimes feels like Clark (who is white) trying too hard, and like I said, that title continues to rub me wrong.

Generally, though? I am glad this is a YA narrative that’s out there. Its multiple first-person point of views offer an access point for trans, cis and not-sure-I’m-either readers. It’s a refreshing change from books like Almost Perfect and Luna that only view trans girls through cisgender characters’ eyes. The expressive verse style might be a hook for readers who wouldn’t otherwise read a story like this. And overall, I think Clark does a good job achieving her stated goal - creating a narrative that is self-evidently just one perspective in a vast world of trans experiences.


Beyond Mangenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin is a collection of first-person-style essays gleaned from interviews with transgender people in their late teens and early twenties. I’m not going to beat around the bush: this book made me really uncomfortable. I couldn’t shake the vibe of exploitation - this is an adult cis author putting the childhoods and coming out stories of young trans people on display. Yes, I gave Freakboy's cis author a bit more leeway, but this is a non-fiction book that involves young, often vulnerable participants. Is a cis woman who admittedly didn’t know much about trans people when she decided to make a book about them the right person to handle this project? She edited these stories down into narratives - how did she decide what made the cut? For example, why did a bunch of casual sexism and fatphobia make it in? I don’t necessarily blame the young folks profiled in the book for that stuff - that’s sort of the point, that they’re just “typical teens”. But how are these young people going to feel about this book in ten years, or heck, in two?

Among my least favorite elements are talkshow-trope “before” photos included in two of the profiles. The author also interjects an “XX chromosomes mean your body does this, XY means your body does that” into one chapter - first, my body disagrees, second, this doesn’t come up again or get complicated further despite the inclusion of an intersex teen in a later chapter. While I’m glad the book has a “Further Resources” section, it’s a mixed bag - the non-fiction list is pretty good, but the only fiction mentioned is Middlesex and Luna, two books I would probably not hand to a trans teen. The movies list is also not inspiring - early 90s films like The Crying Game, M. Butterfly and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert probably should have been passed over for more recent, relevant movies like Gun Hill Road  and My Prairie Home.

This book might be OK as a Trans 101 - I was glad that it included trans women, trans men, and non-binary trans people, and that half of the interviewees are people of color. But there’s not much new here. If you’re looking for non-fiction trans books for teens, I would instead recommend one of the many out there that were conceived and authored by trans people: Revolutionary Voices, The Gender Book, Kicked Out, Hello Cruel World or Gender Outlaws.

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    reblogging for the comments and if any of my trans followers want to read these books/this post, comment etc.
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    Actually, I know one of the teens in Beyond Magenta. They posted a long Facebook message about NOT wanting us to support...
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