Over the past few years I have begun to pay attention to reading books by or about members of the LGBTQ community. In general, I’ve tried to be more aware of my reading habits and expand them generally. It was a boon to me then that one of the tasks for Read Harder challenge was read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender. I shortlisted three, but decided to go with Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin as it is also on the ALA’s top ten most challenged books of 2015 list.
When scanning the list of frequently challenged books several themes present themselves, and boil down to several ideas for me. One of them is that people are afraid of exposing children to values that they deem to be sinful or wrong, so of course many of the books that are challenged are focused around offensive language, sexuality, homosexuality, and the like. The list of reasons submitted for Beyond Magenta’s challenges include: being anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”). I wish I could say I was surprised.
If I may pull out my soap box for just a minute, by refusing to consider conversations about any of the items above you are only going to Other the group, and that never ends well. I digress.
On its merits Beyond Magenta is a three-star book for me. Kuklin made the choice when working with the teens featured in this book to record conversations and then working with each teen to craft them into essays told from their point of view, with some insights from Kuklin presented in a different text within each essay. While I applaud the decision to place the story into the hands of its owners, and not try to translate it through her own cisgender and heterosexual view of the world it unfortunately left the book a little unpolished. It also hurt the book to pretend that these responses weren’t crafted from interview questions when the author tells us as much in the afterword.
But the biggest problem I had with the book was simply this: it was a book written for other cisgendered readers which focuses heavily on the bodies, hormones, and battles for acceptance (which is a teenage obstacle no matter the gender identity). It does not focus as much on the emotional growth, of coming to terms with their trans identity, or any of the many other facets of the lives of the interviewees. Perhaps Kuklin’s scope, focusing on teens (although at least a few of her interviewees were by the end in their early 20s) hampered her in this regard, but unfortunately there were many times when I felt that the soap opera people assume transgender teens are having was spotlighted a bit too much.
Still, there are also positives: perhaps most importantly this book shows a diversity of transgender teens. Of the six There is an equal representation of two transgender women, two transgender men, and two gender non-conforming teens. Likewise, at least half of the interviewees are people of color, and all six come from a variety of socioeconomic and familial backgrounds.
I would suggest this book perhaps as a very introductory book, but I think Transparent which I read and reviewed last year is a better place to start, even if it might be a bit dated, focusing on this same age group from 1997-2005.