Been sitting on this review for two months now, trying to land on a star rating, and how to articulate what I wanted to say. Ultimately, this is a good book that is part memoir and part feminist/social text about being transgender (with a focus on the UK), with some intersectional feminist ideas thrown in. It’s also written in a very colloquial, humorous style that is very much not the norm for these kinds of books. This is what threw me, because I couldn’t decide if the familiar/jokey tone helped or hurt the book, because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting you know, serious words for serious themes or some such rot. In the end, I think it’s both, but it helped far more than it hurt. (This is obviously completely subjective.)
Ultimately, I think the tone helps with the overall design of the book, which is aimed not just at trans readers but for everybody else as well. It’s meant to be humanizing and disarming, and I think that works. (There were just a few instances where I thought the joke went a bit far and cut into the points she was making. Then again, I’m sensitive to this because a friend of mine is always the one to take a joke too far. It’s funny, and it’s funny, and then it crosses the line and you want to hide your face, roll your eyes, that kind of thing.)
The Gender Games is a 2017 book by transgender author Juno Dawson. Though things have changed quite a bit in the cultural conversation surrounding gender, this book is still very relevant. Perhaps even more so right now, as a certain formerly beloved British author has been throwing her ignorant, uniformed views into the public conversation and making waves. Juno mentions in the book, and I have heard it elsewhere, that the single most important thing to people being understanding of trans issues is knowing a trans person. I certainly became much more aware after having multiple trans friends, online and off, because if someone you care about cares about something, the natural impulse is for you to care, too, and to be informed. For people who don’t have anyone trans in their life, Juno (we are on a first name basis now because this book gets very personal) has written this book instead. Hopefully some of them will pick it up.
She does two things here: Telling the story of her life as it relates to Gender (which she personifies throughout the book), and using the opportunities presented by her story to explicate the ideas of Gender, sexuality, and other feminist and social issues, in plain language in a way that most people would be easily able to understand. She uses her real life stories or those of people she’s met or interviewed to provide examples. In that way, it’s a text that discusses intellectual, nearly academic, issues but in a very down to earth way. The main thesis of the book is that “we have all been fucked by Gender,” which is a social construct, aka something completely made up by humans and therefore malleable, but which most of us inexplicably treat like hard and fast live or die rules. She takes full advantage of her perspective, having lived the first part of her life as a gay white effeminate man (with all the complex privileges and disadvantages that come with all her intersecting identities), and then later in life suddenly experiencing the view from the other side of the gender spectrum.
Because of her familiar tone, the book did at points feel messy, but overall this was a very intelligent and compassionate exploration (both personal and cultural) of Gender and in today’s social context. And she is funny, and has a very unique voice as a writer. As with anyone possessing a unique style, YMMV.
This would also be a good starting point if you know someone with a good sense of humor who wants to know more about trans people and trans experiences, or if you just want to read someone funny talking about gender and sexuality.