Friday, March 16, 2012

REVIEW: Transgender 101 by Nicholas M Teich

Nicholas Teich's Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue is one of those rare pieces of non-fiction that works equally well in educating (and entertaining) both within and outside the community it explores.

First of all, it's an absolutely excellent resource to share with friends, family, and coworkers whose only exposure to transgender issues or themes has been through the likes of Jerry Springer or RuPaul's Drag Race. Nicholas begins each chapter by asking broad, sweeping questions about identity, expression, and society that immediately involve the reader in the discussion. Once he has them hooked, he slowly narrows the scope of his answers, easing readers into understanding the relevant definitions in such a way that it feels they arrived there of their own accord. He's not preachy or overbearing, and wisely shies away from absolutes - instead, he presents suggestions and conclusions, but leaves interpretation open to the reader.

Along the way, Nicholas offers a series of small, simple, easy-to-understand graphs and tables that help readers to visualise the concepts he's talking about. I was immediately struck by how effectively they compliment the text, flowing naturally from his words, as opposed to jumping out at you like the high-brow, statistical monstrosities of a more scholarly tome. He's also generous with his cartoons, using them to further engage the reader by making light of the prejudices and stereotypes those of in the community face every day. They're the kind of two-or-three panel cartoons that make you chuckle, stop yourself short, rethink what's actually been said, and then come away with a comfortable smile.

As I said earlier, this is also a fascinating read for those of us within the community, effectively raising questions and prompting discussion about assumptions we've always taken for granted, but have never really thought through. He manages to challenge the most deeply held personal beliefs in such a way that you don't feel confronted, but instead welcome the chance to give the issue some thought. I'm a bit of a hoarder, one who likes her books to sit on the shelf well-read by looking unread. Having said that, my copy is proudly dog-eared and underlined throughout with passages that struck me as either inspirational or challenging.

At just under 150 pages (with the last 25 comprising a glossary, index, and appendices), it's a quick, inviting read that won't raise eyebrows or induce sighs of exasperation when you share it with friends. It's a book that' definitely more gift and less burden, and one that I fully intend to leave on my coffee table, not just to prompt discussion or educate guests, but to keep at-hand for my own personal reflection.

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