Thursday, July 24, 2014

Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Although shorter than many readers might expect (the entire volume clocks in at shy of 90 pages), Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices is actually a perfectly sized collection of trans* narratives.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills has put together a lovely little collection here, one that intersperses personal narratives with educational pieces on trans* issues, labels, trends, health, and more. In reading this, I was immediately struck by how open it is in terms of community/spectrum, and how wide of a definition of trans* it embraces. It's refreshing to read a work where cross-dressers, drag queens, and genderqueer individuals are celebrated alongside those who identify as intersex or transsexual.

We open with the narrative of Hayden (a female-to-male transsexual), her sister, her mother, and her fiancée. It's a story of both story of personal pain and family acceptance, capped off by the love of a woman who sees Hayden not as a trans* man, but simply as a man. Katie, who identifies as transgender, talks about overcoming the chemical imbalance of too much testosterone, and offers some very positive thoughts about embracing her trans* identity, along with the new experiences it opened to her. In Dean's narrative, he talks about trusting your instincts and having the courage to be yourself. He shares the painful story of having temporarily escaped or retreated into drugs, and of a transition delayed by the expense of university treatment programs. Ultimately, however, his is a story of triumph, capped off by his legal victory as the first transsexual in Oregon to win a discrimination case.

The next narrative is that of Dave, a drag performer who has come to accept and embrace aspects of "woman" into his every day. Brooke, meanwhile, sees herself as an intersex role model, able to embrace both worlds. Although her body has developed more towards male since puberty, she still identifies as female. As for Julia, she identifies as genderqueer, and has considered medical transition options (surgery and hormones), but enjoys the freedom to fully express her gender. The last narrative, that of Natasha & Nancy, it's a fascinating one. Natasha is transgender, at very beginning of her transition, while Nancy identifies as genderqueer. A couple since 2010, they are planning for their marriage.

As for the educational pieces interspersed between the narratives, my favorite had to be the chapter on Trans* History Narratives, covering the entire range from Greek mythology, to Native American cultures, to gender fluidity in Asia and India. The final chapters on gender timelines and who's who are fascinating, if a bit brief, but a nice sampling of the community.

Overall, Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices is very well put together. It's nicely laid out, looks extremely professional, and has (as I mentioned) a wonderful balance in its content. While it does lend itself to a quick read, it's also something I suspect readers will find themselves returning to over and over again.

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