Monday, November 12, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Transgender Biographies & Memoirs: Part One

In honor of Trans Awareness Week, I want to shift gears for a bit and put the focus on the people, the lives, and the stories of the transgender community. Step away from the fiction and the fantasy and recognize those who have not only lived authentically, but been brave enough, bold enough, confident enough to share their stories.

I will have some new reviews coming up this week, but I wanted to kick things off by looking back at some of my favorite reads over the years.

Alice in Genderland by Richard J. Novic: When it first appeared on shelves, more than a dozen years ago now, this was one of the first memoirs to deal proudly and openly with the subject of crossdressing. I had the great pleasure of getting to know Richard/Alice many years ago, and still have my signed copy of the book on my shelves. They not only get what it means to be a crossdresser who craves the full feminine experience, but they don't apologize for the fact or make excuses for how they express such cravings. An empowering read, even if it’s just to find comfort in the confirmation that we are not alone in even our most taboo feelings.

Nails by Emma Johnson: I am pleased to say I knew Emma before she was Emma, and while we have never met in person, I remain a fan and an admirer. Written before her coming out, this is neither a happy book nor a feel-good story. It is a sad and anxious read, full of sorrow, doubt, and pain, but it is a powerful read, one that I could get out of my head, even after I finished reading it. I said in my original review that was not a story of coming out, but a prequel to that life-changing act . . . and I am delighted to say she is proudly living the sequel.

First Year Out: A Transition Story by Sabrina Symington: This is a graphic novel like no other, following Lily's journey from laser hair removal right through gender reassignment surgery, and dealing with a variety of topics along the way, including coming out, self-identity, family acceptance, voice training, hormones, dating, and more. I have since gotten the chance to know Sabrina a little bit, and have become a huge fan of her Life of Bria comics, but this was my first impression . . . and it was a fantastic one. It talks openly and honestly about transgender issues, without coming across as preachy or heavy-handed, and the artwork pulls no punches, never shying away from the struggles we face. Beautifully draw and well-told, however, it is full of more than enough joys to overcome the sorrows.

Am I Still The Victim by M.C. Questgend: I am delighted to call Muriel a friend, and I was both honored and flattered when she asked my advice in bringing her story back to print, with some updates and revisions along the way. Hers is a unique story, in that it is less about gender identity and more about the journey towards gender expression, with a shocking childhood of abuse at the heart of the story. Every reader will come at the story in their own way, and take something different away from it but, for me, it is a story of self-analysis and self-discovery . . . of coping, acceptance, and transformation. Ultimately, we see how she turned horrible negatives into something positive, salvaged the tiny little good parts of an atrocious experience, and found a path to peace, comfort, and understanding. It is not an easy read, but a valuable one.

Confessions Of A Transsexual Porn Star by Meghan Chavalier: This was one of my earliest reads, one of the very first reviews I ever posted, and it still resonates with me today. Meghan’s transsexualism is front and center, coloring her every experience, and influencing each step on her magnificent journey. It is not that she calls attention to it or shoves it in your face, it is just such an integral part of who she is that you can’t escape it. Her life is one of both struggles and triumphs, with an early rape experience ultimately balanced out by true love later on, and bipolar depression is a constant, haunting specter behind even her happiest moments. Whether you are interested in the transsexual experience or just the human experience, Meghan's story is definitely recommended.

Not Your Average American Girl by Christine Beatty: Christine is yet another good friend I have made over the years, somebody I already knew before reading her story (she was one of the first transsexual women to openly perform as a heavy metal musician, which is what originally brought her to my attention), so that made this an interesting reading experience. Hers is a story that opens from a rather tenuous state, introducing us to her at her most vulnerable, and inviting us to share the ups and downs that follow. Whether it is attempting to hide her femininity behind a military uniform, avoiding it with the pretense of a 'normal' heterosexual marriage, or flaunting it with a prostitute’s fetish attire, there is a common theme of looking for solace in all the wrong places. In the end, though, hers is a story of hope . . . of triumph . . . and of a spirit that refuses to be broken.

A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein: This was an amazing, intense, heartfelt read that goes far beyond questions of gender and sexuality to examine, really, what it means to be human. Really, it is three memoirs in one, as the extended title suggests - the true story of a nice Jewish boy (1) who joins the Church of Scientology (2) and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today (3). That third part, of course, was the most fascinating aspect of the book me, and even if it's filled with pains of its own, the sorrows of her transition are both honest and (largely) self-inflicted. Kate clearly struggled to become the woman she is today, and even if we know she is a stronger person for those struggles, they are still hard to share. As ultimately uplifting and inspiring as her story may be, however, it's framed by a sadness so deep, it's difficult to experience. She begins and ends the book with a virtual shout-out to her daughter, a heartfelt plea for understanding, acceptance, and simple acknowledgment, and I still tear up thinking about it.

I Rise - The Transformation of Toni Newman by Toni Newman: This is fresh (and refreshing) addition to the growing realm of transgender memoirs, being the story of someone who is proudly black, proudly gay, and proudly transsexual. What immediately strikes you when reading Toni's story is that it is neither the story of a victim, nor that of a life fashioned out of the need to escape something or someone in her past. Instead, it’s a story of simply becoming herself, of realizing who she always was inside. Toni’s story is exciting, full of drama, celebrity encounters, and a career that could just as easily have sprung from the pages of an erotic novel. It is also a story that is deeply moving, sometimes sorrowful, but always inspiring.

Tomorrow I will follow up with a second selection of titles, gleaned from my years as a contributor to Frock Magazine - reviews many of you may not have had the pleasure of reading before.

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