Wednesday, March 6, 2019

She/He/They/Me by Robyn Ryle (transgender genderfluid nonbinary)

A simple introduction to the world of gender, the gender binary, and the myriad spaces in between, She/He/They/Me is as entertaining as it is informative. Robyn Ryle has chosen a Choose Your Own Adventure approach to the book, which allows readers to not only explore their own particular gender identity, but to learn about the gender possibilities from which it diverges.

My first time through the book, I read it as myself, following my own gender journey - born into a time and place where gender exists, a culture where gender assignment happens at birth, and a culture with 2 genders. It was from there, moving into Chapter 13 where my journey became interesting, with Ryle talking about the shared tissue origins of penises and clitorises, and then offering 3 choices based on the length of genital tissue . . . with my own choice leading to questions of patriarchal versus matriarchal societies.

For, you see, this is not just a book about biological gender and gender roles, but gender constructs, gender expectations, and gender transitions. It is a book about science, biology, psychology, and more. It is a book about society, philosophy, legality, and more.

My next time through the book, I read it specifically as a parent, following the journey dictated by the partnership between my spouse and I. That allowed me to reconcile some of our disagreements, and better understand where they come from. After that, I read it again as myself, but as something of a what-if fantasy, allowing for small changes along the way. A few of those choices led to dead ends, sending me back to the start, but even those journeys were interesting because of what Ryle had to say about societies with infinite genders, or where gender does not exist.

I then read it once more as both myself and a parent, imagining that my spouse and I were completely aligned, and explored the kind of 'perfect' world into which I would have loved to see us born. Bigger changes this time, always looking for the best case scenario, except there I cheated . . . denying the dead ends and instead stepping back to explore the other option.

Ultimately, no matter how you read it, no matter what choices you make, each journey leads to a better understanding of who we are, where we are, and what might lie ahead. The chapters themselves are not particularly deep, with many being little more than a page or two, but the journey gets deeper the farther you follow it. More importantly, the way the book is constructed, She/He/They/Me is possibly even more valuable to friends and family than to those of us questioning or exploring our gender, as it forces us to confront the how and why of contemporary gender.

Robyn Ryle is a writer who also teaches sociology at a small liberal arts college in Indiana. Her textbook, Questioning Gender: A Sociological Exploration, is in its second edition with Pine Forge Press. She has essays and stories at Gawker, CALYX Journal, Stymie Magazine, and Bluestem Magazine, among others.


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