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BookwormSez: ‘The Trans Generation’

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“The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) are Creating a Gender Revolution” by Ann Travers
c. 2018, New York University Press
261 pages

Boy or girl?

That’s a common enough question if you’re an expectant parent. You might’ve even wondered it yourself: will you need pink things or blue, and what name will you choose? For generations, it’s been an exciting decision for prospective parents, but Ann Travers asks in The Trans Generation if it’s a prudent one. Maybe letting the child decide would be a better choice.

Fifty-six years ago, when Travers was born, their mother’s doctor unwittingly caused a lifetime of hurt: “It’s a girl,” he said, and Travers spent years trying to “untangle” what it meant. That, they said, is part of what drives this book. The other part is the desire to improve the lives of trans kids through understanding.

Getting to that point is harrowing. Many say that physicians misunderstand kids who are gender-nonconforming. Trans kids attempt suicide or self-harm at high rates and, says Travers, “… many grow up hating their bodies…” Most employ several kinds of coping mechanisms to live their lives. Plus, 95 percent of transgender kids on one study felt unsafe in their schools.

In writing this book, Travers says, they interviewed a wide variety of trans kids from the U.S. and Canada — 19 in all, ages 4 to 20, plus 23 parents. The children mostly came from middle-class families, which allowed them privileges such as better access to medical care and chances to change schools if they felt it necessary. Other children Travers interviewed lived in poverty; their stories illustrating how being a trans kid can be socially and medically isolating, and how lack of access to needed resources can affect their well-being.

Parents, of course, can affect that well-being, too, but it takes a “phenomenal amount of care, advocacy, and activism to push back against cisgendered environments” — schools, sports, binary-only bathrooms, social activities, medical facilities, and politics. It takes a willingness to learn, lean in, and listen.

The Trans Generation is one heavy-duty book. Not only for parents, but for teachers, advocates, and loved ones.

Writing with a bit of a scholar’s voice and occasional, relatively advanced, science and law studies, Travers also offers readers plenty of eye-opening chats with trans kids, which turn out to be the most helpful, useful, and even entertaining parts of the book. From the mouths of babes, as they say, those interviews give wise and thoughtful insight — even monumental. They’re also heartbreaking. But considering the kids introduced in the book, and the single interview with a 16-year-old who made her hormone treatments in her high school’s laboratory, they’re a good indication of hope for the future.

While you could be forgiven for skipping to those case studies, you’d be missing out. The thicker parts of The Trans Generation are worth reading and reflection. It’s also deeply instructive on pronouns, gender fluidity, and being trans in a cisgender-based society. While serious and weighty with rock-solid information this book could be the right choice.

Terri Schlichenmeyer

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a prairie in Wisconsin with two dogs, one man, and 17,000 books. Her new book, The Big Book of Facts, is now at bookstores and at Kings English by clicking here:

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