books

A positive book review for once!

I seem to only write about books on here when they annoy or anger me. (I do write good reviews when my librarian hat is on, for the record!) Today, you get a reprieve from my negativity!

Ever since I read the trainwreck of a book that was Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I’ve been lowkey on the lookout for a schoolkid-appropriate book that actually addresses transgender people in a thorough and respectful way.

And today I found one!

Identifying as Transgender, by Sara Woods, is part of Rosen Publishing’s “Transgender Life” series (it being part of a series on trans issues is mostly why the title is a little awkward, I think?), and I’m clearly going to need to check out the rest of the series, because this one kind of knocks it out of the park!

Things this book does that I love include:

  • Talking about being cisgender on the same level as talking about being transgender, so transgender people are not actively othered.

    Everyone, transgender and cisgender alike, has a gender identity. A cisgender person is a person whose gender identity is consistent with their assigned gender… Transgender people, on the other hand, have gender identities that do not match the genders assigned to them at birth. (pg. 7)

  • Actively and consistently acknowledging non-binary genders throughout (non-binary people are included throughout, and not just as a side-note which is thereafter forgotten).
  • Acknowledging the diversity of trans experiences generally.

    Some trans women come to identify as women after many years of life, while others identify as girls when they are toddlers. (pg. 8)

    The painful experience of dysphoria has many sources and impacts many transgender people. But it is not universal. Many find that they are comfortable with their bodies as they are. This fact does make them any less or more trans. (pg. 25)

  • Explicitly identifying the book’s primarily colonial North American perspective (it is the target market for the book), and acknowledging that many contemporary societies actively include more than two genders.

    Some contemporary examples of nonbinary genders include the muxe in Zapotec communities in southern Mexico, the waria in Indonesia, and the mashoga in Swhili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast – each of these identities carries its own specific attributes and meanings.

    Here in the United States, and Canada as well, many people fall outside of the binary. [Some explanation of different non-binary genders, genderfluid and agender identities.] In addition, many indigenous people are two-spirit, a term rooted in gender identities specific to some of the peoples indigenous to the continent. (pg. 11)

  • Discussing intersex people while also carefully differentiating between being intersex and being transgender (and defining dyadic alongside intersex in the same way that cisgender and transgender are discussed alongside one another).

    Most People are dyadic, but many people are intersex… Like dyadic people, intersex people are usually assigned male or female at birth. Because the concept of binary biological sex is so deeply ingrained in medical practice, many intersex people have been subject to nonconsensual treatments by doctors and surgeons (pg. 23)

    People often wrongly confuse the meanings of intersex and transgender. While some intersex people are transgender, many are not, identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. Similarly, most transgender people are dyadic and do not have any intersex variations. (pg. 23)

  • Including inclusive definitions of sexual and romantic orientation (in a chapter intended to dispel the myth that all trans people are gay, and that transness and queerness are the same thing).

    Just like cisgender people, transgender people can be gay or straight. They can also be bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, greysexual, aromantic, or polyamorous[*] (pp. 29-30).

  • Discussing intersecting experiences of marginalization!

    All transgender people are vulnerable to transphobia and cissexism. But there are groups of trans people who experience additional marginalization and mistreatment. (pg. 43)

    This section goes on to discuss transmisogyny, and some of the ways in which ableism and racism can combine with cissexism and transphobia to make life even more difficult for multiply marginalized trans people.

  • THIS:

    When it comes to nonbinary people, the dominant terms that we have for sexuality tend to not make much sense. Who, for example, would a straight agender person date? Would a genderqueer person only be homosexual if they dated other genderqueer people? What if they dated a gender fluid person? (pg. 31)

I am so pleased with this book, y’all. Check it out if you can!


*I mean, ok, you may object to this being included among orientations (I am extremely iffy about this myself), but in general the idea here is that trans people’s ways of forming relationships are just as diverse as cis people’s, so I’m giving it a pass.

Questions Children Ask & How to Answer Them (or, y’know, not)

Sometimes even when I go into a book with low expectations, I still manage to be disappointed. Questions Children Ask & How to Answer Them pulled this feat off with flying colours.

Before I go any further, I have to admit I have not read the whole book – it is possible the sections dealing with religion, divorce, death, and other such things are better than the first section, which deals with sex. Maybe I will give the other sections a go at some point, but I was pretty blown away by how bad the bit on sex was.

To be clear, I went in assuming the discussion on sex was going to be mostly, if not completely, cis- and heteronormative (a.k.a. trans and LGB-erasing). I was not wrong on these counts, but was willing to judge it from within an exclusively cishetero context.

Stoppard has a great attitude about addressing tough topics with children; her basic premise is that it’s important to answer children’s questions in a truthful, but age appropriate, way. She is also careful to explicitly remind readers that children’s questions on these topics generally come from a very innocent place (while also outlining the signs to watch out for that may indicate sexual abuse); children don’t have the baggage we have around topics of sexuality, and if you don’t make it out as something to be embarrassed about, then there is no need for anyone to be embarrassed. With this in mind, the book presents potential answers to childrens’ tough questions, organized into age groups, with the answer for each older age group being more complex than those that come before it.

Stoppard also strongly encourages parents to provide their own spin on the answers (being willing to openly discuss your own feelings about tough topics when you were a child is a great way to build trust and comfort into these difficult conversaiton), and use their own judgment about an individual child’s maturity level and ability to understand the topic at hand. This is all great stuff, and I came out of the introduction feeling optimistic!

And then I got to the question “What is sex?”

I am so disappointed with the answer, y’all. I knew that it was mostly going to be “a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina”, but it actually managed to be worse than that!

I’ll give you the excerpts that made me lose patience entirely – these are the points at which the author gets down to the mechanics of sex:

For 6-8 year-olds: “During sexual intercourse, a man’s penis gets stiff and he puts it inside his partner’s vagina, which feels nice.”

For 8-11 year-olds: “During sexual intercourse, a man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina, and they feel good. The feeling becomes more and more exciting until it reaches a climax, when the man’s sperm spurts – or ejaculates – into the woman’s vagina.”

…Are you freaking kidding me? Here we literally have the idea that climax and ultimate end of sex is a man ejaculating. We learn what happens when a man is aroused (his penis gets stiff), but no mention of anything about arousal or climax of the vulva.

I just… Can? We? Fucking? Not?????????

I know that getting into the dynamics of differing levels of arousal is way beyond the scope of a kids’ question about what sex is. I really do. But it also really fucking pisses me off just how completely this is about the cis man and his pleasure.

I am, once again, oh so grateful that my mother talked to me explicitly about vaginal arousal right alongside erections – I was actually taught that a vagina would lubricate itself when it was ready for sex. In retrospect it was the most adorable thing ever – my mom was straight-up about the fact that without this lubrication sex was likely to be more difficult or even painful, and she talked about erections in the same sort of terms, that the penis getting hard is a practical thing, because if it’s soft it’s more difficult to get it to go into a vagina.

Practical, lacking in baggage, and not centering penile pleasure above all else!

This isn’t that difficult, so why can’t we get our shit together on this stuff?

Other things I’ve been writing: February-April 2017

A compilation of my non-Valprehension-based writing from the past few months! It’s books all the way down again:

Blog Posts

Falling in love with books again! This time, it’s paranormal

Interview with a Queer Reader [that’s me!] | Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Book lists

Canadian LGBTQ+ Authors

Chilling Campfire Reads” (list made to specifications for our adult summer reading program)

YA Historical Fiction

Environmentalist Picture Books

My Fave Nonfiction Read-Aloud Picture Books

Interview with a Queer Reader on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Hey y’all, in today’s post on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, I was interviewed about books and queerness. Check it out!

Interview with a Queer Reader: Kasey Keeley talks FALL ON YOUR KNEES Being Beautiful while Talking about Ugly Things, Genderqueer Books, and Looking for Stories about Trans People Who Aren’t Perpetual Works-in-Progress — Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Other things I’ve been writing: December 2016

Your monthly digest of non-Valprehension writings from yours truly!

Book Reviews

Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People

Book Lists

Canadian Women Novelists

(For Teens) Dystopia!

(For Teens) Ghost Stories

(For Kids) Eat Your Vegetables!

 


More of the other stuff I’ve written!

Other things I’ve been writing: November 2016

Your monthly round-up of non-Valprehension things I’ve been writing!

It’s all bookish stuff this month! I only wrote one blog post for the library:

A (kind of) review of Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide

But I have also started putting together various recommended reading lists for the library, some of which are ongoing works-in-progress!

For Adults/General audience

21st Century Feminisms

Neurodiversity

Laugh-out-loud Memoirs

Non-binary genders in fiction and memoir

For Teens (and other folks who love YA!)

Good Stuff without the Romance

Teens Can Change the World!

 


More of the other stuff I’ve written!

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.