The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution

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A groundbreaking look at the lives of transgender children and their families

Some “boys” will only wear dresses; some “girls” refuse to wear dresses; in both cases, as Ann Travers shows in this fascinating account of the lives of transgender kids, these are often more than just wardrobe choices. Travers shows that from very early ages, some at two and three years old, these kids find themselves to be different from the sex category that was assigned to them at birth. How they make their voices heard–to their parents and friends, in schools, in public spaces, and through the courts–is the focus of this remarkable and groundbreaking book.

Based on interviews with transgender kids, ranging in age from 4 to 20, and their parents, and over five years of research in the US and Canada, The Trans Generation offers a rare look into what it is like to grow up as a trans child. From daycare to birthday parties and from the playground to the school bathroom, Travers takes the reader inside the day-to-day realities of trans kids who regularly experience crisis as a result of the restrictive ways in which sex categories regulate their lives and put pressure on them to deny their internal sense of who they are in gendered terms.

As a transgender activist and as an advocate for trans kids, Travers is able to document from first-hand experience the difficulties of growing up trans and the challenges that parents can face. The book shows the incredible time, energy, and love that these parents give to their children, even in the face of, at times, unsupportive communities, schools, courts, health systems, and government laws. Keeping in mind that all trans kids are among the most vulnerable to bullying, violent attacks, self-harm, and suicide, and that those who struggle with poverty, racism, lack of parental support, learning differences, etc, are extremely at risk, Travers offers ways to support all trans kids through policy recommendations and activist interventions. Ultimately, the book is meant to open up options for kids’ own gender self-determination, to question the need for the sex binary, and to highlight ways that cultural and material resources can be redistributed more equitably. The Trans Generation offers an essential and important new understanding of childhood.”

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I got an ARC of this book.

I expected this to be more lighthearted, feel good, memoir-ish. Instead it was very much a sociological and feminist view of transitioning for people under 18. It was academic and at times inaccessible for a great deal of the people that would want to read this book. I had difficulties focusing as it went so far beyond the kids into theory land that the kids felt more like props than real people. This felt especially true when it was mentioned that a kid may or may not be alive anymore, but Travers went on to say that the child may have just changed their email address despite the sentences before explaining in graphic detail the history of cutting and how deep the last cut was. This feeling of disassociation from the children and parents only continued from that point. Considering two thirds of the description is about the children, I would expect at least a third of this book to be about them. Instead I felt like the children really didn’t have a voice, only select quotes were used and at times it was difficult to tell that someone besides Travers was speaking (which may have been just a formatting issue with my copy of the book).

I started my social transition young. I started T at 15. I am binary. I should have been able to connect with the kids. I have been through so many of the same experiences from sexual assault to dropping out of high school because of bullying. I had parents that ranged in their support and I had a step-parent that seemed to be from hell that came around with time. This book sound have been able to be something I could sink my teeth into, my issue is this was not about the kids or even really the parents. It was about one person trying to make sense of the nonsense that these families face using inaccessible gender theories. I recognized so many of the citations because they are theorists that I used in my thesis in college where I was studying gender theories. Someone without that background may find very little help in this book. I read multiple sections out loud to my grandmother, also an avid reader but with only an elementary school education, she accused me of making up words to justify not focusing on the book. My grandmother has been one of my biggest allies in my transition down to being at my bedside after surgery (though she did deny me that cheeseburger I wanted after top surgery. I did get my revenge on her years later by denying her a cheeseburger after a surgery!).

If you are looking for a VERY academic look at social and medical transitions that borders on saying that binaries are bad, then this is perfect. Travers never does cross the line to erase binaries and in the conclusion is able to pull everything back with a single line about making sure that people who are binary are not lost in all the efforts to create something better than what currently is. Her being able to push for better while still allowing for binary is impressive and very rare. Many theorists, especially those who understand gender-queer identities, go as far to say that we need to get rid of the binary which is something that would be disastrous for people that are binary like many to most cis people and a great deal of trans people too. I am all for all genders being respected and given space. I will be one of the first ones fighting for a trans kid no matter if they are binary or not. The issue I always find is there are two groups the binary trans people who judge people for not being “trans enough” (i.e. being binary enough or passing in the “correct” way) or the gender queer people who judge others for not being “trans enough” (i.e. being binary at all or passing “too much”). Travers was able to be that middle ground in a way that call for all people to have support no matter their gender or how well they passed.

Travers did do something that is not often done. Parents and children were both given a voice. It gave a unique perspective to the needs and desires of both. It isn’t often that the parents and the kids speak together. It allowed a deeper look into the relationships and what really is needed for trans kids beyond what they know they need. However this was stunted by the disassociation with the kids and the often inaccessible language. Many parents who could benefit for this book will find themselves even more lost than they were before. Speaking of just the mothers in this book, there would have been many that wouldn’t have been able to gain much from it.

So while I did enjoy the point that this book made and the many comparisons of the US and Canada, it is not a book I would blanket recommend to people. I would save this for my friends and colleagues that enjoyed books with, as my grandmother would say, “made up words” in it. This is not a casual book to read before bed. This is a book you will want a notebook for. One that will lead you down a path of academic research further into the gender world. It is not by far a bad book, but it is one that requires a higher read level than is accessible for most of the people who need to be able to access it. To follow suite with how this book was written, here are some quotes to sum up my main issue:

“If I do not speak in a language that can be understood there is little chance for a dialogue.”
― bell hooks

“There will be no mass-based feminist movement as long as feminist ideas are understood only by a well-educated few.”
― bell hooksFeminist Theory: From Margin to Center

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3 out of 5 stars. I would selectively recommend this book.

You can buy the book here.

~Isaiah

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