Wednesday, July 16, 2008

thoughts and recommendations

Okay, I have to say that it is a delight to be receiving so many comments, but I am not exactly used to being so highly trafficked, and if it seems like I'm not really at the top of my Answer Every Comment game, well, it's because I'm not. So hi to all you new readers (or old readers who decided to start commenting) and thanks for your comments. I will try to reply/get back to you all, but sometimes I won't have the time or whatnot, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate your feedback. I do!

Although it's a bit odd to see so many comments, since I still regard this thing as a mostly private space in which I record my thoughts, document my transition, and try to reason out the various gender related thoughts that otherwise would just stew unexamined in my head. I started giving the address to friends and family so they could 'follow along at home' and/or learn a bit more about transgender issues (or at least my viewpoint on such) without having to muster up the mustard to actually ask me various potentially irritating questions. But through various linking, on my own part and others, it seems like there is now a wider readership, to which I say welcome.

I know that when I was first exploring my gender identity, I spent a lot of time on the Internet following links, checking Transster, reading Transition Webpages, that sort of thing. It was super helpful to get a sense of what other guys had gone through (for obvious reasons, I mostly checked out FTM sites), and while I don't consider this a Transition Webpage in quite the same way, since it's mostly my musings and ramblings rather than clearly organized information (like this excellent and comprehensive website) or even thorough and easy to navigate transition photos/voice clips/etc (like KP's late, great, lamented but hopefully returning someday website).
Anyway, all that to lead into this, which is that someone commented a while back asking for book recommendations, and I've had a post saved in my Drafts folder since May of '07 about book recommendations, so here are some of my reviews of various trans related books (I'm linking the titles when I can to, my favorite hometown independent bookstore). I'd love to see further thoughts on these books and/or additional recommendations in the comments.

*Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano. As I've mentioned many times before, this is an excellent and insightful read about transsexuality and feminism. Plenty of great theory and ideas in here, in accessible and sensible language, but it may be a bit much for someone with NO background in trans terminology/etc.

*Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein. Kate Bornstein is my favorite and most authentic New York celebrity sighting- I was walking down Avenue A with my partner when we saw her walk past with some friends, looking fabulous in big- possibly leopard print? my memory is starting to fail me- sunglasses. Our jaws dropped and we turned to each other and said "Was that...?"
"Yes, it totally was!"
"Should we follow her??"

Fortunately we came to our senses and didn't stalk her through Alphabet City, but it was a fun moment.

Anyway, her book is awesome- it's got personal narrative in it, but also a lot of fresh and important insights about rejecting and resisting the Gender Police. As I recall, she's a playwright as well, and the book includes one of her plays at the end, as well, but I wasn't so excited about it. At least, I don't remember much about it. Anyway, a good read for a beginner, with plenty of focus on transgender and genderqueer issues.

*Becoming a visible man, by Jamison Green. This book was involved in one of my own personal a-ha moments. I vividly remember reading it on a bus in Portland, and thinking to myself "You're going to have to deal with this someday."

It's another great mixture of personal narrative with insight and exposition on Trans 101. His story is fairly classic- he transitioned from a lesbian identity in his late-ish 30s- but his prose is very engaging, and he's an outstanding activist who has done a lot of work on behalf of FTMs, through FTMI and other organizations.

*There are a few other books (Just add hormones, The Testosterone Files, and Both Sides Now) of a similar nature to Jamison's, that I remember reading and mostly enjoying but now (embarrassingly, perhaps) can't really tell apart in my memory. They all involve FTM guys who transitioned in their 30s-early 40s, and are mostly personal narrative. Which is great, and certainly helpful to try to get a broader understanding of different unique experiences, but don't make me inclined to re-read them. I will say that I found Testosterone Files to have some sexist stuff in it that I wasn't really a fan of , along the lines of "testosterone made me stare at boobs!" Sure, testosterone will change the quality and/or quality of one's sex drive, but that's no excuse for misogyny. But again, it's been a while since I read it, so I can't expound much further on that critique.

*Conundrum and Pleasures of a tangled life, by Jan Morris. A classic in MTF literature! I just love the way she writes, and the second book is actually a book of essays on a variety of topics, not just her transition. My mom loved her writing, too, and had both of those books on the shelf at home, and I read them when I was a young dyke and again with more resonance as I began considering transition. Conundrum is dated, of course (first published in 1976! with such a 70s cover, too! that's the edition we had at home.) and I remember being worried for a bit when first considering transition because I didn't have some of the "classic transsexual" hallmarks that Jan wrote so beautifully about, like knowing myself to be in the wrong body from a very early age. Still, it's an excellent classic and I definitely recommend it, if only for her beautiful way with words.

*What becomes you, by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz. I enjoyed this book mostly because of the fact that it was co-written by this guy and his mother, a format I enjoyed and may someday utilize myself in the still-in-planning-stages memoir my sister and I are talking about. I actually enjoyed the mother's bits more than Aaron's because his sections, while beautiful in a lyrical way, could have seriously used an editor. So it's another interesting personal narrative, but I like it best for the fact that it's got his mother's viewpoints included as well.

*The First Man-Made Man, by Pagan Kennedy. I found this to be a fascinating bit of historical science writing and biography, and I was impressed with Michael Dillon's strength of character even as I found him to be a bit of a dislikeable chap. But hey, it's hard to put energy into being pleasant when every day is a struggle for survival, and I can't imagine how hard his life was. I don't remember whether the biographer was good/respectful about pronouns or not (often a concern with non-trans authors writing about trans stuff) but I think it was fine.

Oh, and there are many many more, some of which can be found on this 'aisle' at Powell's.

I wish I had more time, I'd keep writing more, but it's back to work for me. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these books and others!


leander said...

I'll say "hear, hear!" to those book recommendations and add a silly, fluffy one of my own. By result of checking out any book that came up with the search "gender identity" at the 39th & Belmont library, I came across a book called "Misfortune" by Wesley Stace. Stace is a Brooklyn native and a musician, to boot. The the book, which you can find here,
is, as promised, a "riotously funny and thoroughly engaging Victorian gender-bending epic" and what I enjoyed most about it was the fluid and complex nature of the main character. There was no pidgeon-holing or glossing over of gender dualities. If you're in the mood for a genderific fairytale, this is a fun one.

Neil said...

Thank you for booklists and insightful blog posts and everything, Eli.

Eli said...

Leander, that sounds awesome! I'll have to check that out.

Eli said...

hey neil, no prob! feel free to add suggestions.

but still... said...

Hi Eli,

I'm a fellow book nerd, so I appreciate your recommendations. I can't quite recall how it was that I came about your blog, but I have been following it for quite some time, and have found it quite insightful in regards to processing my own issues around being trans. Thanks for putting yourself out there.

ps. As a primer for reading trans-memoirs I recommend Jonathan Ames's anthology "Sexual Metamorphosis." It highlights a few of the books you mentioned in this post.