You probably already know about Goodreads, a great website for finding books to read. In case you don’t already know about this feature of it, though, let me point you to Goodreads Giveaways, where authors and publishers post titles of books to give away to interested readers. You opt in for any books you’re interested in, and then when the giveaway ends, winners are randomly chosen from people like you who expressed interest. Then, if it’s a Kindle giveaway, the recipients get a free electronic copy, and if it’s a paper book giveaway, they receive a free copy in the mail.
We’re down to the last four days to opt in for a chance to receive a signed copy of Bi-Gender: A Candid Nonbinary Memoir, which you can most easily find on this page: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/genre/Gay%20and%20Lesbian . If you don’t already have a Goodreads account, you’ll need to create one (free and only takes a minute or two) to participate. Good luck!
Before I speak to more specifics, though, I want to point out how broad and inclusive the spectrum of gender identities in these stories were. While I’m quite interested in fiction about what you might call “traditional” transgendered people, who each identify as just one discrete gender (which doesn’t match their birth sexes), being nonbinary, I’m keenly interested in stories about characters who are not strictly male or female, whether trans or not. To my surprise and great pleasure, Transcendent 2 offered a real wealth of stories like that.
Because so many of these stories are written by non-cisgender people, the trans and nonbinary characters in them are not used as gimmicks or tokens: by and large, they’re complicated, diverse people whose genders are not the most important or most striking thing about them. To go from reading about almost no trans/enby characters straight to full-fledged ones, without having to go through an intermediary stage of diversity for diversity’s sake, is a privilege.
While my enthusiasm for the individual stories was mixed, there was no lack of good writing, and I imagine another reader might well pick other favorites. A few of mine included
A. Merc Rustad’s “This Is Not a Wardrobe Door,” about childhood friends in other worlds
“Three Points Masculine,” in which An Owomoyela opens up some of the complex issue of a trans person’s own response to other kinds of trans people
Keffy Kehrli’s queerly and engagingly imaginative “The Road, and the Valley, and the Beasts”
Toby MacNutt’s “The Way You Say Goodnight,” with its half-metaphoric delving into individual burdens, disabilities, identities, and hidden strengths, and
“Her Sacred Spirit Soars,” S. Qiouyi Lu’s beautifully evolving story of transference of spirit, oneness, loneliness, and layered identity. While this felt like the least trans stories in the anthology to me, it had one of the most unusual approaches to the idea. For fans of literary rule-breaking, it also is one of those rare pieces of fiction that uses the second person well.
Some other stories caught my imagination less, but the variety and the consistently high quality of the writing prevented any from being stories I skipped, which in such a varied anthology is a real accomplishment for me as a reader. I generally stop reading books or stories the moment I decide they aren’t likely to have anything I really want to offer, and that didn’t happen once in this book. Take a look, and see for yourself.
Having been assigned male at birth, and having taken several decades to come around to getting my gender identity correct, there was never a point at which I read Teen Vogue–well, until today, when I was pointed to this useful article, “4 Things You Should Stop Saying to Nonbinary People.”
This is actually worth reading whether you’re learning about nonbinary people or are nonbinary (or “enby,” a word I learned very recently and love) yourself, even if only for the affirmation. This clear and useful little article gets to the heart of these problematic statements:
Gender Rebel Press has just released my new book, Bi-Gender: A Candid Nonbinary Memoir, in a print edition (258 pages, $9.95), following up on the eBook edition ($2.99) released at the end of February.
I’m enthusiastic to spread the word about this book, and I’m happy to provide reviewer copies for anyone interested in writing about the book on their Web site, in publications, on Amazon, on Goodreads, or elsewhere. Reviews don’t have to be positive if you get a free reviewer copy: just lay it on the line. I’m taking the chance that you’ll like the book just because it’s entertaining and, I hope, a little mind-expanding.
If you know of any blogger, reviewer, site, publication, organization, or anyone else I should get in touch with to spread the word about the book, could you drop me a note through the contact page or in comments?
I’ve also moved my blog to a more full-featured Web site here at bi-gender.com from its old location at JamesBethMerritt.wordpress.com. Here I hope to offer expanded FAQs as well as a gathering point for nonbinary folks and Bi-Gender readers. The old site will still be accessible, but it won’t be updated further, so come here instead: this is where all the cool new stuff will be happening.
Trans Book Reviews has a unique proposition going on at their site. It’s not just that they review only books and stories that are non-cisgender (so transgender, non-binary, agender, or anything else that isn’t strictly cis); they also have a cisgender and a non-cisgender person review each one and post both reviews together. In terms of fostering understanding and support, I think that’s fantastic. Check out their site at https://transbookreviews.wordpress.com.
I’ll be moving into a new home soon, the first I’ve ever had that will be solely mine. Since the last time I moved, years ago, I’ve come to understand my gender much better, and to be less worried about passing as fully male all the time. True, I’m not about to go out in boy form wearing pink sweaters, but I thinking, tentatively, that I want to try to actually decorate my new home, and when I do that I want it to reflect both my genders, to feel like a real home to both my male and female selves rather than just like more camouflage.
There’s an intriguing article in the Huffington Post, with many pictures, about photographer Lissa Rivera and BJ, a friend who became the subject of a series of photos that cross gender lines. I recommend it for anyone else who’s interested in those questions.
I’m late finding it, but an article in the March 27th issue of Time Magazine, “Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’: The Changing Meaning of Gender and Sexuality” (also available online at http://time.com/magazine/us/4703292/march-27th-2017-vol-189-no-11-u-s/ ) offers research and individual accounts on the changing understanding of gender and sexuality. They don’t mention bi-gender people (but then, hardly anyone does), though they do make note of one person who identifies as gender fluid and describes a bi-gender-like experience of life. They also pretty much ignore non-binary people older than their mid-twenties. Still, it’s a well-written and informative article that answers some questions about how widespread non-binary genders and sexual preferences are, how younger people tend to regard them, and how they’re changing in our culture: well worth a read.
My friend Kristin passed along a recommendation to me for Jeff Garvin’s YA novel Symptoms of Being Human (Balzer + Bray, 2016), which tells the story of Riley Cavanaugh, a genderfluid teen. It’s the first book I’ve read where a major character could really be considered bi-gender (though Riley never uses that word, and “genderfluid” is probably a better description of who they are). Riley moves back and forth on the scale between male and female, feeling more boy one day and more girl the next. The story deals with their experience trying to walk a fine line of being themself and not drawing unwanted attention. That line, it turns out, is too thin: as in real life, there are people who take real exception to anyone crossing gender lines or trying to mix genders.
In terms of entertainment, if like me you enjoy YA (young adult) fiction, as more and more adults seem to do these days, Symptoms of Being Human is a good read. Some of the positive attention Riley gets doesn’t feel realistic to me: without giving away what goes on in the story, Riley seems like a realistic teenager with realistic gifts, but some of those gifts are received as though they’re amazing and exceptional, and I found that a little hard to swallow. Garvin also chooses to never let Riley reveal what sex they were assigned at birth, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, as Garvin must have intended, it keeps the focus on Riley’s actual gender instead of letting us get hung up on Riley’s assigned sex. On the other hand, while being non-binary is very tricky regardless of your assigned sex at birth, the challenges are a bit different depending on what that assigned sex is, both socially and physically, and this story glosses over those differences. Still, it’s refreshing to have a character whose assigned sex at birth is simply beside the point.
In terms of gender experience, Garvin does a great job, especially since nothing in the public information I’ve seen about him suggests that he’s anything different than a straight, cisgender male (he describes himself in this article about gender identity as an ally). Evidently he spent a lot of time reading and talking to transgender and non-binary people before he began to write, and it shows in characters who feel true-to-life in their gender non-conformity.
For a contrast, consider Lauren McLaughlin’s enjoyable but unrealistic YA novel Cycler, in which the main character inexplicably flips back and forth between being physically male and physically female: it’s a good read, but it has no wisdom to impart about being non-binary–though to be fair, I doubt it’s meant to.
Symptoms of Being Human is mainly preoccupied with the difficult question of whether to come out, and how much, and to whom, and how to try not to give your gender identity away before you’re ready. These are important and interesting question, though it was a little disappointing to me that they ended up being the ultimate questions in the book. From my point of view, coming out is a secondary issue, and the main thing is how a person lives and figures out who they are when they don’t fit into the gender binary we’re all taught is basic to our identity.
But Symptoms is a badly-needed and rewarding read, and my hope is that that it’s only the beginning for Garvin and for Riley, that before long we’ll see the continuation of Riley’s story and what comes of them facing these deeper issues.