“If you want to come out as transgender because you feel that you’re not cisgender, then that’s your right to do so…I assure you that if you have these feelings then they are well worth exploring and seeing through”.Mia Violet, Yes, You Are Trans Enough, 2018.
This is a post about some books that helped me, personally, figure out my gender identity and gave me the courage to begin transitioning.
This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of good trans books; there are many more, some I have read and more I have not. But these are the ones that sit on my bookshelves and that gave me hope and understanding.
These books are, also, all by trans and/or non-binary authors. There are many books about being trans that are not written by trans people. Some are better than others, and come from personal experience as the spouse or family member of a trans person. But here I wanted to deliberately centre and promote the writing of trans and non-binary people, who write from firsthand experience as well as well-informed understanding.
Not every book in this list is specifically about being trans, or transitioning, either. Some explore gender and queerness more broadly, while others introduce self-love and acceptance. But they all helped me at different points in my journey, and hopefully they might help others too. The order they’re in on this list is random, and not to be taken as a hierarchy of how good I think each book is.
If you have any other trans book recommendations, especially from a non-white and/or non-western perspective, then I would love to hear them, so do let me know in the comments.
That’s probably enough preamble, so let’s get into it.
Trans Like Me: A Journey For All Of Us. CN Lester, Virago, 2017.
“What does the word ‘trans’ mean to you? A term picked up from magazines, newspapers, the internet? A way of describing a colleague – maybe even a friend, or family member? A phenomenon affecting other people? Or, perhaps, a facet of who you think you might be?”
This was the first trans related book I read with a view to exploring and understanding my own identity. My partner was gifted a copy by a friend, they read it and gave it to me, and then after I read it I gave it to one of those “little free library” book exchanges in the village where I lived at the time, hoping someone else might pick it up, read it, and pass it along. I may have to buy a second copy so I can return to this book again and again.
CN Lester is a musician, activist, academic and writer, and Trans Like Me is both a personal account of trans and non-binary experience and a collection of essays that cover some of the most questioned and most misunderstood aspects of trans identities, from sex and love, to trans history, trans feminisms and living beyond binaries. Trans Like Me explores the “production of ignorance” that drives transphobia in the media and, by extension, wider society and calls on its reader to engage actively, thoughtfully, and with compassion, whether you’re trans or not. Through a well-researched but personal voice, CN Lester uses their own experience to illuminate a new way of seeing the world.
This book was the book that made me sit with myself and question what I thought I knew more than any other on this list, and has made a real impact on my understanding of my own trans identity and that of others.
Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition From Self-Loathing To Self-Love. Mia Violet, JKP, 2018.
“You rarely see it in the media, but many trans people agonise over whether to transition or not. We analyse our histories, we panic about the future, we blame other factors for our problems, and we even concoct ridiculous scenarios to frame the decision in a way that might illuminate the answer”.
This is more of a personal memoir than some of the others on this list, detailing in warm, heartfelt and often funny tone the personal journey of one trans woman, from growing up as the kid who never fitted in to understanding her trans identity, accepting herself, and changing in profound and transformative ways.
While it’s something of a cliche in book reviews to say this, this book actually did make me laugh and cry. For a deeply personal story, there was a lot in here that I could relate to. The early chapters where Mia describes growing up in a small town in the North of England, being the weird kid in school and taking solace in heavy metal and Baldur’s Gate could literally have come from my own childhood memories.
This book gave me inspiration and hope. If Mia could transition, then so could I, and yes, I am trans enough! If you’re questioning whether you’re trans, or specifically “trans enough” to transition, or you just want an insight into one person’s trans experience (particularly a UK trans experience which has its own challenges), then this is an excellent place to start.
How To Be You: Stop Trying To Be Someone Else And Start Living Your Life. Jeffrey Marsh, Tarcher Perigee, 2016.
“Are you willing to train yourself to see your own goodness, your innocence? Can you practice noticing your willing, creative moments? Can you get on board with a kind life, where you treat yourself as you would treat someone you love?”
An interactive experience of a book, this one is not specifically about gender, but was written by the wonderful non-binary Buddhist writer, speaker and online sensation Jeffrey Marsh, so absolutely deserves a spot on this list.
Through Jeffrey’s own story of, in their words, “growing up fabulous in a small town”, this book explores finding your own identity, deepening your relationship with yourself, and living your life with purpose, dignity, and self-love.
If you’re a teacher or work with young people, or simply know any young people who are questioning themselves, trans or not, this book also has some really useful tips for teachers at the back to help create safe and welcoming spaces and really listen to them.
Reading this in my thirties, I was struck by how much I wish I had access to this book as a teenager, although there really is no time too late to do some gentle loving self-work. I really don’t know how to describe or review this book, as with its regular thought-prompts, activities, exercises and things to do, reading it will be a different experience for everyone, so all I can say is if you want to learn more about yourself, develop self-confidence and self-love and find the strength to hope for a bright future, then give this wonderful little book a go!
Gender Queer: A Memoir. Maia Kobabe, Lion Forge, 2019.
“The clearest metaphor I had for my own gender identity in College was the image of a scale. A huge weight had been placed on one side, without my permission. I was constantly trying to weigh down the other side. But the end goal wasn’t masculinity – the goal was balance”.
This one’s a bit different than the others on this list, in that it’s a graphic novel. This medium really lends itself to a personal, imaginative and really rather beautiful memoir of being, as the title says, gender queer.
Maia is a nonbinary queer author and illustrator who uses the pronouns e/em/eir. Gender Queer is at once a touching memoir of eir self-discovery and coming out, and a thought-provoking discussion of gender identity and what it means to exist beyond the binary model of gender in society.
I found this book emotional and uplifting, and while my own gender journey is very different from Maia’s, it was profound to see in words (and gorgeous illustrations) eir own challenges, hopes, dreams, fears and successes, which gave me hope that I was not the only person out there to question my gender and do so in a specifically non-binary way.
How To Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide For Exploring Who You Are. Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker, JKP, 2018.
“One thing we’ve noticed is often when we talk about gender we tend to think about other people. This book is an invitation to consider both your own and other people’s genders, because – as we’ll see – for many reasons we tend to be kinder to others when we know better where we’re coming from ourselves”.
I am a bit of a fan of Meg-John Barker, and love their other works including Queer: A Graphic History (which I also recommend) and I loved this book, which was co-written with Alex Iantaffi, a trans-masculine writer. The combination of their voices and experiences, as well as a keen eye on considering intersectional approaches to gender, make this book very deep in understanding as well as broad in scope. Yet, it isn’t dry or academic because of this. Both authors wear their extensive knowledge and experience lightly, and gently guide you as you read and work through the book, to explore, discuss, question and understand your own gender – whether that’s trans or cis, masculine, feminine, non-binary or something else entirely.
Covering everything from the meaning of gender and how society sees it, to identifying, experiencing and living with your gender, navigating relationships and sexuality, to celebrating gender pioneers and role models, this book takes you on a journey to a deeper understanding of gender as it manifests for yourself and for others in this diverse many-gendered world. It has thought-prompts and activities to help reinforce the ideas discussed and bring them into a real and practical dimension, which helps to break up the queer theory somewhat.
There’s a great review of this book over on the excellent Major Arqueerna blog, which if you aren’t following, you should be! Enfys Book, who writes Major Arqueerna, says everything I would want to say about this better than I could, so go read their review!
I got this book at the brilliant Gay’s The Word bookshop in London and then devoured it in a few days, reading it on my lunch breaks at work, in the evenings, and whenever I had a few moments.
Going through it again for this post, I noticed an activity called “Your Gender River” where you look at significant influences for your gender throughout your life. Now, I’m not saying that’s why I chose the name River when I came out as trans, but it may have been one of many subconscious influences!
(I really wanted to include a review of Non Binary Lives here, but didn’t finish reading it in time, so it will probably get its own post later on!)
So, what are your favourite trans books that I really need to go and read right now?