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Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation is a collection of essays written by multiple authors and edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman. The book is written by individuals with ties to the transgender and LGTBQ community. Often these individuals identify as transgender, intersex, queer, or using a combination of identities. Generally, the authors provide the edited collection with essays but poetry and comic strips are also present. What they all have in common, independent of their style of writing, is the fact that they are considered gender outlaws.
What this book emphasizes is the fact that there are great varieties in any community, and this holds especially true for the transgender community. No essay discusses the same topic twice and therefore many perspectives are covered. The various essays includes FTM (female to male) transformations, MTF (male to female) transformations, individuals identifying as transgender who have gone through operations, and those who have not. It also includes those who are born with partial, or with both, male and female sex organs (there is a huge range of variety in this group), and partners of transgender men and women, who might or might not be transgender themselves. The book at times provides insight into the emotional difficulties as well as practical struggles that transgender individuals face. These struggles might be internal in that the individual does not feel at home in their assigned gender, or the fact that physical transformation is expensive and difficult to reach.
The huge varieties of identities display themselves when the authors write about their preferred identities and their struggles. For example, one biologically born female initially identified as queer and started dating women. After a while she recognized that these identities did not fit how she felt inside and started identify as a gay male who performed drag. Another author began his transformation from male to female when middle aged and many years after he married and had children. The essays highlight the diversity and also diverse struggles that transgender and intersex individuals face. There is also much diversity when it comes to labeling within these groups. One author preferred to be identified as a she-man because this correctly described his internal feelings. Other individuals believe she-man to be a put down and instead prefer to introduce themselves as transgender, as a trans man or as a trans woman.
What is good about this book is just the fact that it challenges mainstream understanding or gender and identities. It also provides many different perspectives and highlights the fact that no gender journey is the same.
On the downside, the great majority of essays are very philosophical and abstract. Many of them resemble creative writing and at times leave me to wonder what I just read. I believe this abstract way of communicating to be a major difficulty of the book because if the essays are difficult to understand so are also the struggles and needs of the individuals writing them. Therefore the book is probably more aimed at the transgender community than the general reader since shared experiences might help the reader in their understanding of the essays. It must be noted that this book is not an easy read and the frequent changes in authors and writing styles is challenging. Ideally, the book could also have included more essays written by disabled individuals who are transgender and individuals that are intersex.
Although this book provides a possibility for all readers to understand the transgender community and transgender individuals, the abstract and philosophical writing styles contribute little to a mainstream understanding of transgender life.
© 2011 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from University College Dublin, Ireland, and recently earned her Master's Degree in Women's studies from the same university.
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