Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest blog: Significant nonfiction

Beyond Magenta:
Transgender Teens
Speak Out,
by Susan Kuklin

Transgender is a term that refers to a person whose gender identity, expression, or behavior does not conform to that associated with the sex to which he or she was born. In other words, a person who was born male but identifies as female, or vice versa. This is a different experience from being gay--transgenders have a persistent sense of being misplaced in their own bodies. Beyond Magenta consists of six first-person narrative accounts by transgender teens about their experiences growing up. It is edited by Susan Kuklin, and accompanied by photographs of these teens (in some cases showing “before” and “after”) taken by the author. It also includes definitions of terms, and a list of some of the major service, advocacy and legal organizations that deal with issues related to transgender teens, as well as books and movies that highlight the transgender experience.

If you are a transgender teen, Beyond Magenta will show you that you are not alone, that there are other teens who have had feelings and experiences similar to what you are experiencing, and perhaps give you some ideas about how to deal with your own challenges. But other readers who want to understand what has for for a long time been a hidden and taboo subject will also gain enlightenment and a sense of empathy from reading these stories.

Earlier this year, the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award for Young Adult Literature was awarded to Kirstin Cronn-Mills for Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, a book about a transgender teen. In nearly all of this kind of fiction, the transgender characters have been created by authors who are not themselves transgender, and while they have introduced readers to sympathetic and sometimes engaging characters, the narratives lack a certain authenticity. The real voices of transgender teens are what you will hear in Beyond Magenta, and the six stories told here all challenge our tendencies to simplify, categorize, and define.

Young adults read books about transgender teens because this is a time in their lives when they are exploring identity issues. All of us crave the freedom to define ourselves, to discover our own individual and authentic sense of self, and to have that known and respected by others. The consciousness of bullying has made us aware that stereotyping can be used to take power, to oppress races, religious minorities, sexual minorities, and women. The author writes, “My subjects’ willingness to brave bullying and condemnation in order to reveal their individual selves makes it impossible to be nothing less than awestruck.” This is, in the end, a book not just about being transgender, but about freedom and courage.

Reviewed by Hubert K., reference librarian

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