Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Jenna Talackova, Chaz Bono, Laura Jane Grace… Open and proud transgender people have been receiving a lot of press lately. These transgender celebrities have publicly faced personal challenges in relation to their gender identities and many regard them as role models for transgender youth.
But we know far less about transgender teens themselves. What are the challenges they face? How might they be different from those encountered by popular celebrity adults? What do they want the world to know about their experiences?
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin provides readers with some helpful answers to these key questions. This acclaimed book profiles six trans teens. It gives readers a good look into their lives and the wide range of experiences they face. Their accounts are honest, raw, heart-wrenching and inspiring.
Why is this book an important read? Because of its truth. It challenges some of our most strongly-held assumptions. Contrary to what “gender reveal” parties would have you believe, (perceived) biological sex does not determine gender. Traditionally, society has been quick to assign gender to a newborn when it is actually impossible to confirm it at such a young age. Many children are raised in accordance with socially-constructed norms based on their genitalia, restricting opportunities for non-conforming kids to be their authentic selves. Strict gender categories are adhered to without thinking simply because they are familiar. These categories can simplify our social interactions and maintain order. But they don’t tell the whole story. The interviewees in this book – and transgender people the world over – challenge these prevalent misconceptions.
In Beyond Magenta, the stories of teenage trans interviewees are told using their own voices. Kuklin pieced together narratives from interview transcripts and collaborated with the teens in the editing process. Their diverse experiences and perspectives help readers to understand that there is no one or “right” way to be transgender. Some of the teens profiled have transitioned to various degrees within the gender binary (woman/man); one of the teens is gender non-conforming; another identifies as intersex. Two use the pronoun “they.” These accounts are honest and moving and help to broaden perspectives and understanding of the experiences and challenges facing transgender youth, the greater transgender community, their allies and their loved ones.
While the intended audience is young adults, this is a beneficial read for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of social diversity and to gain insight into the lives of transgender people. In Beyond Magenta, Kuklin asked Dr. Manel Silva, the Clinical Director of the HOTT (Health Outreach to Teens) Program, “What causes a person to be transgender?” She answered, “I think the question should be flipped around: What’s the cause for assuming that one’s gender identity has to be the one that you are born with? …when you hear the same stories over and over again, from people from all over the world, you start realizing that transgender is not an anomaly. It’s part of the spectrum of people’s realities. Then you stop wondering about the cause and you start realizing it’s a part of reality.” (The Williams Institute estimates that more than one in 350 American adults are transgender.)
To finish up, here’s a wise, yet simple, observation from an interviewee, Mariah, “Everyone goes through one kind of transition or another. We go through transitions every day.”
As a society, let’s work to expand our understanding of “normal” and provide trans youth with the acceptance and support they need during some of the most difficult times in their lives. Beyond Magenta is a perfect starting point to raise awareness about the reality of the lives of transgender people and to encourage a perspective free of misconceptions.