The Person Inside ... The Gulf Between Us

Reading Time: 4 minutes



Between Shadow and Sun: A Discussion Guide for Readers

In Between Shadow and Sun, Tina and Mary grapple with some pretty big questions. How well do you think they do? Most of these involve deeply felt personal values. How do you feel? [Note: each of these questions can consume an entire discussion. Pick one or two and dig in.

When and How Do You Know? Tina suggests that she had her first inkling that something was different about her at the age of six . And yet she describes many moments of gender “normalcy” during her early years.

  • As you read the book, when (if you did) did you decide that Tina was transgender? What helped you to decide?
  • Do you know of examples of people who faced similar struggles with their identity? How did they decide?

What Causes Gender Dysphoria? Tina describes her examination of family, religion, masculinity, and sexual orientation as possible causes for her gender dysphoria. She eventually eliminates each one.

  • Were you convinced by her analyses? If not, why not? What more would you have advised her to do?

Tina seems to accept the explanation that her brain went down a “different train track” in the womb. She likens our inability to prove this to our inability to see and conceive of germs prior to the invention of the microscope.

  • Do you agree that the theory is a plausible one? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that it is possible to accept the notion of gender variance without understanding its cause, or do you demand proof?

What Does It Mean to Think like a Woman? Tina admits to some discomfort with this notion, but says that it is the only way she can describe her reality. She experiences the world and herself in it as a woman.

  • How do you understand what she is saying? Do you accept it?
  • What does it mean to you to say that someone “thinks like a woman”? Is it an offensive and limiting idea? Is it anti-feminist?

Is the Gender Binary an Outmoded Idea? Tina describes her encounter at Columbia University with students who want to do away with the notion of gender altogether. They find it limiting.

  • Tina admits to remaining binary in her own mind. Where do you stand? Is Tina promoting an outmoded concept or standing up for her own experience of the world?
  • What are your own views on gender? Is it an arbitrary social construct or a social expression of inherent differences?  If there are only two genders, what defines them? If there aren’t, is it OK for someone to say that they feel binary?

Was Tina Dishonest with Mary? Tina suggests that she was as honest with Mary as she was with herself.

  • Do you agree? If so, is that an adequate defense?
  • How should Tina or Mary have handled their pre-transition dialogues differently?

Are Tina and Tom Two Different Persons?  Tina and her family struggle with a profound question: Was Tom dead and gone? Or was he simply transformed?

  • How would you describe what happened to Tom? What is gone? What remains?
  • How would feel if someone close to you decided to declare a new gender? What would you say to their family?

Is Being Transgender That Unique? While Tina focuses on her experience with gender, she continually tries to generalize her experience. She suggests, for example, that she transitioned for reasons common to anyone: the desire to be known for who she is, to feel loved, to be able to express herself authentically.

  • Do you agree that being transgender shares a lot with other deviations from social norms? What is similar? What is unique about it?
  • Have you ever struggled to feel known and loved for who you are? How did your experience of this differ from the author’s? How was it similar?

Do The Culturally Privileged Underestimate How Others Experience Its Absence? Tina suggests that she developed a fundamentally new appreciation of the meaning of cultural privilege when she lost it. It was more than a question of favoritism and advantage. Once she transitioned, the simplest activities took on a sinister air. She didn’t just feel disadvantaged, she felt unentitled, misjudged and unprotected.

  • Do you buy her distinction between the two experiences of cultural privilege? How does it affect dialogue between those who have it and those who don’t?
  • Have you ever been accused of being privileged? How did it make you feel?

What Does It Mean to Be An Ally? Tina mentions the importance of allies at work. She suggests that the little things they did to make her feel valued and welcome mattered as much to her as their advocacy for new policies. She says that these actions changed her behaviors and her feelings . Finally, she questions her own performance as an ally to other minorities.

  • When, in your life, have you needed an ally? What did you want from them? What did you get? How important was that experience to your life?
  • When, in your life have you acted as an ally to someone in need of support? How important do you think your support was to them? How did it feel to you?
  • How would you define a good ally? How good an ally are you?

When a Spouse Transitions, What Should Happen to the Marriage? In the foreword, Mary admits that she seriously considered divorce. At the end she asks, “was I right to stick around?” Tina says that she doesn’t consider it a mark of success that she and Mary remained together, but she wanted to do so.

  • Was Mary right to stick around?  What did she lose? What did she gain? What other options might she have pursued?
  • What about other couples:  Those with young children? Those in their 20s?  What would you advise a friend to do?




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Tina White

Tina White

I like to write and speak on issues of identity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. I believe that, when we learn to see and embrace the person inside one another, our lives, communities, and organizations are all the richer.
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