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Resources for Getting to Know Us as People

Science, religion and social commentary offer useful lenses for understanding transsexuality. But they are no substitute for getting to know the people themselves. In fact, I think that they often get in the way. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources becoming available that vividly portray transgender lives. Here are a few that I have found particularly helpful.

Memoirs—Collections

I find these books to be some of the most useful and fascinating of the memoir genre. You gain many different perspectives in one book. Contributors share their greatest insights and most poignant moments. These collections cover all of the other memoir categories below.

Memoirs — Family Members

  • My Husband Betty: Love, Sex and Life with a Crossdresser. Boyd, Helen. 2003. Berkeley: Seal Press.  A searching look at the gender spectrum and a brutally honest account of what it feels like to be married to (or to be) a cross dresser. Includes interviews with a variety of interesting personalities.
  • She’s Not the Man I Married: Life with a Transgendered Husband. Boyd, Helen. 2007. Berkeley: Seal Press.  As her husband, Betty, considers living as a woman full time, Boyd struggles. She shares her confusion and anger, providing a fascinating observation of the ways in which relationships are gendered. Many memorable observations and quotes.
  • My Husband’s a Woman Now. Fabian, Leslie Hilburn. 2014. College Station: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing. Story of a wife’s efforts to support her husband’s transition even as she grieved the loss of her male partner.
  • My Brother, My Sister: Story of a Transformation. Haskell, Holly. 2013. Haskell, a well-known feminist film critic follows her brother’s/sister’s transition. Offers thoughtful commentary on what both of them went through.
  • Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods–My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine. Howey, Noelle. 2003. New York: MacMillan. A daughter recounts her father’s transition in suburban Ohio. A loving portrait of her complicated relationship to her father’s femininity and her own.

Memoirs — Adult Transitioners

  • She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Boylan, Jennifer Finney. 2003. A sweetly sentimental and deeply reflective examination of her changing relationships and personal growth as she transitions.
  • Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders. Boylan, Jennifer Finney. 2013. Examines parenthood based on her experience parenting in both genders and on interviews with non-trans people. Raises interesting philosophical questions about parenting.
  • Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life. Salazar, Lisa. 2011. A devoutly Christian husband and father struggles for ten years with his diagnosis of gender dysphoria before deciding to transition to womanhood.
  • No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth. Stevens, Grace Anne. 2015. Graceful Change Press. Stevens artfully captures her mental struggle through the book’s gradual shift in pronouns. You can hear the debate as it evolves inside her head. She offers coaching, training and consulting to on organizational and individual change (Link).

Memoirs – Child / Teen / Young Adult Transitioners

Celebrity Memoirs

These can be entertaining, insightful, and poignant. I have not included them above because they tend to celebrate lifestyles and careers that few of us expect to replicate. I include in this category, memoirs by Kate BornsteinCaroline Cossey (Tula), Renee RichardsKristin Beck, and Chaz Bono. All very cool people.

Transgender Profiles

  • A Gender Variance Who’s Who. “The most comprehensive [site] on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1,100 persons worthy of note.”
  • Successful Trans Women / Successful Trans Men. See Lynn Conway’s site above. She has captured profiles of an extensive variety of successful transsexual men and women. These were the inspiration for my own, more modest effort.

Academic and Cultural Reviews

  • Beemyn, Genny and Susan Rankin. 2011. The Lives of Transgender People. New York: Columbia University Press. — Based on a survey of almost 3,500 individuals and 400 follow-up interviews. Portrays the breadth of the gender spectrum.

Transgender People On Television

I have mixed feelings about television’s headlong rush to produce transgender reality shows. The exposure is good, but I worry that they invite caricature and stereotyping. We don’t live in the fishbowl that reality television portrays us in. Transgender people spend most of their days dealing with the same mundane issues as everyone else.

Three series are worth a look:  Becoming Us, I am Jazz, and I am Cait. Yes, there is some obvious scripting and posturing. But I am impressed by these series’ candor and by their even-handed editing. Caitlin Jenner, for example, allows herself to be captured making some very embarrassing statements that could easily have been edited out.

Becoming Us is probably the most realistic of the three in terms of its portrayal of day-to-day family life. We see a family struggle through some very deep angst. It is the most emotionally revealing of the three.

I am Jazz is the most uplifting. What an incredible family—so incredible that I sometimes found it hard to relate. It can be difficult to follow in the footsteps of supermom, Jeanette. Jazz, too, is amazing.

I am Cait is especially poignant because it contrasts Caitlin’s privilege and naiveté with the experience of trans women who are less fortunate and further along in their journey. I hope that they keep this element of the show. My two frustrations are Caitlin’s political views and the fact that most scenes portray trans people talking to other trans people. It would be more realistic to show trans people interacting with the rest of the world. That’s what we do most of the time.

Another television resource is the award-winning Amazon series, TransParent. Jill Soloway is a brilliant writer and director. She has assembled an incredible cast. Her portrayal of Mort’s transition to Maura is, in many respects, more realistic than are the reality shows. I identified with Maura in so many of the scenes.

My only complaint is that the series is set in what has got to be the most dysfunctional family on the small screen. There is sturm und drang everywhere. Maura, in fact, may be the most stable and well-adjusted member of her family.

This is not a criticism. It makes for fascinating television. But I worry that some viewers will come away with the notion that transgender people live lives filled with angst and drama and that our families are unstable. I look forward to seeing us portrayed more subtly in some lighter comedies.

Transgender People on DVD

There are many good DVDs. Two, in my opinion, have a particularly broad appeal. They are realistic and revealing but not too disturbing.

Reed, Kimberly. 2010. Prodigal Sons. Cinedigm. — A fascinating story with or without the transgender element. Ms. Reed starts to create a video focused on her return to her hometown. But she wisely allows the plot to change direction as something equally fascinating crops up. While it isn’t especially informative about transgender issues, I like that it presents Ms. Reed as an ordinary person engaged with her family.

Arnold, Chris. 2013. Trans—The Movie. RoseWorks and SexSmart Films. — Captures the diversity of the transgender community and their struggles. Nice mix of personal stories and community events.

Transgender People on the Internet

There are many fascinating videos on the Internet. Try searching for a talk show you respect (e.g., Frontline, Dr. Oz, Oprah Winfrey), together with terms like transgender, transsexual, transgender families. Alternatively, enter topics of interest on YouTube. Many transgender men and women maintain video blogs there. It is difficult to catalog these because they tend to come and go as each person transitions.

  • It Gets Better Project. Great collection of videos with inspiring LGBT video posts.
  • To Survive On This Shore. Photographs and interviews with transgender and gender-variant older adults.
  • We Happy Trans. A site for sharing positive trans experiences. It is brilliant in concept, but does not appear to be getting updated.
  • What Trans Looks Like. A Twitter campaign organized by the Huffington Post. Invites transgender people to share photos of themselves.
  • Jones, Zinnia. Gender Analysis: In-depth coverage of transgender topics, from someone who’s been there. — In each clip, Zinnia researches and reports on a topic, such as sex change regret, bathroom bills, and electrolysis.

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Tina White

Tina White

Tina White is the Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Pride Center, in Asheville, North Carolina, and a member of the board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign.

Tina spent 35 years consulting to and working for global corporations. Her specialty was large-scale business transformation: redesigning companies to pursue new strategies and improve performance. She has since shifted her focus to activism, writing and speaking. She speaks and writes on issues of diversity & inclusion, organization transformation, social justice, and personal identity.

Tina is the author of Between Shadow and Sun. She describes her 50-year struggle with gender and her wife's efforts to embrace her revealed identity. She holds an MBA in Strategy, Marketing & Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and an AB in Economics from Princeton University. She and Mary live in Asheville, North Carolina.

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