Book Review | Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin

beyond-magenta-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
: Susan Kuklin
: Candlewick Press
: February 11, 2014
: Young Adult Nonfiction, LGBTQIA
: 192

Through six short memoirs transcribed from interviews, Beyond Magenta explores what it’s like to come of age as a trans-spectrum teen.  A crucial lesson this book teaches is to see gender and sexuality as something with infinite colourful shades.  To really know someone’s story, you have to be humble and open-hearted enough to listen to them tell it in their own words.

When I first started my transition, I wanted it to be complete, from one side to the other.  But now I’m embracing my in-between-ness.  I’m embracing this whole mix that I have inside myself.  And I’m happy.  So forget the category.  Just talk to me.  Get to know me – Jessy “The House of my Soul”

Beyond Magenta celebrates and raises awareness of trans teen experiences by sharing the stories of six gender diverse young people.  Some of their stories are funny and full of positivity for the future; others describe abuse, mental illness, and discrimination from which they are still healing.  Some of their stories express self-love and confidence, while others describe how navigating a trans identity can feel like walking blind.  A common discovery is that there’s always so much more to learn about themselves.

Although the memoirs are edited transcripts of face-to-face interviews, they sound raw and unfiltered.  I love how each speaker’s personality and sense of humour shines through their words.  I found it utterly engrossing slipping under the spell of each person’s story, as they led me through both painful and uplifting memories to reveal how they became the person they are today.

Transition?  Everyone goes through one kind of transition or another.  We go through transitions every day.  Except mine is maybe a little more extreme – Mariah “The Real Deal”

The teens tell their stories in roughly chronological order, exploring relationships with family and friends, the ‘coming out’ experience at school and at home, and the self-discovery journey of coming to terms with a non-binary gender identity.  They also give insight into the physical and emotional journey of hormone replacement therapy.  In this way, Beyond Magenta is extremely insightful and educating.

A common theme across the memoirs is parent-child relationships – how powerfully parents’ opinions and attitudes will impact the child’s journey.  In Christina’s story, I loved reading about her mother’s evolving attitude towards gender diversity – gradually growing more open to understanding, and ultimately becoming her daughter’s most passionate supporter.

I learned through Christina.  I didn’t read a book or call anyone for information.  I listened to my daughter.  And I learned by letting her be – Christina’s mum “Every Girl is Different”

The language framing gender is crucial in the communication of these stories.   The teens explain the nouns and pronouns they want others to use, and how crucial this is to their self-view, even their mental health.  It’s eyeopening to realise that something as seemingly harmless as calling a trans woman “he” can be a horrible form of emotional abuse.

The majority of the memoirs feature photographs of the subjects, often to chronicle their physical transformations as they experiment with their self-expression or come closer to outwardly communicating their identity.  In Cameron’s story, “Variables”they pose for a series of photos, showing – regardless of where they currently sit on the gender spectrum – how comfortable they are in their own skin.

Gender is more fluid and more complex than society assumes … There are other genders out there that don’t fit on the spectrum range.  Gender does not have endpoints; it’s three-dimensional.  Males float around somewhere, females float around somewhere else, and some people just don’t float at all – they swim.  What I mean is, unlike the floaters, swimmers control where they’re going.  The swimmers DO their gender instead of BE their gender – Cameron “Variables”

I enjoyed how the tone and mood of Beyond Magenta flows from story to story.  The memoirs that are difficult to read due to confronting content are bookended by stories with hopeful tones.  I felt that this helps the reader to see LGBTQIA issues from a range of perspectives and in several contexts.  Overall, my impression was that the teens who speak out in this book have positive futures ahead of them – hopefully futures in which more people will be supportive of their journeys and be humble enough to get to know them before they assume to understand their struggles.


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