Every so often, I feel the need to take a look at the world around me and see something I’ve maybe not looked at before with any attempt to understand. Sometimes that need is simple curiosity, other times I feel compelled by circumstances that crossed my path. Sometimes it’s both. Whatever the case may be, knowledge is power, and I like to learn, so I try to approach the topic of whatever “it” may be with fresh eyes and zero preconceived notions, or as close as I can get. I walk into these situations with the understanding that I will not learn all that is learnable from a single book. That’s not the goal. The goal is simply to discard some measure of personal ignorance and expand my horizons.
The author of this book, Joanne Borden, is a transgender woman. According to her bio, she’s a widow with two children and four grandchildren, was an industrial engineering consultant, was president of two engineering societies, holds an MBA, and is a WWII veteran. In short, her experience of the world is considerably different from my own and probably has something to say about this topic than, say, the militant little snowflakes out there that get bent out of shape with every accidental misuse of their preferred pronouns, whichever set they may use. I wasn’t interested in butting heads or stepping on toes. I simply wanted to know. The journey I wanted from this book was to look past the preconceived notions and the spiteful rhetoric of the internet’s echo chamber.
It always seems perhaps a bit arrogant to say a book like this is “complete.” That said, upon reading it, I’d be hard pressed to say the author didn’t give it her best shot. What I found here was not only well-meaning and eye-opening, it ran the spectrum (no pun intended) of every subtopic I could think to ask about and then some. Foundations and basic vocabulary are put forth, because let’s face it here, the biggest obstacle to discussing a subject is having a common frame of reference — or wanting one in the first place. The emphasis on this is that there is a Biological Imperative at play, which science has recognized since the 1860s, “no different from being left-handed or having green eyes.” From there, this book is a guided tour of trangenderism: quite possibly everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Scientific and medical theories and research, lifestyle adaptations, transitioning, personal costs, discrimination, phobias, various complications, a guide for “coming out” to various people in a transgender’s life, a chapter specifically addressed to those other people on what that actually means, about 180 commentaries from those living this life, resources for legal and social services… seemingly no stone is left unturned. The caveat to this is that the author offers most of this from her own MtF perspective and makes overtures to address the FtM perspective, though without the gravitas of her own experiences, and the concept of genderfluid and other non-binary genders aren’t really tackled. Some might find that problematic, but I’m sure someone’s written that book as well. The scope of this one seemed to me large enough for a “beginners” book, and it’ll certainly take some time to process as is often the case with new ideas and large quantities of information.
What impressed me most was the way this was approached. It was handled in the spirit of “teach, don’t preach.” There was never a point where I felt like I was being talked down to or where the author was trying to take a stance of superiority. There was no distinguishing between “outsider” or “insider” on this. It felt like a conversation between people, whether that person is a transgender or may know someone and has to come to terms with a new perception reality. It’s a one-sided conversation, to be sure, but still a conversation, and an engaging one at that. It hit on mental and emotional chords that made it easy to relate without going over the top. When I chose to look into this, I could easily have hit a smaller book that reduced everything to bullet points, but I think the human factor of this one won out.