Beyond Magenta – Susan Kulkin

I had seen this book pop up on Goodreads under the “banned books” section.  The fact it was in this section intrigued me enough to put in a hold on it at the library – I mean, whose curiosity isn’t piqued when you find out something is banned!?  When it came in, aesthetically the book was pleasing and not what I expected.  It almost seemed to be like an over-sized kids book with big glossy pages and pictures.  The book wasn’t portable due to its size so I kept it by my side table and went through it in a few evenings.

What the Book is About

This book explores the narrative of six transgender teens.  The author, Susan Kulkin, interviews these teens to explore their childhoods, parents support (or lack of therein), their schooling experience, relationships, etc. 

My Thoughts

I find that with books like these you really have to make the distinction of what your review is based on.  Let me start off by saying that my dislikes of this book have nothing to do with the stories of the six teens themselves.  I can’t begin to imagine how difficult their experiences were as they were trying (and continue to) find acceptance to be themselves in a world of binaries.  I found that this book allowed me to gain a bit more insight into the thoughts and feelings of someone that identifies themselves as transgender and what exactly that means.  I enjoyed that Kulkin provided diversity in the people that she interviewed where half of them were people of colour.  She also had a good representation of two trans masculine, two trans female, and two trans binary people which allows readers to under the complexity of people.  I thought Kulkin fell short on having five of the six teens that she featured be from the New York area.  I wish she explored teens from other areas (even if it was just in America) to allow for an expanded understanding of how where you live can either make things easier or harder to come out.

Where I felt this book fell short was that it focused on these teens knowing that they identified themselves as male or female based on gender stereotypes.  For example, one of the teens felt they identified as a male because they enjoyed playing sports.  While I do not discredit that teen’s feelings I do think that there is often more complex feelings or pulls to a particular gender that fall outside of what society dictates a male or female should feel, do, etc.  I wish Kulkin explored more of those issues in her interviews to provide a more realistic view of the complexities involved instead of feeding into social stereotypes – something that I feel transgender people are constantly fighting to get rid of.  There was the story of one of the teens (I believe it was Cameron) sheds more light on being a trans binary person where they explore feeling like a person can be anywhere on a spectrum of gender on any given day.  Some days they feel they identify as society’s rendition of being female and other times they identify as society’s rendition of being male but that they are still the same person.  A person should not be identified using gender as a constant.  I found this a compelling thought and I wish Kulkin did more to explore that.

I think that the concept of the book was great but not so greatly executed.  


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