I usually rave about nonfiction books a lot, but this one… Oh, this one is just so so amazing! It combines data, research, and compelling arguments about a variety of topics that affect the transgender community. The author’s voice is so compelling that I was hooked from the first page onward. I could not put it down!
Title: Everything You Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)
Author: Brynn Tannehill (#ownvoices)
Genre: nonfiction, essays
Published on: November 21st, 2018 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Page count: 416 pages
s y n o p s i s
This collection of essays divided into twelve chapters delves into the ins and outs of transgender men and women’s lives. From the basic questions of “what does transgender mean?” to “isn’t gender the same as sex?” to the more complex issues of hate crimes and discrimination against the transgender community, Tannehill explores it all. The ultimate goal is clear: make readers understand who the trans community is and why they are a group that needs to be acknowledged and legitimized. In short, this is a guide to make you a better ally.
Disclaimer: I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley. However, all views are my own and this is an unbiased review.
As part of my on-going effort to read all the ARCs I have on my backlist, I picked up this nonfiction collection of essays by transgender activist Brynn Tannehill. I was fully expecting to love it, since I tend to love books like this one. However, I was not expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. And that’s a great sign!
I want to give you the best view I possibly can of this spectacular book. So let’s get into the review! You’re welcome to gush with me about Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans in the comments 💬
“In a world that requires gender for labels, I have torn mine up, doused them in gasoline, lit a match, and feverishly danced around the resulting bonfire like it is Burning Man”
🏳️🌈 So much in-depth research!
The first thing I want to point about this book is what stands out the most: just how much research went into writing this book. As you read through the chapters, you immediately notice the reference numbers going up. In total, there are 1,374 references, all listed in the End Notes part of the book. Yup, that’s right — one thousand three hundred and seventy-four references! Most of these are links and citations of online articles, books, essays, thesis, and other academic works. But some actually give you extra information about terms and people, which is super useful!
All the arguments Tannehill makes are completely based on studies and hard facts. I found this very refreshing, as it could be easy to dismiss her arguments over transgender children, medical care, etc had she not linked all articles and studies used.
🏳️🌈 Easy-to-follow structure…
The reason why I think this book succeeds where many nonfiction, research-heavy books fail is how well laid out and structured it is. Each chapter is completely dedicated to a hot-button issue (i.e. ‘Dating and Sex’ ‘Medicine and Mental Health’ ‘Politics’ ‘Religion’…). In them, she goes really in-depth and analyzes them from several points of view. Her writing is always very clear, which makes it even easier to understand her arguments.
But it’s not just the macrostructure that the author has completely nailed. In terms of microstructure, the writing also shines through. Most chapters follow a clear structure: 1) presenting myths and misconceptions; 2) explaining why they are wrong; 3) suggesting a new way of looking at things.
For someone who is new to the world of gender identity, this is the perfect formula to read. You will probably find misconceptions you’ve heard before and then understand why they’re wrong. And, since the writer cites a lot of studies and works done over the years, it doesn’t feel like you’re being lied to. Instead, you are figuring out things on your own — which feels great!
🏳️🌈 A sober and engaging voice!
Many research-heavy books feel boring after a couple hundred pages. All that data and statistics being presented can knock anyone to sleep — especially if you’re not familiar with the concepts being discussed. However, I never once felt this while reading this book. Brynn Tannehill has such an engaging voice that you will be hooked to the page, even when the concepts she’s talking about aren’t ones you’re too familiar with.
I think this is mostly because, through her writing, you can tell how much she cares about these topics. Brynn consistently refers to the transgender community as “us” and uses very strong language (in a positive way!) to get her point across. I think this is why you can’t get bored reading this collection of essays. She mixes the personal and the academic in the most perfect, engaging way.
🏳️🌈 So much diversity on so many levels!
Another aspect I looooved was how many issues Brynn Tannehill wrote about. Seriously, she acknowledges that the transgender experiences are just as diverse as any other (more on that later), and so it only makes sense for her book to explore such a variety of topics.
As I previously mentioned, there are twelve chapters that deal with different popularly discussed topics. These range from relationships (based on friendship, kinship, and romantic ones) to sexuality to the representation of the community in the media and even to political topics. The clear progression and the sheer amount of points of view brought up will surely leave you amazed at how much you still have to learn.
🏳️🌈 Different people, different experiences…
This is truly one of the points in which Brynn Tannehill shines the brightest. As she says in the introduction to her book and numerous times throughout the chapters, the transgender experience isn’t just one.
The author makes this very clear every time she discusses privilege. There’s even a whole section of a chapter dedicated to debating who has more privilege (trans men or women? men or women, in general?).
Since there are so many factors at play, there is not one, monolithic transgender experience. Brynn Tannehill writes this countless times and (as always) explains why that is. A transgender man living in New York City and one living in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska will surely have different experiences. Both at the personal and political/legal level. The best example of this is Caitlyn Jenner, her support of Donald Trump, and how she doesn’t speak for the entire trans community.
I think this was a very important point to bring up. From opinion articles and social media discussions I have read, the fact that people seemed to lump all transgender men and women into one category really bugged me. How could someone say that a transgender woman could not be called a woman because she experienced male privilege? This is just one of the many arguments that Tannehill brings up that were fascinating to read.
“Transgender identities are often alien concepts to people. Empathizing with people based simply on their humanity is hard. Having empathy for someone who is different is even harder.
🏳️🌈 Mixing the personal and the academic
While this book proclaims to be an academic look at the transgender experiences (which is completely true), it also brings something personal to the table. Though the author herself doesn’t go on long tangents about her experience (unlike what you’d find in a memoir), she does bring personal accounts of the trans experience into this.
Take the chapter on the military, for example. At the same time that she breaks down myths and misconceptions about trans military personnel (that they can’t focus, that their medical treatment is cumbersome to the unit, that privacy would be broken on the field…), Brynn quotes active transgender personnel. Thus, instead of you just reading from an academic and statistical point of view, you also get to hear from the people who these anti-trans policies hurt the most. It’s not only refreshing but also a great rhetoric move.
🏳️🌈 This book truly does serve as an ally guide!
The goal of this book is to, among other things, teach allies more about the transgender community. What not to say to a transgender person, what not to ask, what you can ask, and so on were all things discussed in the first chapters of the book.
Also, as each chapter grew more and more complex due to the issues being discussed, I found this progression easy to follow and challenging in the best of ways. It pushes you to think of your preconceived ideas about the transgender community and, as a result, makes you grow as an ally.
“The deck is stacked against transgender people, and potential allies need to understand the efforts of a frequently hostile culture and legal system. When you know about these effects, it allows you to see them when they happen, and recognize where positive changes can be made.”
All in all, I highly recommend reading this book — especially if you are not familiar with transgender issues!!! The writing is very much accessible to beginners and the studies cited are super useful if you want to do more research into the topic.
Even if you are on the fence about nonfiction books, I’d say definitely give this one a try. It’s so different from so many other books in the genre and Brynn brilliantly gets her point across.