memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir) by Jackson Bird

With interlibrary loan not being available (and it won’t be for the foreseeable future *sob*), it was getting time to make changes to my reading challenge picks. I’m so grateful to Goodreads for making groups available where readers can discuss challenges and identify different picks for different prompts- makes things a LOT easier for me! The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge has a prompt for a book by a trans or nonbinary author, and after a little searching and checking my library’s ebook database, I settled on Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir) by Jackson Bird (Tiller Press, 2019). I love memoirs, I love nonfiction, and I love learning and especially learning about how to be a better ally, so this was a perfect choice.

Jackson Bird was assigned female at birth, but it became clear early on that this was a label that didn’t fit him well. Living in a very conservative area didn’t lend well to giving him the terms for what he was feeling, and he grew up in the days before ‘transgender’ was a common term. With the exception of an episode of Oprah and a heavily stereotyped Adam Sandler movie, Jackson’s education on all things transgender was as limited as anyone else’s of that time period, something that caused him considerable distress, as things do when you feel that alone.

Forcing himself to conform to female gender norms only compounded his gender dysphoria, and after the internet worked its magic and introduced him to more information on the topic, Jackson began the long, slow process of physically transitioning to the gender he’d been all along, finding love and support from his family and friend group along the way. Though not without difficulties, his journey made him realize he needed to help others along the way as well, something he’s forged into a successful career via YouTube, TEDTalks, and other well-known media outlets.

This is a GREAT book. If you’re transgender or questioning your gender and are interested in learning more and need to feel like you’re not alone, this is the book you need. If someone in your life has come out as trans and you want to learn more and understand how to be a better friend and ally, you need this book. If you keep hearing about transgender people and trans rights on the news but those headlines and malicious, hurtful jokes by family members constitute the entirety of your knowledge on the topic, this book is your primer. Go pick up a copy now.

Interspersed with chapters of his own story of coming out and transitioning, Mr. Bird includes educational sections that define terms and their proper uses and provide more in-depth knowledge on both issues that affect the transgender community (ie, how to purchase and use binders, how to prepare for top surgery, how to navigate employment as you transition) and how their friends and family can be better allies and work to make the world better and safer for their trans loved ones.

Mr. Bird’s story is one of bravery- not without its bumps in the road and its moments of self-doubt, but what story lacks those? His dedication and conviction, both to living his truth and to educating others, is admirable; I wish I had even a sliver of his courage. It seems as though he’s been extraordinarily fortunate in that his family and friends supported him and stuck by his side throughout, though it’s not difficult to tell why; Sorted is written in a style that makes his outgoing personality and friendliness apparent. You’ll be wishing you could hang out with him within a few chapters.

Sorted is a fast read- with as engaging as it is, how could it not be???- but it’s one that will stick with you and will have you speaking up the next time you hear someone making a crack about trans people. Jackson Bird is one of those people you’ll be sticking up for, and he and every other trans person out there deserve it. Don’t leave this one off your list; you’ll come away enlightened, educated, and determined to be better for trans people in every aspect of your life.

Visit Jackson Bird’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

Check him out on YouTube here.

memoir

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More- Janet Mock

So here’s an issue. I accidentally misread a Book Riot 2019 Read Harder Challenge task as a book by a trans or nonbinary author, when the task is actually a novel by a trans or nonbinary author (Hi, I’m Stephanie. I read stuff…). And because I misread it, I picked up Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock (Atria Books, 2014). As it turns out, my reading of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey also counts as a novel by a trans or nonbinary author, so this wonderful book that deepened my understanding of what it means to grow up and exist as transgender, is just gravy. 🙂 (Side note: this would also count as the task of an #ownvoices book set in Oceania; Janet Mock is native Hawaiian and black and spends the majority of her childhood and adolescence on the island.)

Janet Mock was born Charles, but although she didn’t have the words to explain how she felt, she knew that something wasn’t quite right with how the world saw her. Sports, roughhousing, crew cuts, none of these fit the way Janet saw herself; she wanted glamour, beauty, femininity. Her desire to be female predated the trauma she suffered via her parents’ divorce, her mother’s absence, both parents’ drug use, and two years of molestation by her father’s girlfriend’s teenage son (obvious content warnings for this; the description is fairly graphic). Living with her father was difficult; he didn’t understand the child he saw as being overly feminine and tried everything he could to repair what he perceived as misguided. Back home in Hawaii, the land of her birth, Janet (who began going by Janet at, I believe, age 13) found a more accepting family and culture. Her mother and siblings didn’t always get it right, but they tried, and Janet was able to surround herself with friends who loved and accepted her as she was.

This didn’t make Janet’s path to womanhood an easy one, however. There were still teachers at school who othered her and refused to stand up for her when students harassed her (there’s no excuse for this, and reading this made me SO angry for her. I was privy to a teacher turning her back on a classmate bullying a disabled student when I was in high school. I was utterly incensed, and yes, I stepped in and spoke up, loudly. Me, the person who rarely said a single word in class, EVER. The bully looked shocked and shut the hell up immediately. Moral of the story? Don’t be like that teacher). In order to pay for the expensive gender reassignment surgery, Janet, like so many transgender people, engaged in sex work (there’s a content warning here for violence). She still had years of personal growth ahead of her, to work through her earlier trauma and unlearn all the negative ways she’d learned to think about herself, but Janet Mock has grown into a beacon of strength and insight and self-acceptance. If I can ever afford to take whatever Master Class in confidence that she neeeeeeeeeeeds to be teaching, I would so be there. Her poise and determination are incredible, and I wish I had even a thimbleful of what she has.

If you’ve never read a book about being transgender before, this would be a good place to start. Ms. Mock explains a lot of the very basics of what it means to be trans (her preferred term) and what trans people go through in order to live what their souls know is true. She does a lot of this in a manner of, “I later learned that many trans people…”, which helps the reader to feel they’re not alone in learning something new, that even she had things to learn, which I think would be helpful if someone is looking to expand their knowledge of this topic. She also explains the Hawaiian concept of mahu, third gender persons, which fascinated me. Not everything is as binary as some societies demand, and I so love learning about different ways of viewing the world (I also love learning about Hawaiian culture and history, so the fact that this was set there and Ms. Mock is native Hawaiian made me so happy to read!).

What a moving story about a remarkable woman who has had to work so hard just to be herself. 🙂

Visit Janet Mock’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.