Dysphoria – Trans People and Gender Stereotypes

dysphoria noun /dɪsˈfɔː.ri.ə/
severe unhappiness, especially a person’s feeling of being very uncomfortable in their body or of being in the wrong body

from Cambridge Dictionary Online

If you know any trans people, or if you’ve read about trans people, you’ll probably have heard the word dysphoria before. As well as being the name of the clinical diagnosis trans people receive that allows them to access medical treatment, it is the feeling that leads most trans people to realising that they’re trans in the first place. It’s usually used in relation to a person’s body, or sometimes when referring to the harm caused by misgendering, but dysphoria is a far more wide-ranging and nebulous concept to many trans people.

The best way I can think to describe dysphoria is as a strong sense of wrongness, like the world has been knocked slightly off kilter – but it is also somewhat reminiscent of a punch in the gut. And it can strike at any moment: as a result of a glance or a word from a conversation partner or from an overheard conversation on the other side of the room; from a warped reflection in a car window; even from an action of your own.

Continue reading “Dysphoria – Trans People and Gender Stereotypes”

Book Review – Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy is terrified her family will be torn apart. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents break up? And what will people at school say? Izzy’s always been shy, but now all eyes are on her. Can she face her fears, find her voice and stand up for what’s right?

Blurb from Goodreads

REPRESENTATION OF THE trans EXPERIENCE – ★★★★☆

Although Dee is the trans person around whom the narrative revolves, we are also introduced to two other trans characters who have already transitioned and who approach their transness in very different ways. Because of this, we are shown the variety of the trans experience and readers can understand that not all trans people will approach transition – or their life after transition – in the same way.

Although it is seen through the eyes of the cisgender protagonist, we get glimpses of both the ups and downs of being trans, coming out and transitioning, giving overall a pretty rounded representation of the trans experience.

TREATMENT OF trans CHARACTER(S) – ★★★☆☆

In many ways, this book is similar to My Brother’s Name is Jessica by John Boyne, although I have very different feelings about it. It think the key thing is that this book feels like it was written for trans people and children of trans people, to give them a book that reflects their experience, whereas My Brother’s Name feels much more like an author trying to make money off an “in vogue” topic.

Like My Brother’s Name, the story is told from the perspective of a cisgender relative and the narrators thoughts and feelings are necessarily prioritised. However, there are several points in the book where these are challenged by other characters presenting the trans character’s point of view, which is helpful in allowing both the protagonist and the reader to understand and empathise with those experiences.

There is a fair amount of transphobia in the first half of the book in particular, including from the protagonist, such as one instance where she thinks that trans women either look like “a Caitlyn Jenner supermodel” or they are “fat, middle-aged [men] in women’s clothes and dodgy make-up”. There is a fair bit of this suggestion – both explicitly and implicitly – that a trans woman’s acceptibility is dependent on how ‘feminine’ she looks, which, while somewhat understandable given the narrator’s perspective, doesn’t quite sit comfortably with me, and I would have appreciated this being addressed at some point in the book. In general, transphobia is shown to be harmful and is condemned by the narrative.

Otherwise, the treatment of the trans character is very good. The narrative switches fairly seamlessly from “Dad” and “he” to “Dee” and “she” around chapter 12 (just under halfway through). Dee’s wife is fully supportive and, in time, so is the rest of her family.

QUALITY OF READ – ★★★★☆

The first time I read this book, I read it right through in one sitting. It’s a very enjoyable read and I care about the characters.

READING AGE – 8-9 YEARS

MATURITY LEVEL – 10+ YEARS

Includes some transphobic slurs and words such as ‘pervert’.

FINAL JUDGEMENT – it’s pretty good.

Book Review – Harriet versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

ABOUT THE BOOK

This inter-galactic adventure starts at home with Harriet, who suddenly realises that her hearing-aid can do more than she ever bargained for when she finds an alien in her room. Discovering that her family secretly work for an inter-galactic agency, Harriet becomes the Earth’s first line of defence as the only one who can understand the invaders. Sure, her hearing aid helps her understand aliens from across the universe, if only she could understand her own feelings.

Blurb from Bounce Marketing

The non-binary character is Harriet’s new friend and neighbour Robin, who is genderfluid.

REPRESENTATION OF THE non-binary EXPERIENCE – ★★★☆☆

Robin is a supporting character in the story, so the only insight we get into their experience as a non-binary person is in the brief ‘coming out’ conversation, which means it couldn’t really get more than 3 stars. Robin explains their identity clearly and in an easy-to-understand way. There is acknowledgement that Robin is nervous about sharing this information and as such a suggestion that not everyone is always kind about it, but it is subtle.

My only note is a possible over-use of “feeling like” rather than “being”, but I understand this could be intended to make it easier for younger readers to understand, especially if they are reading independently and/or there is not an opportunity to discuss the topic with a knowledgeable adult.

TREATMENT OF Non-binary CHARACTER(S) – ★★★★★

The other characters accept Robin’s identity and pronouns right away. Once it is explained, it is not questioned again. Obviously this helps the flow of the story, but it also models the idea that it is all completely normal.

When Harriet first learns that Robin is genderfluid, she likens it to her own experience – an experience I’m sure most children have had – of feeling grown up in some situations and very young in others. While this is not exactly the same (obviously Harriet’s age is not actually changing and it again leans on the idea of “feeling like”), it is a good way of making the idea relateable and understandable to young readers.

QUALITY OF READ – ★★★★★

This is a super story about friendship and bravery with plenty of open and explicit discussions of feelings and I think in many ways models very well to children how we can communicate with others about how we feel. It is also a great celebration of how the things that make us different can be our greatest strengths.

READING AGE – 8-9 YEARS

MATURITY LEVEL – 6+ YEARS

FINAL JUDGEMENT – EXCELLENT.

Book Review – The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

A heartfelt and timely middle grade story about a transgender boy’s journey toward acceptance and empathy … Twelve-year-old Shane Woods is just a regular boy. He loves pitching for his baseball team, working on his graphic novel, and hanging out with his best friend, Josh. But Shane is keeping something private, something that might make a difference to his teammates, to Josh, and to his new crush, Madeline. And when a classmate threatens to reveal his secret, Shane’s whole world comes crashing down. It will take a lot of courage for Shane to ignore the hate and show the world that he’s still the same boy he was before. And in the end, those who stand beside him may surprise everyone, including Shane. 

Blurb from Goodreads.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★★★

I don’t know if M. G. Hennessey is trans herself but she’s certainly done a lot of work with trans people and it shows. The pain of waiting for treatment and other people just not getting it. The fear of being exposed and that reaction that I’m trying hard to unlearn – it’s all gone wrong here, time to move somewhere nobody knows me and start again. One particular line – “I always look more feminine when I’m at Dad’s” – stood out to me as an accurate reflection of a very subtle phenomenon, the way dysphoria triggered by the people around you viewing you in a certain way, referring to you in a certain way, seems to change your own self-perception. I, for example, tend to misgender myself more often if I’ve spent a long time with my grandparents (they’re trying).

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★★★☆

Much the same as Gracefully Grayson – first person narrative means in general it’s sympathetic, but some characters are very cruel. It is very clear which behaviours are acceptable and which are not, but some moments are hard to read. The addition of a (small) trans support network around the main character is a positive, though.

Quality of read – ★★★★★

Very enjoyable.

reading age – 8-9 years

Maturity Level – 11+ years

Features some homophobic/transphobic language including slurs.

Final Judgement – Super.

Book Review – Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

Blurb from Goodreads.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★★★

I certainly identified with a lot of the descriptions of the emotions felt by Grayson when she was dysphoric. The desire to isolate onesself from others due to needing to keep the secret and also knowing that even when you’re included you’ll still feel like an outsider was also relateable.

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★★★☆

The other characters’ treatment of Grayson feels realistic and, due to the narration being in the first person, the narrative is sympathetic to her and shows how hurtful the negative reactions can be. A lot of the characters are very supportive of Grayson, but those that aren’t tend to be very cruel.

Quality of read – ★★★★★

I read through all in one go and thoroughly enjoyed it.

reading age – 8-9 years

Maturity Level – 10+ years

Features some homophobic/transphobic language including slurs.

Final Judgement – it’s very good.

Book Review – The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.

Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.

“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”

I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me.
The issue was the first word. Girls.

Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.

Blurb from Goodreads.

The trans character is Liv, the protagonist.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★★★

This book did give a fairly accurate portrayal of the trans experience. The stress of having to pretend to be someone you’re not all the time. The feelings of anger, frustration and hopelessness that dysphoria causes over an extended period of time. The logistical gymnastics of changing rooms and bathrooms. The inner battle of deciding when to disclose your truth to people – including when you think they might already know but you’re still too scared to actually say it aloud.

I also appreciated that all this was just the background to the plot, not the actual plot itself. It felt organic and authentic. It occupied the narrative in much the same way my identity occupies my mind – always present but rarely the main thing.

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★★★☆

Some characters are mean to Liv but they are condemned by the narrative, which treats Liv well – aided by the fact that it’s written in the first person. Liv’s reality is given priority over other characters’ feelings and her new best friend is very supportive when she comes out.

Quality of read – ★★★★★

A great and empowering book about working to make a difference and accepting and being proud of being different. I read it straight through.

reading age – 8-9 years

Maturity Level – 10+ years

Final Judgement – excellent.

Book Review – George by Alex Gino

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte—but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Blurb from Goodreads

The trans character in this story is Melissa, the protagonist.

Melissa also features in another Alex Gino novel, Rick.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★★★

It is immediately apparent, on reading this book, that it is written by a trans person. The reflection of the trans experience feels authentic in a way most of the other books did not quite manage. I related to Melissa and her experiences on almost every level. Full marks on this one.

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★★★☆

Transphobia still exists in the book, so I don’t feel I can give it 5 stars. That said, the narrative is very good to Melissa and it’s great to see her get her own back sometimes!

Melissa’s mother is not initially supportive, but eventually begins to come around. Other important characters are hugely supportive, which makes this an uplifting read overall.

Quality of read – ★★★★★

George is a sweet story that feels like a classic children’s novel.

reading age – 8-9 years

Maturity Level – 9+ years

Final Judgement – it’s super.

Book Review – MONSTER by Michael Grant

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

It’s been four years since a meteorite hit Perdido Beach and Everyone disappeared. Gone. Everyone, except the kids trapped in the FAYZ – an invisible dome that was created by an alien virus. Inside the FAYZ, animals began to mutate and teens developed dangerous powers. the terrifying new world was plagued with hunger, lies, and fear of the unknown.

Now, four years later, meteorites are hitting Earth with a virus that is even deadlier. Humans will mutate into creates with power…and the whole world will be exposed.

But power corrupts. As some teens begin to morph into heroes, they will find that others become dangerously out of control and that the world is on the brink of a monstrous battle between good and evil.

And there is only one thing more terrifying than the fear of the unknown: when history repeats itself.

In this first of a trilogy, Michael Grant has created a stunning follow-up to the globally bestselling Gone series.

Blurb from Goodreads

The trans character is Cruz, best friend and partner-in-crime of protagonist Shade Darby.

The trilogy is completed by the books VILLAIN and HERO, which also feature Cruz.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★☆☆

We meet Cruz when she’s beaten up at a bus stop. This is, unfortunately, a reality for many trans people. Is it what books about trans people should be focusing on? I’m not sure. There needs to be a balance between realistic representation and not spreading the idea that being a trans person means only pain and persecution. In this case, I think the generally good treatment of Cruz in the rest of the book largely makes up for it.

Beyond the first introduction, Cruz’s trans status is hardly mentioned, so the opportunities to represent other aspects of the trans experience are limited.

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★★★☆

The first chapter’s a bit off. Notwithstanding the attack at the bus stop, Shade’s inner monologue when she first encounters Cruz made me somewhat uncomfortable. It felt quite clinical and voyeuristic. This is to some extent a reflection of Shade’s personality, but it happens early enough in the book that I don’t think the reader really knows Shade well enough for that to be clear yet. There are also a few narrative comments about Cruz which struck me as odd and … not great.

On the other hand, after that point, pretty much all the other characters see and accept Cruz as female straight away, which is pretty much the dream.

Quality of read – ★★★★★

Michael Grant is a genius and his books are fantastic. Simple as that.

reading age – 10-11 years

Maturity Level – 12+ years

(Due to the sheer amount of violence, killing and gruesomeness)

Final Judgement – go for it.

Book Review – My Brother’s Name is Jessica by John Boyne

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Book

Sam Waver’s life has always been pretty quiet. A bit of a loner, he struggles to make friends, and his busy parents often make him feel invisible.

Luckily for Sam, his older brother, Jason, has always been there for him. Sam idolises Jason, who seems to have life sorted – he’s kind, popular, amazing at football, and girls are falling over themselves to date him.

But then one evening Jason calls his family together to tell them that he’s been struggling with a secret for a long time. A secret which quickly threatens to tear them all apart. His parents don’t want to know and Sam simply doesn’t understand.

Because what do you do when your brother says he’s not your brother at all? That he’s actually your sister?

Blurb from Goodreads

The trans character is Jessica, the protagonist’s sister.

Representation of the trans experience – ★★★☆☆

I was ready to hate this book based on the title, the blurb, the tagline, everything I’d read about it, but it wasn’t that bad. Still, the focus is naturally (given the narrator) on the feelings of the cis characters and this is very much the lens through which the plot is viewed. As a result, Jessica is repeatedly deadnamed and misgendered right up until the last couple of chapters and we don’t get a huge amount of insight into what she’s going through.

That said, it’s a pretty realistic description of what it’s like to be surrounded by people who don’t accept who you are.

Treatment of trans character(s) – ★★☆☆☆

As mentioned above, Jessica isn’t brilliantly treated by the narrative. Her parents put her through quite a lot, and her brother outs her without her permission to a new friend, who then (SPOILER ALERT!) passes that on to her (the friend’s) parents, who then reveal it to the national press (Jessica’s mum is in the running to be the next Prime Minister). So Jessica literally outed to the entire country without her permission.

As a whole, the narrative is not super sympathetic to Jessica and focuses much on how hard it is for her family without really considering how hard things are for her.

Quality of read – ★★★★☆

It’s a good read. Despite the above, it kept me interested and I read it all in one go.

reading age – 10-11 years

Maturity Level – 10+ years

Final Judgement – Don’t bother.

Book Review – Magnus Chase by Rick Riordan

For an explanation of the sections of this review and for the full list of reviews of books with trans and non-binary characters, please read this post.

About the Books

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is a trilogy of fantasy novels written by American author Rick Riordan … It is based on Norse mythology and is set in the same universe as the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles and The Kane Chronicles series. 

Wikipedia

The non-binary character is secondary character Alex Fierro, genderfluid child of the trickster Loki. Alex uses both ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns, depending on her current identity.

Alex appears in Book 2 (The Ship of the Dead), Book 3 (The Hammer of Thor) and a collection of short stories (Nine from the Nine Realms)

Representation of the trans/NB experience – ★★★☆☆

Alex Fierro’s genderfluidity is generally associated with her shapeshifting ability. She lives in a world with gods and creatures that we only know from myths. Therefore, her experience is in many ways very different from the average trans person’s. That said, there are discussions about what life is like for Alex that do reflect trans people’s experiences.

Treatment of trans/NB character(s) – ★★★★☆

Genderfluidity is hardly any more unsual than any of the other things they face day to day for most of the characters around Alex. They take it in their stride and treat Alex exactly as they should.

There are a few characters who have a problem with Alex’s identity in the highly masculine context of the Viking afterlife, but the effects of their actions on Alex are made clear and are largely condemned by the narrative and the other characters.

Quality of read – ★★★★☆

The stories are enjoyable, though I didn’t find them necessarily gripping. The fact that this is a series means children can get really into the world. The author also has other series for children to get into.

reading age – 7-8 years

Maturity Level – 9+ years

Final Judgement – it’s pretty good.

Although it’s limited in its reflection of what it’s like to be trans, it will help to broaden readers’ views of gender.