This reading list brings together a hard-partying rock star, an excommunicated Scientologist, an everyday teenager, A TV personality with a budding career and a New England professor. What these women all have in common is that they were designated male at birth, but later transitioned to womanhood, allowing their outward gender expression to match their inward gender identity. What they also have in common is that they all shared their stories in riveting books that highlight the ways different parts of their lived experiences and identities intersect with gender.
As a reader who loves memoirs and a person who is interested in gender and sexuality, I found all of these books engrossing and engaging. I’m grateful that these authors have all added their voices to the chorus of people who are sharing their stories and proving time and time again there’s no one “right” way to be a woman.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir by Kate Bornstein – These days, Kate Bornstein is known for being an author and radical queer activist, but before that, she was deep into Scientology as a member of the notorious SeaOrg. Her memoir chronicles the journey of falling in and out of Scientology, in and out of love,and in and out of various forms of gender identity and expression. This memoir touches on religion, substance abuse, family, self harm, love, mental health and belonging. Bornstein’s story is a wild ride — never conventional, but always interesting.
Becoming Nicole – The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nut – In Becoming Nicole, Ellis Nut tells the true story of a transgender teenager, Nicole, her twin brother, and their parents as Nicole seeks to confirm her female gender identity. This is a great book for anyone who isn’t already familiar with issues facing the transgender community, because Ellis Nut makes sure to explain gender theory in an accessible, easy to understand way. This book is also notable because Nicole and her family were entangled in the battle over one of the first so-called “bathroom bills,” a legal struggle that that is still playing out in many places around our country. This true story of gender, community and adolescence shows the great lengths an average American family has gone through to support one of their own.
She’s Not There: A life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney-Boylan – Although Jennifer Finney-Boylan believed she was a woman from early on in life, she didn’t end up transitioning until she was a middle-aged English professor with a wife and children. She’s Not There was the first memoir by a transgender woman to become a best seller, and it’s easy to see why, Jennifer invites readers to some of the most intimate moments in her life with honest, engaging prose. Also check out her follow up book, Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders about the ways her role as a parent has been influenced by gender.
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace – Laura Jane Grace was in the uncommon and unbelievably challenging position of coming out and transitioning while in the public eye; previously, Laura went by the name Tom Gabel as the lead singer and primary mastermind behind the band Against Me!. This book tells the story of Against Me!’s origins, and follows Grace and the rest of the band as they navigate the journey from playing small house shows in the underground punk scene all the way to the pinnacle of their career, being offered a million-dollar major label record deal. All while, Grace was battling feelings of gender dysphoria, and heavily using drugs and alcohol behind the scenes. Part rock-n-roll redemption story, part treatise on the intersections of gender identity and punk rock politics, this one’s a page turner that is equal parts in-your-face and vulnerable.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock – As a woman of color who grew up poor, gender identity was not the only hurdle Mock had to jump over in life. It wasn’t a smooth ride, but “Redefining Realness” shows that her unflinching honestly and unparalleled drive served her well on her “path to womanhood, identity, love, and so much more.” Mock is a fantastic writer whose detailed account lays bare the good and the bad choices she’s made as a way to encourage others to do the same. In this book, the term “realness” doesn’t just apply to being honest with yourself about gender, it’s about knowing yourself and being true to yourself in every way possible. She says it best herself: “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”
Read about womanhood, identity, love & so much moreReserve Redefining Realness
Ginny is a baker of treats, reader of fiction and Coordinator of Volunteer Services based out of the Office of Programs and Partnerships at CLP – East Liberty. She wants to pet your dog.