I’ve never been a book person. Reading has never come easy to me, resulting in my rarely reading anything. Sure, I read signs and emails and 142 character tweets, but my brain refuses to give up my 7 year old mentality of if a book doesn’t have pictures, I’m not interested. And though I have never been a book person, I am an insatiable learner. My inability (or refusal) to read has caused a lot of problems with this, starting with bad grades as a kid and then escalating to a much more frustrating fate. It puts me at risk of being left out of my communities. Most of our breakthrough thinkers and epiphany-enduing personal stories are only found in, you guessed it, books. So what’s a dyslexic femme boy to do? Just gotta suck it up and read some shit, or better yet get a cute queer to read aloud to you Jane Austen style while you recline on a sofa with an undeserved sense of accomplishment.
I know, I know, I’m amazingly smart, but I wasn’t always this awesome. Before I was clever enough to enlist a cute reader I had to laboriously read books to myself. One of my early labors of love, and possibly the first ‘gender’ text that ever spoke to me, was Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw – not because of its theoretical or activist implications, but because of Kate’s poetic gender-fuck-you, “Its my life, I do what I want” mentality. The book may not have changed my life, but it made me feel like I wasn’t alone – something I surely already knew but had never been proven to me until then – and that changed my life.
Kate and S. Bear Bergman just edited a new book: Gender Outlaw: The Next Generation and once again I am being taught things I thought I already knew, or maybe just needed to be re-told. The book opens with a heart-warming conversation between Kate and Bear. It is like hiding behind the kitchen door while your parents talk about you, but instead of your parents in a traditional sense, its your trans-queer family and instead of talking about you specifically, its your community. And what is “community” but a broader reflection of ourselves, what we’ve done, and what we need to do? (And what else do parents talk about but what you did and what you need to do?) And though community in a sense is about us, community isn’t one thing or type of person because every community is made up of countless other communities. Its a group of intersectional identities bound together by a common identity or experience and this forms some intangible matrix that we exist in and our existence makes it visible. Now, I could make Kate and Bear very happy by expanding this borderline sci-fi reference into a full sci-fi metaphor but I am not cool (or un-cool) enough to know how (sorry darlings <3) so I’m going to talk about paintings instead. A Monet painting. Its made of millions of different sized, shaped, and shaded strokes create something recognizable. Someone may only see the greater image without seeing the individual strokes that form it, and some strokes may be more visible than others, but there are no true lines, no way to define where one shape starts and another ends or which has more impact on the finished work of art. It all depends on who’s looking and what they are looking for. That is why this anthology is so relevant to our community now. It is a collection of various strokes and swabs from the greater work of our community so that we may get a better idea of what we’re looking at when we stare into that mass of color on canvas.
Recently, I have been especially frustrated with the barely moving, politically stunted and socially constricted suffocation that is my Midwestern hometown’s “gay” community. This book reminded me that I’m not out of my wits, not just in reference to my genderfucked femme trans-radical queerness. It also focuses on socio-political state of our community through its presentation of multifaceted political consciousnesses of privilege, language, power, race, class, and accessibility. It discusses who we are in our differences and similarities, what we are doing now, and what we need to do to better the future. Sometimes the only push we need to keep going is to see that we are not the only one who is fighting, who is living a life like ours while also working to enable others to do so in their own right. I can’t tell you this book will change your life, but it may remind you that you’re not alone. And if you’re like me, and not a book person, they got us covered. The book has pictures.