Review of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community, Laura Erickson-Schroth, 2014

This book attempts to do for transgender and gender non-confirming persons (TGNC) what <Our Bodies, Ourselves</i> has done for women. It is fairly comprehensive in its treatment of trans* community† with over 600 pages of text, including a glossary. Each chapter is written by at least two authors, most of whom have academic credentials. After a preface and three introductory chapters the book is divided six sections with an afterwards by the authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves and the glossary.

Section 1 is “Who We Are” with chapters on the many different persons that make up the population of TGNC, race, ethnicity and culture, immigration, trans* persons who are disabled or deaf, religion and spirituality, and sex and gender development. Section 2 is “Living as Ourselves” with chapters on coming out, social transition, employment, and legal issues. Section 3 is “Health and Wellness” with chapters on general, sexual, and reproductive health, medical transitioning, surgical transitioning, and mental health (2 chapters). Section 4 is “Our Relationships and Families” with chapters on intimate relations, sexuality, and parenting. Section 5 is “Life Stages” with chapters on children, youth, and aging. [What happened to adulthood?] Section 6 is “Claiming Our Power” with chapters on US history, arts and culture, and activism, politics, and organizing.

Another structural feature of the book is it many quotes from TGNC throughout book as well as boxed asides written by a guess author(s).

The following are comments I have made on specific pieces of text in the book. Numbers in brackets [] are page numbers using Kindle pagination. Numbers preceded by “@” are comments thought of when reading that part of the book, but not connected with a specific piece of text.

[xv] In one of the introductions the author quotes her mother: “’It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.’” While there is evidence for this, I would not use it as a blanket statement.

[9] “As trans people, we may be gay, straight, bisexual (attracted to both men and women), pansexual (attracted to all genders), or asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone).” Surprised to be left out in this supposedly inclusive book. I am not a lesbian, I am a translesbian, meaning my attraction is toward other transwoman. I am attracted by their gender identity as being the same as mine and not what sexual parts we may or may not have.

[12] “The term tranny is very controversial. Coming from the outside world, it is often experienced as rude, demeaning, and harassing.” Not to mention it is used in the porn industry. “However, some of us use this term to talk about ourselves, especially when we are in circles of friends, and feel that we are reclaiming it for ourselves.” This is similar to my appropriation of “gurl,” which in most instances is meant in a derogatory manner. I think the spelling is cute, so I use it as descriptor when I choose to do so.

[13] Found this in one of the many quotes from TGNC in the book: “’‘Transfabulous’ is my own word. I think it’s fantastic.’” I personally love it.

[17] “At times, people mispronoun us, calling us by incorrect pronouns, or misgender us, assuming incorrect genders. Mispronouning and misgendering can be intentional or unintentional.” Either way, it can bring on some very dysphoric moments for me.

[26] “But I live in a space of gray . . .” Often the best place to be. Black and white thinking can destroy you; I know from personal experience.

[30] “As trans people, we have experienced the world in different shoes . . .”Literally, lol.

[56] “When trans people say that they do not want to be labeled with mental health diagnoses, this reinforces the idea that there is such a thing as ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness.’ These are socially constructed diagnoses.” The fuck they are my depression and anxiety were not socially constructed. This is not to say social factors aren’t part of it. “It is important to question why any of these experiences are pathologized. The problem does not arise from being diagnosed with an illness but in peoples attitudes towards it. Yes pathologizng influences these attitudes but it shouldn’t necessarily be that way.

[@78] This section on gender and god does not discuss that a favorite text that Christians will quote, which is god made us male and female to claim that transgender persons do not exist. If taken literally this means we are androgynous, which would make us all non-binary. However, personally I don’t believe in god, so this is just a little play with words. Jewish sages back in the day (way back) discuss this view.

[@123] I imagine that I would have found this chapter less than helpful if I had not already been out. But, “Though sometimes difficult, coming out can be an exciting and self-affirming journey.” I totally agree with this on a personal level.

[126] “’Do you want to be with a man or a woman?’ (As if ‘a man or a woman’ were the only options.) . . .“ So so true. I want to be with other transwoman, with the exception of being with my long time cis-girlfriend.

[128] “Some trans people may wish to change their speaking styles as part of a shift in gender expression, and the fact that many gender differences are learned rather than innate suggests that kind of change is possible, if challenging.” May not be true in all instances. I found that once I identified as a woman at 59, mind you, I naturally fell into a more feminine style of speaking, and my mannerism were so as well. It was like it was waiting to come out of me.

[129] “Arming ourselves with information can help give us the confidence we need to approach staff, try on apparel, and make successful purchases.” Sometimes it takes guts, or a I don’t care attitude.

[129] “Shopping for items online can be a way to build a new wardrobe from the privacy of our own home. Most online stores offer sizing charts with advice on how to take our own measurements and choose the right size.” Before I started shopping in stores, I used Amazon. At first I just order and took my chances, but as a Prime member I eventually figure out to only purchase items with free returns, which made it possible to deal with misfits or other issues with the clothing I received. I built a large part of my wardrobe this way, and still do at times, especially during the lockdown part of covid-19 restrictions, when shopping in stores was not possible.

[129] “Thrift stores and second hand shops can also be a good place to start when we begin shopping.” Definitely worth it if you do not have much of a clothes budget. Even, if you do have money, you can find some great stuff and in good condition.

[150] “The Web site Safe2pee allows users to search as well as add information about local restrooms.” This was about the third old outdated web site. I even searched for an app.‡ I would go on to find many more. So, one has to keep in mind this book was published in 2014.

[181] “The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has clarified that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination.” Trump has order this reversed, although it is being challenged in court.

[184] “However, almost every state makes it difficult or impossible to access transition-related treatments from coverage under Medicaid.” Currently, MD Medicaid will cover trans related care, which includes vaginoplasty, but needs to be pre-approved. Not, however, if you have medicare as primary.

[188] Dean Spade whose aside ends here with, “. . . supporting those most in need, and building solutions that will remedy the worst harms.” While a very good piece, he, however, offers no concrete examples of providing such help.

[188] “No federal law currently protects against discrimination in employment based on gender identity . . . “ But, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that job discrimination is illegal based on gender identity.

[191] “. . . trans people being barred entrance into the military . . .” Obama changed this, but Trump is trying hard to reverse it.

[194] “HUD announced that it would treat ‘gender identity discrimination, most often faced by transgender persons, as gender discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.’ This means that HUD will prohibit discrimination against us in all of the areas it oversees.” Trump nixed this too, but again it is being challenged in the courts. It would spell disaster, especially for the homeless seeking shelters, which is already bad enough.

[195] “The US Supreme Court has not yet decided whether state laws that bar same-sex couples from marriage are unconstitutional.” They have now!

[252] “Some of us use erotic images (pornography) more than we did before. This is all healthy—as long as it feels healthy to us.” I would have to say it is the reverse since beginning to transition for me. And yes, I don’t see it as wrong.

[283] “Elective generally means that the surgery is not necessary to treat a health problem.” During the initial period of social distancing coming because of the covid-19 pandemic, elective was consider anything that was not emergency surgery.

[284] “Tracheal shave is generally performed in an outpatient setting, which means it will likely not require an overnight stay. However, there is usually a requirement to have someone to accompany us when we leave.” No mention of the possible dangers of this surgery. One could damage and even loose one’s voice.

[292] “Using creative outlets. Many of us sing, play instruments, draw, dance, or write poetry or stories in order to express our inner selves and find ways to channel how we are feeling. For example, keeping a journal can be a very good way to put our thoughts onto paper and process stress.” Or blog.

[293] “While figuring out if you qualify for services on a sliding scale may be time consuming, it can be worthwhile for those of us who are underinsured or uninsured and have little to no extra income to pay out-of-pocket expenses for mental health support.” Psychology Today has a good website for finding therapists. Some of them treat transgender clients and do take sliding scale payments.

Both of which are listed on the Psychology Today’s therapist’s web page.

[293] “Another resource, not just for college students, is university-based clinics that provide therapist training programs. For example, a university psychology or social work department may provide low-cost counseling and testing services in a clinic where the therapists are student trainees who are closely supervised by licensed providers.” Some universities will provide voice feminization training for free working with a grad student. I am in one such program at UDC.

[307] “To diagnose and treat mental conditions, most mental health professionals in the United States use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” Some clinicians, like my therapist, use the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)

[308] “’I think there is a problem with transsexual people being dismissed as ‘crazy, ’ but I don’t think the categorization as a psychological/psychiatric issue is the problem, I think the stigma we attach to all mental illness is the problem.’” (Quotes from individuals are in italics) The way I see it is a major component of the issue. Still, it doesn’t solve the whole issue because TGNC are being label as ill in order to receive treatment.

[316] “Medications are particularly helpful in treating panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.” Care is needed when taking some of these medicines. The benezodiazepines can be addictive, and if taken for a long time can cause dependency making getting off them difficult. My experience with them was not good. It never really help with my anxiety, and kept me from thinking clearly, which was a necessity for me to conquer my anxiety. And, be able to concentrate on my gender.

[432] “Using no pronouns at all is also an option.” But, so much harder to pull off.

[449] “. . . we as trans people are not carbon copies of one another.” So important to remember, especially interacting with other trans* persons. Everyone deserves to be seen as an individual.

[463] “A shared trans identity is all too often mistaken for a license to ask inappropriate questions, cross boundaries without asking, or put unwanted meaning on a partner’s body. We may not communicate about important issues because we assume that our trans partner will feel the same way that we do just because they are trans, too. The key to avoiding this pitfall is open communication— and lots of it. Just because two people are trans does not mean that they have the same ideas about gender, dating, sex— or anything really.” Very very very good advice.

[492] “. . . some courts have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers gender identity and expression under its prohibition against discrimination based on sex.” The Supreme Court ruled the same in June (2020).

[501] “GENDER NONCONFORMING INDIVIDUALS have been documented in many different cultures and eras. But can there be said to be a ‘transgender history,’ when ‘transgender’ is a contemporary term and when individuals in past centuries who would perhaps appear to be transgender from our vantage point might not have conceptualized their lives in such a way?” They might not have had the conceptual tools at that time.

[573] “The LGBT rights movement seeks to extend the social structure’s protections to LGBT people. Queer activists argue that this strategy cannot end oppression and that, instead, we need to change the social structure on a fundamental level.” Why not work on both tracks. One does not exclude the other. Plus extending protections are by far the not as hard to do as changing societal structures. From my vantage point, I cannot envision these structural changes occurring.

[578] “The DSM was created by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to categorize mental illnesses so that psychiatrists can diagnose them accurately and treat them effectively.” It is also a tool that doctors and therapists and other mental health providers use to provide diagnoses to insure insurance payments.

[618] “It is polite to ask for a person’s preferred gender pronouns when meeting for the first time.” It can also cause the person to feel awkward if they are a cisgender person. And my cause confusion as well to those who are ignorant of trans* persons pronoun usage. I remember finding it odd when I first met the speech pathologist where I receive voice feminization training at introduced herself and stated her pronouns.

Overall, the book was very good. As in any multi-authored book, some chapters were better than others. The fact is that not all the chapters had the same level of interest for meas well. The lead author does say that you need not read all the chapters or in order. I am a serial reader of books. I read from start to finish and no skipping. Some of the most interesting parts or ones pertaining to my issues were: Disability (Chap. 4), health and wellness (Sec. 3), intimate relationships (Chap. 16), sexuality (Chap. 17), aging (Chap. 21), history (Chap. 22), and activism, politics, and organizing (Chap. 24). One thing I found annoying was the many inserted quotes from trans person, especially the first section where they were more frequent by far. Also the asides by guess authors I found them both interrupting the flow of my reading the text. However, the actual content of the quotes and asides I read overall as good. On a personal side I found not enough by and for transwoman. It is not that I feel this class of trans* persons is more important, it is about being easier to related to.

The book would be a good read for anybody who is TGNC and their allies, especially. But those that are just curious what is involve and what a trans* person faces and needs to deal with may find a wealth of information. It could be used as an annotated reference book. If you are totally ignorant, maybe this could inform you that we are not some monstrous mistake. For the transphobes out there, read and see what the ill effects of your transphobia are.

† Trans* is a fairly new term to refer to TGNC.

‡ There is an app – Refuge Restrooms. You can find it by searching with Google Play. However, I found the app less than helpful. You can add a location, but the process felt cumbersome.

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