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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Written & photgraphed by Susan Kuklin. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $26.00 ages 14 and up

"Crap! That group? Three more years with them. Crap! My mother said, "It's a new school and a new year. Leave everything behind you. You're there to be educated." I took her advice and I tried. I really tried hard. I thought my life would become better if I just studied and stayed away from the girls, but it actually became worse."

We all need to read this book, and boost our understanding of the issues that face transgender teens in our society. The more we know, the more compassionate and understanding we become of all people in our world. It is not just a book for teens; it is necessary for far too many adults as well.

In six chapters the courageous teens  tell their stories of being transgender. Ms. Kuklin conducted numerous interviews, fashioned the stories from that collected data, and encouraged the teens to be sure that their stories are told as they wanted them told. The author adds context in italics to help with our understanding of gender as a broad issue, and for us to see some of the many and varied challenges these teens face. No matter how balanced their lives are, they must deal with misunderstanding and ridicule:

"Coming out trans is very exposing. It opens you up to a lot of mockery. The reason I wrote the poem I did was to come out with a bang. I wrote it also to clear away some of the criticism that I knew would be coming. If you get up on stage and say "I'm trans" by doing a poem - that is hopefully an all right poem - it is more impressive that just coming out. At least it was for me."  (Luke)

Meeting these brave young people is revelatory. Blessed we are that Susan Kuklin uses her listening and photographic skills to bring us their stories. They speak so honestly about their relationships with family and friends, and about the time and endless patience it takes to transition. There are humorous moments and heartbreaking ones.

The author includes author's notes, a very informative four-page question and answer section with Dr. Manel Silva, a helpful glossary and an extensive further resources section. Through her captioned black and white and color photographs, we have the privilege of meeting six amazing, strong, complicated teens and learning their stories.

Meet Cameron, who reflects seriously and expresses enlightened thinking about gender, his thoughts captioning a gallery of color photographs shared by Ms. Kuklin:

"Gender is more fluid and more complex than society assumes.

The easiest way to explain it is to draw a line to represent gender, with
arrows on either end. Put an M on one end and an F on the other.

A person can be anywhere on the line. Or it's like a spectrum and you can be
anywhere on the spectrum.

But for me, even describing it as a spectrum is too limiting because gender is explained as somewhere between girl and boy. This identifies gender the way society indicates, and that's
not what it's about. There are other genders our there that don't fit onto the spectrum range.

Gender does not have endpoints. It's three-dimensional. Males float around somewhere, females float around somewhere else, and some people just don't float at all - they swim.

What I mean is, unlike the floaters, swimmers control where they're going. The
swimmers do their gender instead of be their gender. Or at least they direct their

And I guess that's what I do.

But I was kind of annoyed when my mom said, "I see someone else today."
And you know what she was talking about? Me, before I came out. It was
annoying because she was not looking at a different person: she was looking
at a different gender.

Some days I'm masculine, and that's pretty weird. Some days I'm
feminine, and that's pretty weird, too.

A week ago I wore a girl-cut T-shirt. It was a girly day.

I felt great about it."

What an amazing voice!  This is a sensitive and powerful sharing of information we all will be better knowing. It is a necessary discussion to have. These candid teens help us on our way to being more informed and more compassionate. Thank you!

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