Beyond Magenta : Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta

Candlewick, 2014.

For the majority of us pronouns are simple. He or she, these words are assigned at birth and mean something about who we are, who we will be, who we’d like to become. Of course as feminists and many others will tell you, it’s not nearly that simple or that well defined. For transgender and gender neutral individuals the choice of pronoun is infinitely more complicated. Choosing “they, “he,” or” “ze” says something important about identity and aspirations. For friends and family, learning and using the preferred pronoun is a big step in affirming transgender teens or adults.

Beyond Magenta explores the journey of six transgender teens as they discover their own gender identity, reveal it to others, and decide, with their parents or without, who they are and who they will become. Kuklin’s photographic portraits accompany all but one of her interviews, including shots chronicling transformations through hormones.

The stories are touching, heartbreaking, and thought provoking. These are not well reasoned adult narratives, but the teens are surprisingly articulate because they have been exploring their gender identity through therapy for some time. I found the book a quick read because I was so engaged with each and every one of the stories. The pictures gave me a sense of each teen’s journey and ideal self and allowed me to slow down and reflect on the words I had read as I looked at the pictures.

In interviewing six teens and not more Kuklin has presented a small portion of the types of stories and gender identities out there, but is a great starting point for reading about transgender individuals and issues. Beyond Magenta struck me as a great resource for teens who are questioning, transgender teens who need to read the stories of others, and both teens and adults with little experience with transgender issues. Teens and adults alike should be able to access this book in libraries, classrooms, and liberal houses of worship.

Six teens and Kuklin have made the struggles, wishes, and joys of transgender teens clear to cisgender (someone who’s self-identity matches their biological gender) folks. They’ve also bravely stepped out to provide a resource for other transgender or questioning individuals, whether teen or adult, helping them understand some of what it means to be transgender.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

gracefullygrayson   Hyperion, Nov. 4, 2014.

When Grayson was in third grade he learned how to draw a princess secretly so he wouldn’t get teased by kids who thought boys shouldn’t like to draw princesses. In his room, also in secret, Grayson learned to squint his eyes just right so that his shiny purple athletic pants looked like an elegant skirt. By sixth grade Grayson’s a pro at secrets, but suddenly keeping Grayson’s true self secret is a problem. So Grayson decides to put aside the secrets and to take one leap after another on a courageous path to reveal to the world his true self.

Gracefully Grayson is a sensitively told and affirming tale about an amazing kid. Grayson is utterly likeable and real. Grayson is very certain that, though born in a boy’s body, Grayson’s true identity is female. As I read I felt Grayson’s pain, mentally urged the other characters to accept Grayson, and worried for Grayson as the story unfolded. Though this story is about a transgender kid coming out, it’s not an issues book. It’s a complex story with characters that react both predictably and unpredictably to events–as people do in the real world. It’s the strong plot and the main character that made this a book I couldn’t put down until I finished it — and one I immediately wished I hadn’t finished because I wanted to keep reading.

I think this would be a great book for upper-elementary school and middle school students to read. There’s a lot of love in Grayson’s life and a good amount of acceptance, but the road’s certainly not easy. Grayson’s own certainty of Grayson’s gender identity makes the story fascinating rather than excruciating. I think this novel will help non-transgender students to build understanding and empathy for transgender individuals. It might provide a great means for talking about transgender issues with tweens. I think it would be encouraging for transgender kids who read it. We all learn and gain encouragement from seeing ourselves in a book, especially when the book shows us that we can be loved and accepted for the person we are. A fabulous debut and a great addition to school and classroom libraries and gift lists, Gracefully Grayson will be out November 4.

I read an advance reader copy of Gracefully Grayson courtesy of Net Galley and Disney Hyperion. This is one I’ll buy and add to my library!