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BOOK REVIEW Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2019-05-21

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by Maria Cook

$22.95; Nomad Press; 128 pages

What exactly is gender? How does one determine pronouns, for themselves and others? And why, exactly, is the bathroom debate such a big deal?

Nomad Press is an educational publisher specializing in books aimed at school-age children, and features free materials for teachers on their website, nomadpress.net . From robotics to feminism to Vietnam, nothing is off-limits. The publisher encourages kids of all ages to seek information and ask questions, both on their own and with the aid of parents and educators.

Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms is their latest offering, out everywhere April 16. Ostensibly for ages 12-15, the book is a colorful illustrated primer outlining everything from the life of Lili Elbe to the Compton Cafeteria Riots, up to the rise of transgender celebrities like Laverne Cox. Though 15-year-olds may find the tone a bit immature, Gender Identity is a gentle but thorough resource for younger readers looking to define their own identities or understand others, and for adults who want an easy-to-follow guide to transgender history.

Remember the social studies and history textbooks of the 1980s and '90s, with bite-sized paragraphs, colorful graphics and a glossary at the end? Author Cook uses this accessible model throughout seven chapters, outlining the history of transgender identity and advocacy while highlighting important facts and figures. Adult readers may be surprised at some of the information: for example, it was only last year that the World Health Organization declared gender dysphoria a sexual health condition, as opposed to a mental illness.

Gender Identity hits all the important points of transgender history—the life of Christine Jorgensen, the first American to medically transition, as well as the Stonewall Riots, initiated by trans women of color Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson—and supplements with information that isn't as widely known. There's a sober reminder of the demise of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man in Nebraska who was the subject of the Oscar-winning 2000 film Boys Don't Cry, and more uplifting passages about the rise of social media in helping young trans people feel seen and understood.

But the book isn't a dry tutorial. Far from it: Cook's writing is both informative and engaging, favoring short declarative sentences and vivid descriptions. Illustrator Alexis Cornell, a graduate of the prestigious Center for Cartoon Studies, enhances the narrative with a snappy and fun comic strip at the beginning of every chapter. Vocabulary lists, discussion questions and suggestions for activities and further research pepper the pages, and the ebook edition contains QR codes that link to primary sources. Most significantly, Gender Identity: Beyond Pronouns and Bathrooms encourages communication, respect and acceptance at every turn—and that is perhaps its greatest lesson of all.


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