I blame this month’s lack of reading on the U.S. government. In particular, preparing documentation for our appointment at the U.S. embassy to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), which perhaps I’ll write about at another time, but probably won’t. The good news is at least all that work/not-reading paid off and our little one is now a U.S. citizen.
But in between cursing profligate bureaucratic obtuseness and the absurdity of citizenship, a few books got read, along with a series of fascinating academic essays, which I’ll be sharing more about below. This month’s round-up includes:
- Becoming an Ally to the Gender-Expansive Child: A Guide for Parents and Carers by Anna Bianchi
- The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
- Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft
- The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty
- Polarización y transfobia: Miradas críticas sobre el avance de los movimientos antitrans y antigénero en México por Julianna Neuhouser, et al.
- Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Becoming an Ally to the Gender-Expansive Child: A Guide for Parents and Carers by Anna Bianchi
As a new father, I picked up this book looking for information on how gender assignation impacts a child’s development and well-being. It quickly became clear this book wasn’t going to answer that question, but being stubborn, I read it anyway.
Basically, it’s a liberal self-help book written by a white, cisgender, middle-class British woman whose grandchild is transgender. It’s got all the clichés of a self-help book: “The Four Keys” of listening, imagination, empathy, and courage, alongside “The Four Ss” of self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-forgiveness, and self-esteem. These help us navigate the treacherous waters of the “Gender Matrix” – to understand its construction, see how it functions, grasp its purpose, and, in the longest chapter, “dismantle” it. But all in a manner that will leave oppressive structures and hierarchies intact.
Now, I don’t want to entirely disregard the book. It is meant as a mild, gentle guide for those who have or care for trans or genderfluid kids and are confused (um, er, bigoted) and don’t understand a thing about gender. This may be helpful to some folks and as a result may improve the lives of some trans kids. That’s not nothing. At the same time, in my view, we’re past the point of mild and gentle in the struggle against anti-trans hate and transphobia. We’re also past liberal ally politics, of which this book is definitely a part and advocates for. We’re past the point that one’s individual behavior is the key to making a difference in the world, which is the crux of the argument here. The only manner in which I’d endorse this book is as a stepping stone to further radicalization, but if it stops here, then it won’t be enough.
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
A most exciting, unique, quirky, and creative read. Newitz magnificently builds a world tens of thousands of years in the future that both transgresses ours and resembles it in many ways. I didn’t expect a novel oriented around terraforming a planet for a private corporation to contain the multitudes that this book does. It raises compelling questions of personhood, interspecies relations, love, sex, property, capitalism, colonialism, labor, autonomy, posthumanism and more, all while being hilarious and endearing. There are poop jokes and moose romances; rebellions and mutual aid. It’s hard to say more without including any spoilers. As my partner told me, “The more you explain this book, the more I feel like I’m on drugs.” I’d strongly suggest you read it yourself.
Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft
I definitely learned a lot from this book. It is heartfelt and empathic, written by a psychologist dedicated to the well-being of children and to defending gender creative, non-conforming, questioning, genderfluid and trans children and youth.
It covers a lot of ground in its eight chapters, but the main takeaway is that the children know best, that we (adults) must listen, hear, trust, believe, and support them as they create their own selves and identities that fit them best, regardless of what society/parents/experts think.
Written from a psychoanalytical lens, Ehrensaft examines what gender is, how gender emerges and manifests in young children, how the family can best support gender non-conforming children, how parents can best support the transition of their child, the different options available for gender-affirming treatment, how to deal with other family members and society at large, and finally, how therapists can best provide care and support to gender creative children. Parts of the text, such as how to handle siblings or how to be a good therapist, weren’t so relevant to me, but surely would meet the needs of some readers.
Throughout, Ehrensaft really brings her points home by providing numerous compelling case studies of both the right and wrong ways to do things, of how to handle different life situations as they arise, and in general of how to be the best possible parent to a gender creative child, regardless of how that child’s gender manifests on the gender “web” or “spectrum.” She also importantly pushes back strongly against therapists and treatments that only believe in the gender binary and seek to label non-conforming children as having a “disorder” who must be “corrected.”
Overall, an important, insightful, professional, compassionate text all too necessary in our current moment. Highly recommended.
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty
A solid, entertaining adventure story to get lost in. Amina al-Sirafi is a retired pirate/smuggler/explorer/adventurer who gets coerced into doing one last job. Working her way through the Indian Ocean, she gathers her old crew, contends with a problematic estranged husband, battles with magical beings, fights back against sexism and patriarchy, and strives to protect her daughter, with action occurring at every turn. A well-written, well-researched historical fantasy that’s just fun to read.
Polarización y transfobia: Miradas críticas sobre el avance de los movimientos antitrans y antigénero en México por Julianna Neuhouser, et al.
Un breve pero importante texto que examina y documenta el movimiento antitrans en México. Impresionantemente investigado, escrito de forma accesible y con bellas ilustraciones por Astra Lem, los ensayos de este informe examinan diversos aspectos de cómo se manifiesta el odio antitrans en México. En particular, se hace un gran e importante trabajo al situar a México dentro de una perspectiva internacional. Es decir, enfatiza el papel internacional de las organizaciones, principalmente de los EE.UU. y el Reino Unido, en la exportación de alianzas y estrategias antitrans a México, además de examinar a aquellxs que colaboran en esta red desde México. (Por supuesto, lxs autorxs también dejan claro que el odio antitrans no es simplemente una importación a México).
Los diversos ensayos analizan las alianzas entre TERFs, grupos de extrema derecha y organizaciones religiosas en la formulación e impulso de políticas y legislación antitrans; el papel de las redes sociales y los medios de comunicación en la difusión y fomento del odio antitrans y la desinformación; el paso de la organización y los ataques antitrans de las redes sociales al “mundo real”; y mucho más. La colección concluye con un poderoso ensayo sobre la importancia del bienestar psicológico y social, la resiliencia y la sostenibilidad a la hora de enfrentarse a un movimiento de odio organizado y poderoso.
Dado que el movimiento antitrans sigue creciendo, este es un texto oportuno y urgente que documenta sus manifestaciones internacionales y mexicanas. Además, es gratuito bajo licencia Creative Commons. Muy recomendable.
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
When I saw the title of this book, I was excited and thought it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The text intertwines Carruthers’ personal narrative with her thoughts on the Black radical tradition, community organizing, and the need to apply a Black, queer, feminist lens in order to achieve Black and collective liberation. It all sounds promising enough, but for me there were several drawbacks to this book.
A major one is Carruthers’ vision of organizing, which involves the development of hierarchical, cadre-based, vanguardist organizations – which as an anarchist is an anathema to me and, additionally, I believe an ineffective way of creating social change. A second issue is that the text is theoretically lite, almost superficial, in that it puts forwards arguments, predominantly the need for social justice work to adopt a Black, queer, feminist lens, yet consistently fails to interrogate in-depth what that is, what it looks like, how it manifests, what it envisions, etc. It is overly general and lacking in rigorous engagement with the arguments it puts forward. Thirdly, the text is disorganized. It jumps around from topic to topic without transitions, fails to stay on topic, and overall feels more like a collection of disconnected thoughts or an argument Carruthers is having with someone, although it is not clear with whom.
I wanted to like this book and agree in theory with the need for struggle to integrate and articulate itself through a Black, queer, feminist lens, but the substance just wasn’t there. For those interested in books touching on similar themes and oriented around the Black Lives Matter movement, I’d suggest instead Alicia Garza’s The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart and Barbara Ransby’s Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I don’t understand why this book is so popular. It’s a boring, quaint self-help morality tale for the privileged. Perhaps I’ve answered my own question.
Below are some academic articles I read this month that may be of interest to readers of this blog. As always, if you need help getting a copy, let me know.
- If It’s Vacant Take It: Interventions in Geographies of Exclusion in Oakland, California, by Zoe Goldstein, Radical History Review.
- A Black Belt-ocene: Anti-Black Racism and Reimagining the Anthropocene, by LaKendrick Richardson, Radical History Review.
- Disrupting Agamben: Beyond undocumented children as “Homo Sacer,” by Sylvia Gonzalez-Gorman, Human Geography.
- Rejecting the Social Contract: Criminal Governance, Agrarian Inequalities and the Autodefensa Movement in Michoacán, Mexico, by Joel Salvador Herrera, Journal of Latin American Studies.
- “You’re Not Defeated as Long as You’re Resisting”: Palestinian Hunger Strikes between the Singular and the Collective: An Interview with Lena Meari, by Lena Meari, Samera Esmeir, and Ramsey McGlazer, Critical Times.
- Trans* (Dis)appearance at the Mexican Frontier: Reading Refusal in Teresa Margolles’s Ya basta hijos de puta (2018), by Jorge Sánchez Cruz, Transgender Studies Quarterly.
- Abolition, Black Ultraradicalism, and the Generation of the General Strike, by Joseph Albernaz, Critical Times.
- Exhaustion, Adversity, and Repression: Emotional Attrition in High-Risk Activism, by Alejandro M. Peña, Larissa Meier and Alice M. Nah, Perspectives on Politics.
I have put off reading The Midnight Library because everytime a book is SO loved like that, I always hate it so…guess I’m learning.
Adding some of these to my TBR list.
Haha, I hear that. The same thing usually occurs for me. And yup, super popular and I didn’t care for it at all. Thanks for your comment. Glad you found some books to add to your list!