Boy or girl? That’s a common-enough question, if you’re an expectant parent. You might’ve even wondered it yourself: will you need pink things or blue, and what name will you choose? For generations, those have been exciting decisions for prospective parents, but in The Trans Generation, Ann Travers asks if those decisions are prudent ones. Maybe letting the child decide would be a better choice.
Fifty-six years ago when Travers was born, the delivery-room doctor unwittingly caused a lifetime of hurt: “It’s a girl,” he said—causing Travers to spend years trying to “untangle” what that meant. That is part of what drives this book, the other part being the desire to improve the lives of trans kids through understanding.
Getting to that point is harrowing: 95 percent of transgender kids in one study felt unsafe in their schools. Many report that physicians misunderstand kids who are gender-nonconforming. Trans kids attempt suicide and/or self-harm at very high rates and, says Travers, “many grow up hating their bodies.” Most employ several kinds of coping mechanisms to live their lives.
In writing this book, Travers reports interviewing a wide variety of trans kids from the U.S. and Canada—19 in all, ages 4 to 20, plus 23 parents. The children mostly came from middle-class families, which allowed them privileges such as better access to medical care and chances to change schools if they needed to do so. And some of the children Travers interviewed lived in poverty, their stories illustrating how being a trans kid can be socially and medically isolating, and how lack of access to needed resources can affect their well-being.
Parents, of course, can also affect that well-being, but it takes a “phenomenal amount of care, advocacy, and activism to push back against cisgendered environments”—schools, sports, binary-only bathrooms, social activities, medical facilities, and politics. It takes a willingness to learn, listen, and lean in.
The Trans Generation is one heavy-duty book that’s not just for parents, but for teachers, advocates, and loved ones as well.
Writing with a bit of a scholar’s voice and borrowing from some relatively dense science and law studies, Travers’ eye-opening chats with trans kids turn out to be the most helpful, useful, and even entertaining parts of this book. Those quotes from the mouths of babes, as they say, give insights that adults will find to be wise and thoughtful, even monumental. While a few of the stories are heartbreaking, the singular interview with a 16-year-old who made her own hormone treatments in her high school’s science lab will give you hope for the future.
Even though you could be forgiven for skipping right to the interviews, you’d be missing out. The thicker parts of The Trans Generation are worth further reflection and are deeply instructive on pronouns, on gender fluidity, and on being trans in a cisgender-based society. That kind of serious and weighty information should make this book the right choice.
This article appears in the November 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.