Book Review: Sorted by Jackson Bird
Writing this review was a struggle, because Sorted was a very personal read for me. (I’m pretty sure I cried at least twice.) Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place is a memoir written by Jackson Bird about his experiences growing up that led directly to his inevitable transition from the gender he was assigned at birth to the gender that he truly identifies with. Sorted is a book about how from a young age we are categorized and catalogued, but that’s not where we need to stay for our entire lives. And as I read through this book, parts of which I knew from being a longtime viewer of his videos on YouTube and seeing him once or twice a year at conventions and shows, and parts of which I never could have guessed, I was struck by how much I identified with his journey. I myself am not a white trans man from Texas living in New York and working as a content creator, but the way that Jackson has brought readers into his narrative is incredibly well done.
The front cover of Sorted describes the book as “a transgender memoir” and I do not think that inaccurate. Sorted takes a deep and visceral dive into the many ways that being trans has affected Bird’s life, and I say visceral because some of the moments when he describes his dysphoria can be difficult to read, especially as someone who experiences it themself. That said, there is something very affirming about reading this narrative, of someone who went through periods of depression and crisis, and was able to make a life for himself that he is comfortable living. That he acknowledges at every turn both his privileges and disadvantages is something I found very appealing about the text, as that lens afforded a clear view of what kind of story is being told here.
Bird’s memoir is more than just autobiographical, including helpful asides that break down relevant concepts that may be unfamiliar to a reader who is approaching the topics he brings up within the text for the first time. In this way, his book is an educational guide, in addition to showcasing the way his life has unfolded from his earliest moments to the point where he was able to sit down and grapple with what I imagine are some of the most difficult moments of his life in order to write this book. The educational asides include definitions of unfamiliar terms, best practices when confronted with uncomfortable situations, as well as advice as to when one might create an uncomfortable situation unintentionally via word choice or actions that have unforeseen consequences. Mixed in are brief descriptions of history, resources for learning more (both print and digital) and resources that have entertainment value such as a list of favorite documentaries and a list of favorite fiction books.
One aspect of Sorted that I personally appreciated were all of the Harry Potter references. It’s no secret that I’m a Harry Potter nerd, and so I enjoyed the places in the book where Bird would use pieces of Harry Potter lore to discuss concepts that he was struggling with. For example, when Bird is discussing how we are all sorted into categories throughout our lives, he uses the example of the Hogwarts houses and points out that, as members of the fandom, we can self-sort ourselves and choose with which house we identify.
The best thing about the Harry Potter tie-ins is that even someone who isn’t familiar with the series surrounding the boy wizard would be able to understand where Bird is coming from because he does a great job of making sure that all of the material that he draws from is accessible to a wider audience. While he does call upon the series directly, many of the Harry Potter references in Sorted have to do with the critical role that the Harry Potter Alliance has played in his life. Those of you familiar with my writing will have undoubtedly heard me reference the Harry Potter Alliance, as the organization has also had a large impact on my own life, so the strong connection that Bird expresses throughout the text is another point that I identified with.
I highly anticipated the release of Sorted and I’m not at all surprised to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I loved this book from start to finish, and I highly recommend to anyone and everyone.