Book Review: Trans Like Me by CN Lester

I usually try to start off these reviews by relating to the text in question, but the fact of the matter is that as a cis person I can never fully understand the experience of being trans, just as a white person could never fully understand my experience of being mixed. Marginalized identities are not interchangeable. All that said, Trans Like Me by CN Lester has definitely broadened my mind to how intrinsically intersectional the movements of different marginalized groups are, or rather, how intersectional they need to be.

Part memoir, part educational nonfiction, Trans Like Me is a wealth of information, history, and recognition for those who have shaped our perceptions of gender and continue to do so. A particularly poignant issue tackled within this text is how trans identities are nothing new, only the ways that we have adapted language to describe them. Furthermore, when describing those who came before us, it is best to exercise restraint in using modern terminology, particularly when ascribing an identity to someone who no longer has a voice with which to claim that identity for themself.

In several distinct places within the book, Lester does their best to reconstruct what we can cannot know about the past, voices lost to us through violent silencing and through destruction of our history. Yet, as much as they focus on the past, Lester uses it to construct the context of our present and how our current time and place is at a tipping point.

The issue with tipping points is that things can go in either direction. The final chapter of Trans Like Me is titled Futures and contains a thoughtful analysis of not just where society is and has been, but also where we are going. Other chapters focus on past and present characterizations of trans folk, and deconstruct how media representation can be beneficial, harmful, or a combination of both.

Throughout the text, Lester examines the responsibility that those with influence have to lift up others, how trans folk have been excluded from movements that they helped start, the cost of intersectionality, as well as how despite the fact that many might think that feminism and trans advocacy are diametrically opposed, they are actually inherently compatible. Lester also debunks many myths surrounding trans folk, and informs on their truths, such as how puberty blockers for trans kids merely delay puberty, and do not permanently prohibit it. Lester also dismantles the idea that all trans folk are straight and furthermore the portrayal of all trans folk as being the same, especially in regard to the trans folk who are non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or otherwise fall outside of the binary gender system that is socially reinforced.

As someone who is well versed in much of the language used in this book, I did not need, but nevertheless appreciated the care that Lester took to make their book more accessible to those who might not have much experience with gender studies. Having a open, honest, and respectful discussion is impossible without the language to do so, but many people who want to broaden their perspective may feel shut out if they don’t first get a chance to learn that language.

I consider Trans Like Me to be another one of those books that should be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone, and I highly encourage y’all to get your hands on a copy.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

Book Review: So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo

The world is fraught with racial tension, and has been for a long time now. Having meaningful discussions about race is important because they are the first step towards creating real and positive change. Unfortunately, many people struggle with finding the language needed to communicate with one another, which is why I consider So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo to be such an important text. Written by a queer woman of color after my own heart, So you want to talk about race should (in my opinion) be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone, whether or not they think that they have all the answers already[1] or find themselves lost in the minefield that is discussing the need for racial justice.

So you want to talk about race isn’t just about getting people of all races to be nice to one another, this book was written for those with the goal “to fight the systemic oppression that is harming the lives of millions of people of color,” (p. 30). Throughout the text, Oluo stresses how we can only truly fight against racism by pushing back and dismantling the systemic nature of racism in our society. The book undoubtedly centers the conversation around people of color, but also takes the time to address white readers of the text and let them know how they can contribute and where they need to step back and evaluate their own actions and inactions. Reading it as a person of color, I found the sections where Oluo calls out to the POC reading the text extremely validating and in some places informative as well.

So you want to talk about race is broken up into an introduction and seventeen chapters, each of which seeks to answer a question about how to discuss race, including “What if I talk about race wrong?” “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” and ending with “Talking is great, but what else can I do?” Each section breaks down the question, and many of them even include numbered and bolded lists of explanations, responses, actions and possible next steps depending on the situation about how we can individually contribute to overall change.

In a particularly poignant section of the book we as readers are asked to evaluate our own privileges, and how they impact how we see and interact with the world. Oluo tells us to focus on how these privileges have affected us, despite any disadvantages we have. For myself, I had to temporarily set aside my marginalized identities (such as being a queer woman of color among other things) and examine how growing up reasonably comfortable, attending good schools, my college degree, my ability to attend grad school, etc. has contributed to how I formulate my space in the world. While I had done similar exercises in the past I particularly appreciated it within this book, as it has offered me ways to see this exercise of empathy in a new light.

Many times, when people talk about race the conversation stops at black people, but more and more often I encounter books like So you want to talk about race that address the particular struggles of the many other people of color in the united states that are more invisible, such as Asian folk, particularly those who do not fit in to the model minority myth,[2] something that in fact gets an entire chapter of its own.

Week before last, when I reviewed Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey I mentioned that within that text the author used humor to discuss tough racial issues. So you want to talk about race is different in that it isn’t a particularly funny book. Undoubtedly there were times that I laughed, and nowhere was there a space that was unnecessarily heavy; however, given the topic, there are some portions of the book that are hard to read, and I’ll freely admit that I had to set it aside a few times. That said, I do highly recommend this book as a solid grounding space for people new to race discussion and a good refresher for those who do have more experience with fraught racial discussions. Like I said before, this book really should be mandatory reading, so the sooner you get a chance to read it the better!

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

[1] Which I simply don’t think is possible anyway, since there is always more to be seen/known beyond what we humans are capable of.

[2] While the point of this review is obviously to get you to read this book, if you are unfamiliar with the model minority myth, this video is a good place to learn more about it in the meantime before you get your hands on So you want to talk about race.

We Cannot Be the Land of the Free When Children are in Cages

I try to stay away from politics on the Internet but I refuse to stay silent on this. I am disgusted and dismayed what is happening in our country right now. I’ve always been skeptical of calling the United States “the land of the free” but it is absolutely not the case that we can call ourselves that when children are locked in cages. There is no defending this. What is happening is absolutely despicable, but I refuse to be disheartened because I know that we can fight this. There are so many resources out there if only we use them.

One of my friends on Facebook shared this slate article about how we can fight family separation at the border. It includes a short introduction with explanations of the policies that have lead to these atrocities, and follows with a continually updated list of organizations that are doing what they can to improve the situation and ultimately stop this from happening. It includes where lawyers and people with law experience can help, where translators are needed, places to donate, volunteer, and protest.

Screenshot_20180620-062720_Instagram.jpg
I took a screenshot of this post by Lena Waithe (who I follow on Instagram) since it has information on how to contract congress regarding SB 3036.

My friend Seamus also made a post about his reaction to the situation on his blog here.

Book Review: Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey

Like many black girls in 2012, I loved the video Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls, posted on the channel Chesaleigh. It was funny and on point, and to be honest I forgot about it within a year or so, too busy living my own life to pay much attention to the internet. Meanwhile Franchesca Ramsey was living her life, which I had the pleasure of reading about in her new memoir Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist. This memoir chronicles the rise to fame that Ramsey underwent after her video went viral and the many ramifications of becoming, as she says, an accidental activist.

I have so many feelings about this book that it is hard to begin, but I have to say that what most struck me was how easy a book this is to read. The marginalization and othering of minoritized groups can be a distressing topic, and while it is one that I consider to be worthwhile, it can take its toll. While I have not watched many more of Ramsey’s videos beyond “SWGSTBG” and a few episodes of her and MTV’s web series Decoded I can tell from this book alone that Ramsey has the exceptional quality of disseminating and explaining simply concepts that are not-so-simple. She does so throughout the text, using her own missteps and sometimes cringeworthy actions and experiences to show the reader where she went wrong and how we can use those experiences to better our own lives and everyday reactions. The book alternates between showing what to do and what not to do in a way that is hilarious but in no way cheapens the importance of the topics discussed. Ramsey throws plenty of shade at her former self, in no way absolving her actions of their impact, but instead showing us how we can be better.

One topic she discusses at length is how there have been numerous accounts of what she at times calls “black-lash” of fellow black people who thought that she betrayed them with her handling of certain events. The first instance of this was after her interview with Anderson Cooper about the “SWGSTBG” video, and how she felt “crushed” by what people were saying to her, and it was only because of the people who were willing to help her discover her mistakes and where to do better that she was able to become the activist that she is today.

Toward the end of the book, Ramsey has a section dedicated to eulogies for phrases that should no longer be uttered, and while it was hilarious, I also liked the section because it does a very good job of explaining why said pieces of rhetoric are outdated or just plain wrong, and how their impact can be remarkably harmful. Each phrase is bolded, followed by three separate points: where it is commonly heard, why it needs to go, and a comeback for those who respond. A couple favorites of mine among those that need to be laid to rest are “It’s just a joke” and “Well, I don’t see color”, both of which have funny but thoughtful explanations for why those lines of thinking are inherently flawed.

As someone who is also in an interracial relationship, I particularly appreciated Ramsey’s chapter about her relationship with her husband (who is white) and how other people have reacted to it. In the vein of people’s reactions to things that aren’t their business, another favorite chapter of mine chronicled the best and worst ways to end a friendship with someone, particularly as it pertains to Facebook. Sad drama mask icons denote a scale of one to five in terms of how much drama one faces by unfriending the group of people described, and at the end of it all Ramsey even includes a flowchart that is not only funny but practical.

I could go on and on about my favorite parts of the book (which, let’s be honest, is most of the book) yet I want to take a step back and refer to chapter four, where Ramsey calls back to her relationship with her hair through the years, and references an (unsourced) quote, which is “Be who you needed when you were younger.” That simple message, more than anything, is what gets to the heart of this book. As a memoir reflecting on past mistakes, Well, That Escalated Quickly is inherently a volume of information that would have been incredibly useful for a younger Franchesca Ramsey, and is therefore an excellent resource for young folk everywhere.

I’ll admit that this book isn’t for everyone. It takes as its premise that the reader is curious and open toward being an activist in their own right, and the style of humor is brash and unflinching, which I liked but I know might throw some people off. That said, I wholeheartedly believe this book to be an excellent resource, especially for those that are at entry-level for activism, and are eager to learn but aren’t quite sure where to start. And even if you have started, there is always room to improve.

The last section before the acknowledgements is a glossary for those who might be unfamiliar with certain terms, and is as informative as it is funny, and includes the message (under the word “woke”) that “’Getting woke’ should be a moment on your journey, because we never stop having our eyes opened to experiences that we don’t have because of our own privilege or biases,” (p. 240). So keep learning, and if you want my advice, start with this book.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia