Over the last two decades, transgender people have gone from an uncommon and mostly quiet subset of the LGBTQ community, to a growing and vocal part of the whole. With that visibility is coming blowback, both from the usual conservative lawmakers and religious right sources, but also from within our own spaces some times.
Perhaps you want to learn more about transgender people and what they’re all about, or perhaps you have questions of a more personal nature about just what it means to be transgender. If so, we have a couple books that might be useful for you when you hit your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookstore. Consider the following to be a pick of the best out there on the trans experience, though there are a great many more out there worth exploring.
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- Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
Published in the early 1990s, Gender Outlaw is a groundbreaking book exploring the live and ideas of transgender grande dame Kate Bornstein. This book is widely considered to be an early “road map” for transgender activism and visibility and with a newly revised edition, remains relevant today. This one is simply a must-have.
- Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah by The Lady Chablis
An older (1997) autobiography that explores the life of a drag star in the South, and the real life inspiration for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. While a bit dated in places, it’s a solid read that will give you a look into the life and tomes of The Lady Chablis and her world. It’s also a delight to read, and The Lady Chablis’ wit and sass shines through.
- Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Leslie Feinberg
Another vital work is Transgender Warriors, a deep dive into transgender history, heavily informed by Feinberg’s community leanings. Written at a time when transgender history was scarcely considered, this book can bring a depth of perspective to those who might see transgender history as only being a decade or so long.
Also, don’t miss out on Feinberg’s 1993 semi-autobiographical novel, Stone Butch Blues.
- Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker
Speaking of transgender history, Susan Stryker’s text is a great introduction to history, focusing on the mid-twentieth century to modern times. It also features a lot of in-depth sidebar pieces that can give you a much deeper understanding of the development of transgender culture over the last 70 or so years.
- Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
Janet Mock is a rising star in the transgender community, going from a People.com editor to an Emmy-nominated writer for FX’s Pose. This book is her story, starting from her younger days to her coming out with her then prospective husband. Many transgender people have written autobiographies, but this is one of the few you’ve got to put on the bookshelf.
- Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano
Whipping Girl, as well as other books by Julia Serano, are hard hitting truth bombs into her experience as a transgender woman, focusing heavily on transphobia. A groundbreaking work that brought voice to transwomen and their issues, this too has been recently updated for a new generation.
- She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Another brilliant autobiography, Boylan’s book manages to make the trans autobiography engaging, breathing new life into a genre flooded with trans coming out tales. It’s one of three autobiographies by Boylan, covering distinct eras of her life, but arguably the strongest of the bunch.
- Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency by Willy Wilkinson
An autobiography by trans man that goes further than just a transgender narrative, Wilkinson discusses both his disability, and his mixed heritage to present a story of far more depth than one may have initially expected. More than a simple autobiography, too, Wilkinson, uses his text as an opportunity to teach at the intersection of all three spaces. A vastly underrated, but important read.
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth
This is practically the bible of transgender care and needs/ Weighing in at a heavy 672 pages, this tome runs the gamut of transgender needs from transition to trans activism and everything — and I mean everything — in between. It may not be a book that you’re read front to back, but it will always give you something to go back to.
- Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton
Much of what you’ll see in the press covers transgender history and culture from a distinctly western and white viewpoint and, while not inherently bad, this doesn’t give a complete story of transgender experience. Enter Black on Both Sides, an extremely well-researched text which gives a few richer and more complex understanding of trans culture.
These ten barely scratch the surface, and more books appear every month. Still, any bookshelf worth perusing for trans content would see the above as essential reading for an understanding of trans lives, thoughts, and culture.