Beyond the Gender Binary

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
Published by Penguin on June 2, 2020
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, LGBTQ, Social Activists, Transgender
Pages: 64
Format: Paperback

Beyond the Gender Binary, by Alok Vaid-Menon, is an essential and informative book that can easily be read in one sitting. The 64-page book is published by the Pocket Change Collection, which puts out concise books that propose solutions to create needed change in our communities. Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender non-conforming writer who eloquently explains how our society lives under a fabricated gender binary that is harmful to gender non-conforming people.

The first half of the book covers Alok Vaid-Menon’s experiences with accepting their gender non-conforming identity. The second half of the story features rebuttals to common dismissals and arguments used by people who refuse to acknowledge gender non-conforming people. Vaid-Menon’s writing is so clear and logical, and their wording is perfection! They poke holes in the “gender binary” fallacy that our society constructs and upholds. I want to include some of my favorite quotes. There are quotable lines from every page in this book, so selecting my favorites was challenging.

“How are you supposed to be believed about the harm you experience when people don’t even believe that you exist?” (p. 17)

“I learned about gender through shame. In so many ways they became inseparable for me.” (p. 19)

These two quotes make me so sad.

“I remember the first day I wore a dress in public. I was twenty years old, but I had never felt more giddy and carefree when I walked out of my front door. I stopped thinking about my body and focused on the things around me. It felt like a reunification of my mind, my body, and my spirit—for the first time in a long time, I was able to be completely present with myself and the world. I had so much more energy and motivation. There was a quiet there, a sense of peace in my body, which had for so long been full of anxiety.” (p. 25)

I haven’t had the experience of feeling or being gender non-conforming. But this quote is the closest I’ve gotten to understand how damaging the gender binary is to trans or gender non-conforming people.

“That’s the thing about being an LGBTQIA+ kid—you often don’t have the luxury to come into yourself on your own terms because other people have made up their minds for you.” (p. 23)

I relate to this. Growing up as a boy I learned what things I was supposed to like.  Any interests that could be labelled as gay or feminine I had to hide or suppress. Even now in my late 20’s I am learning to be comfortable enjoying the music, books, and movies that I actually enjoy.

“We divide billions of people into one of two categories and tell them that this is the way things are. We emphasize and exaggerate the differences between these categories and minimize the differences that exist within them. We forget that there is more variety within the categories of women and men than between them. We forget the ways in which we once deviated from the norm. We forget that humans have never perfectly aligned with these norms.” (p. 31)

This quote really opened my eyes to how absurd the gender binary is.

“Using gender neutral language isn’t about being politically correct, it’s just being correct.” (p. 47)

Yes! I wish more people understood this.

“They used to define sex as what was reflected on an individual’s birth certificate. Once that was changeable, they made the definition our genitalia. Once we could change those, the definition switched to chromosomes. Now that there is increasing evidence that chromosomes do not always necessarily align with sex, they are suggesting genetic testing. This is not about science—this is about targeted prejudice.” (p. 51)

We’re now in a time where high school athletes will have to undergo genetic testing to define their sex. We are living in a dystopian novel.

This book should be read by everyone. It is a great gift for anyone with an open mind or willing to learn about gender non-conforming people. The rebuttal section has inspired me with so many excellent counterpoints for the next time someone says something inaccurate or harmful concerning gender. Reading this book makes me hopeful for a future where a child’s toys are not selected based on gender, pronouns are used correctly, and gender reveal parties don’t exist.


Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Published by Random House Publishing Group on January 12, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Transgender, Women
Pages: 368

Torrey Peter’s debut novel Detransition, Baby explores motherhood, through three individuals, brought together by one pregnancy. After detransitioning from living as a trans woman, Ames gets his boss Katrina, a cis woman, pregnant. Katrina is undecided on whether she wants to have the baby. Ames proposes they form an unconventional family with his ex, Reese, a trans woman. He is concerned he will be placed in the masculine, father-like role if he parents solely with Katrina. Ames hopes the gender roles of the parents will be less binary if a third parent is brought in. Ames is also aware of Reese’s deep, longing desire to be a mother and wants her to have an opportunity to have a child. Throughout the events leading up to Katrina’s decision with the pregnancy, Torrey includes flashbacks from Reese and Ames’ relationship. I really enjoyed this novel. The characters are delightfully messy (and not in a voyeuristic way), and Peter’s story is also informative on trans issues. This funny, sexy, heartbreaking story is well worth reading.

I really enjoyed Peter’s loose, wandering writing style. She often strays from the action, diverting into long tangents that I enjoyed. I was reminded of my close friend who can never finish a story without telling a handful of smaller stories along the way. I have seen criticisms of this chaotic style, but I thought it paralleled the characters’ messy behavior in the story. In my favorite of these digressions, Peter compares white trans women to orphaned elephants in South Africa (you’ll have to read the book to understand the comparison). There are many pop-culture references and some random celebrity appearances, including Sarah Jessica Parker (clearly Peters is a major Sex and the City fan). The most memorable and well-written scene for me was a flashback to when Ames first tried on woman’s clothes at a store. Ames’ pure joy while trying on the clothes and breast plates, contrasted with the shame and embarrassment when a cis woman and her daughter walked in, interrupting the magical moment, was very powerful. All three of the main characters are human through and through, flawed and make questionable decisions. I did not enjoy the book’s conclusion, but I will withhold the reasoning to avoid spoiling this otherwise excellent novel.

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, dramatic novel, with queer representation. I am thrilled to see a mainstream, best-selling novel focusing on trans lives. And if you don’t have time to get to the book, great news a tv adaptation of Detransition, Baby is in the works!

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, HIV, Miscarriage, Trans violence