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For Transgender People, a Massive New Resource

NEW YORK ― As transgender people strive to gain more acceptance and legal protections, they will soon have a hefty new resource to assist them ― a 672-page book, written by scores of transgender contributors, that encompasses social history, gender politics and wide-ranging advice on health, law, relationships and many other matters.

Encyclopedic in scope, conversational in tone, and candid about complex sexual issues, the Oxford University Press book being released in mid-May is titled Trans Bodies, Trans Selves ― a deliberate echo of a pioneering feminist health-resource book, Our Bodies, Ourselves that appeared more than 40 years ago

The new book’s editor, New York University psychiatrist Laura Erickson-Schroth, writes in the preface about reading her mother’s copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” as a 12-year-old.

“At a time when over 90 percent of physicians were men … it was an extremely daring and exciting thing to publish a book in which women taught other women about their bodies, their sexuality, and their rights,” she wrote.

The goal for Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, she writes, was “to make it as radical as its predecessor” ― an act of empowerment through which transgender people exert more control over the available information about their lives.

From conception to publication, the book has taken five years to produce. To ensure it reflected diverse viewpoints, the editors, authors and other collaborators held public forums across North America and conducted an online survey that attracted more than 3,000 responses. With more than 200 contributors, Erickson-Schroth described her task as “herding cats.”

“Our community is still conversing among itself about what the important issues are, what it means to be trans,” said Jennifer Finney Boylan, an author and English professor at Colby College in Maine, who wrote the book’s introduction. “Is it social, is it medical? Something very private, or something very public?”

The book’s chapters cover a wide range of topics, including race, religion, disabilities, employment, mental health, sexuality and parenting. There are mini-profiles of prominent transgender people from around the world, and analyses of gender-bending books and films, such as Some Like it Hot and Tootsie.

Its extensive glossary includes such terms as genderqueer, heteronormativity, omnisexual and transfeminism. “The terminology changes so quickly, you really can’t keep up,” said Erickson-Schroth.

The chapter on social transition ― the aftermath of deciding to go public about a change in gender identity ― contains detailed suggestions on how to consider a new name, wardrobe, hairstyle, even a manner of speaking. Transgender people shifting to a masculine identity can lower the pitch of their voices through taking testosterone; those seeking a feminine identity sometimes undergo speech therapy to develop a higher pitch.

The chapter on children was written by Aidan Key, a gender specialist in Seattle who runs support groups and conferences for families with children who are transgender or gender non-conforming.

Key, born a girl with an identical twin sister, began having gender-related doubts as far back as kindergarten, culminating in gender-reassignment surgery at the age of 33. His chapter abounds with suggestions for how parents should respond when one of their children ― either verbally or through behavior ― conveys that his or her gender identity is different from the one assigned at birth.

“One of the questions most commonly asked by parents, teachers and therapists is whether gender nonconformity could be a phase,” Key writes. “The simplest answer is yes.”

He urges parents to be patient and to support a child’s gender exploration as part of a self-discovery process. Yet if it becomes clear that a child is gender-nonconforming, he notes, acceptance by parents may not come easily.

“It takes a caring, brave parent to embrace and support a child when the societal judgment and stigmatization can be so high,” he writes

Key hopes the new book will help readers surmount preconceptions they might have about transgender issues. “If people walk away with 1,000 more questions than when they went into it, it will have succeeded,” he said.

The book concludes with an afterword by Wendy Sanford, one of the co-founders of the Boston-based collective that published Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973.

As with that book, she writes, “a community of people who are the best experts on themselves has come together to create a resource of information, mutual support, and political advocacy that will strengthen many. The revolutionary point is that we can name our gender identity for ourselves and rightfully expect respect and recognition.”

Erickson-Schroth said proceeds from the sale of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves ― which will carry a list price of $39.95 — will go to a nonprofit organization formed by the project leaders to underwrite the cost of future editions.

Boylan chronicled her gender transition in a 2003 autobiography, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders.

In her introduction to Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, Boylan suggests that the multiplicity of personal accounts and viewpoints in the new book might be “staggering” to some readers.

“There will be plenty of stories and reflections that seem contradictory,” she writes. “And yet, it is this abundance that is the strength of our movement. … It is only in speaking our truth ― and learning the truth of others ― that we can ever hope to be free.”

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