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5 Books To Better Understand Gender Identity

Tackling transgender issues on a national platform has been called the civil rights issue of our time. In the past year, we’ve seen a surge in the conversation on gender fluidity–from Facebook offering more than binary gender options to Caitlyn Jenner’s moving openness and honesty during her transition.

But some of us who are well-intentioned and who genuinely want to be a part of the conversation about gender identity, gender fluidity, and transgender issues still don’t know very much about it. The best way to become an ally is to inform ourselves, from keeping up with news stories and cultural events surrounding transgender issues to incorporating novels that work to understand complex gender identity issues into our reading lists.

We’ve rounded up a collection of novels that explore what it means to challenge one’s assigned gender and the social expectations surrounding gender that can spark an individual to explore their connection to the gender in which they were born.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Perhaps one of the most well-known of the gender issue novels, Middlesex traces two generations of familial relations that lead to the novel’s protagonist, Cal, to be born intersex, but who is by all outward appearances female. That is, until puberty, when Cal is confronted with the option to remain a female or to live as a male.

Tomboy by Liz Prince
This graphic memoir explores a young girl’s story of growing up as a tomboy, and the subsequent bullying she experiences about the way she chooses to represent herself. This bullying leads her to confront her innermost feelings about her gender identity, and she realizes it’s more complicated than aesthetic preference.

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio
This read follows a young female-identifying teenager as she discovers that she’s intersex and her subsequent struggle to find a gender identity, which turns out to be less black and white than she’d originally thought.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
A young adult novel about Liz, who is becoming Gabe. Gabe hosts an underground radio show called “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” and his mission is to help people understand that there’s nothing wrong with being Elizabeth, Gabe or anyone else he chooses to be. 

Empathy by Sarah Schulman
In a troubling time in her life, Anna finds herself wondering how she can be a woman and still be happy. Doc, a street corner therapist, diagnoses her with empathy, but she doesn’t think her problems are as simple as a diagnosis.

Sarah Moesta

Sarah Moesta is a recent graduate with an M.A. in English. She spends her time arguing about the merits and pitfalls of pop culture on the internet and in the real world. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found outside, probably petting a stranger’s dog. Some of her other work can be found at Smokelong Quarterly, SPARK's 17/Teen Vogue Challenge, and TheBurg News.