Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, Laura Erickson-Schroth, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2014, 672 pages, $35 paperback, $15 Kindle.
At a time when the first transgender woman on the cover of Time magazine is also nominated for an Emmy Award, and at a time when the frequent and brutal murders of transgender people are becoming increasingly reported about in local and national news media, it can be difficult for anyone to tell whether trans equality is moving forward or backward. Add in that there are so many terms and phrases, as well as so much question for social workers about what is and isn’t appropriate, and this book clearly comes at the perfect time.
Social workers and other professionals certainly need to know every bit of what is contained within, but it is certainly more realistic to think of this book instead as more of a reference book.
Bridging the gap between being understandable to the newest of readers and being helpful to those more versed in transgender issues, the vastness of topics covered includes everything from sex work to sexual safety, from romantic relationships to personal feelings about one’s changing body. The mix of personal stories and professional guidance from doctors and therapists allows the reader to have a well-rounded learning experience about each of the topics.
In addition, a great deal of transgender history is discussed, something crucial to the transgender experience, yet so often not considered. This allows every reader to see the full and colorful history of transgender issues, the trans equality movement as it has been occurring and continues to occur, and what may be happening in the lives of individual trans people.
In addition, this book may or may not be a great recommendation for clients and requires a clinician to know each’s personality and situation. Whereas one client may feel inspired or calmed by having access to the stories of those who have previously walked the transgender path, others may feel overwhelmed by the depth of the information. One parent of a trans person may feel comforted in knowing his or her own child isn’t alone in this process, and another parent may feel the information is too much, too soon and do better learning about the process as the child (or adult child) goes through the experience.
As previously said, it is understandably unlikely that a non-specialized professional would read this book cover to cover at one time. Certainly, every clinician should read through the index, familiarize him/herself with the proper terminology, and begin to review the history and future of the transgender population. As much as we have come to learn about the uniqueness of the story of other minority groups, this is no less important and, though the population is hidden from most school texts, it certainly deserves to be known.
It is worth mentioning that this book contains discussions related to gender as being non-binary, as well as how or why a person identifies outside of the binary norms. Professionals and clients may question and struggle with these concepts, as they are not necessarily mainstream opinions. Others may struggle with some of the discussions related to medical interventions and transitions because of their religious beliefs. This note is not to discourage anyone from reading this book. Certainly, everyone is entitled to his or her own value system. However, it is encouraged that the reader approach this book with a willingness to learn and to listen.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW.