Reviewing Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Seal Press, edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman, sold all over the place.

I jumped at the chance to review this anthology and then realized that my schedule would delay me quite a bit.  Unfortunately, I missed out on the publicized blog tour of reviews but you know that won’t stop me.  This is too good not to share.

Usually when I read an anthology, I hope to like most of it, but don’t expect to like every item.  GO:TNG blew that out of the water.  There are no duds in this collection.  If anything, it blew me away by presenting me with ideas and connections and experiences I hadn’t even thought to expect out of the book.

From the first, this anthology delivers high quality, provocative and boundary pushing prose.  I love the IM conversations between editors S. Bear Bergman and Kate Bornstein.  These are much more personable and revealing than the typical ‘essays by the editors’ often featured in anthologies.   Bornstein and Bergman are legends, giants in the field of pushing gender envelopes and walking their talk.  Reading along as they flirt, debate, reminisce and look forward sets the tone for the whole collection.

And what a collection it is.  There are so many good quotes, my book is burdened with highlighted text and margin notes and exclamation points.  The more I read, the more I felt like I’d found my community, the community of gender outlaws intent on living authentically and without compromise.  There is diversity here not only in the contributors and topics, but in format:  prose of various lengths, poetry, mythology, declarations and comics.

Even in an anthology with no duds, some favorites stand out for me.

A multi-page comic strip illustrating one gender outlaws search for the right label, exploring words, Latin roots, meaning and implication, Katie Diamond and Johnny Blazes in transcension:  “There is power in claiming your own labels.  In a world where everyone around you is constantly slapping their own labels on you, without your consent.. it is powerful to stand up and say… I do not want that label, I want this one.”  If I’d read this before my Genderqueer Identity session at BUTCH Voices Portland, I’d probably have looked into making copies of it.  It says what I was trying to say about self-labeling so much more articulately and thoroughly than I did in my hand-out.

Andrea Jenkins gives us a passionate argument for loving ourselves in Calling for the recognition of self-love as a legitimate relationship in the game of life:  “… if it were though it would be about loving your neighbor as you love yourself, problem is most people can’t stand themselves”  Ain’t that the truth.

I almost felt like simon iris was writing directly to me, as a fellow genderqueer of dual identity, in make a vessel for me in anomaly:  “.. there is this myth called boy that walks behind me. .. there is this girl that is not yet empty ..”

There are other stories I related intimately to, and others that hit me with connections I hadn’t even considered.  For example, it never occurred to me that people suffering from gender dysphoria might suffer from eating disorders, but it probably should have (Taking up Space, Kyle Lukoff):  “I’ve always felt like I was too much. .. I thought that if I could curb my appetite, I would also curb those feelings that I wasn’t quite right, that something inside me didn’t match my outside.”

Gwendolyn Ann Smith’s essay, We’re All Someone’s Freak, hits home with me.  She speaks to the pressure from within the transgender community for transgender people to ‘pick a side’, to be one or the other.  I used to naively think that transgender folks would understand my genderqueerness, or at least, be supportive of it, but that’s not always the case.  Smith insists that we make choices for ourselves, and not the choices that fit the expectations of others:  “… it should be irrelevant to me what any other transgender person opts to do.  Their action does not somehow change who I am.  It cannot.”

In The Manly Art of Pregnancy, J Wallace describes with humor and honesty just what being a pregnant man feels like.  And, even though I didn’t identify as transgender while I was pregnant, there’s a helluva a lot I can relate to in this essay.  His description of maternity clothes had me nodding vigorously:  “.. The people who make maternity clothes clearly have thought about how masculinizing the physical changes of pregnancy can be and have therefore designed maternity clothes to re-assert femininity…  Maternity clothes are pink, pastel or floral.. with liberal use of lace, bows. and ribbon… it’s very hard to look serious in most maternity clothes.”  Oh, amen, brother, which is why I stayed away from them for the most part.  Indeed, J is clear that “the masculine art of pregnancy ignores the rack of maternity clothes.”

I could go on and on, but even quoting some of what I highlighted would make this a really long review, so I’ll leave you with a quick fly-by tour to highlight some of that diversity I mentioned before:

  • The benefits of being transgender in a corporate setting.
  • A very personal history report on how gender outlaws were treated by Fascist Spain in the 60s.
  • Going beyond transgender to being transreal.
  • Stories from Asian, Jewish, African, Muslim cultural perspectives.
  • Discussions of privilege, whether cultural or cis-gender based.
  • Physical changes that do, and do not, happen when a person transitions.
  • An essay on redefining the meaning of ‘outlaw’.
  • A love letter to a unisex restroom.
  • The impact of choosing anglo male names for non-anglo transgender men.
  • Drag queens in female born bodies.

Some of the identities claimed by contributors:  trannygirl, gay transguy, femme queer woman, transgender, queer and muslim, drag queen, trans third-degree black belt, radical queer comic artist, burlesque performer, gender variant geek, queer biracial transgender, Ethical Slut author, professor, activist, author, artist, transfag dad, performer, queer goth rollergirl, transwoman, vegan, intersex, songwriter, father, she-male, sex worker, writer and that’s not all of them.  Do you see why this book is so great?  So many people, so many experiences and vantage points, expressed with passion, intelligence, humor and love.

It’s not hard for me to give this book my highest rating of 5 boots, I only wish my scale was higher, because I’d give it a perfect 10.  Buy this for yourself, for your gender outlaw friends, for people in your family.  Suggest it for your book group.


Seal Press

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