“How to Understand Your Gender” should be required reading for all humans

How to Understand Your Gender: A Practical Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker was not what I expected it to be. Never before have I had a book so gently and lovingly take me by the hand and explain, in the most nonthreatening and accessible way possible, a difficult concept.

What I expected was for a little intro on the concept of gender and then, I don’t know, a bunch of quizzes to try and figure out a gender label for myself. Instead, the authors slowly, carefully, delicately unpack the concept of gender and its implications on our lives, acknowledging that it’s a charged and emotional subject and sprinkling mindfulness breaks throughout the book. They include several exercises to help define the impact your gender identity has on your life, and how to explore your relationship to gender. There are plenty of quotes from people of diverse gender identities, showing a wide range of experiences. And the authors are careful to note the ways in which sexuality, culture, race and class intersect with and influence people’s expectations around gender.

I expected this book to be aimed solely at people who are questioning their gender identity, based on the title. Instead, as I was reading, I kept thinking, “I want literally everybody to read this.” Of course, I want my trans, nonbinary, and questioning friends to read this book, but I also want my parents to read this book. I want my partner to read this book. I want every cis straight person in the world to read this book. This book is the most incredible resource to help guide people through the concept of gender and gender identity, and get them to think about what their gender means to them, even if they’re totally comfortable in their gender identity. I rather wish the title were a little different, because unfortunately I think the likelihood of my cis/hetero relatives picking this up is pretty low. (Maybe the authors could create a subterfuge release of the book with a cover that says 101 Great Touchdowns in Football or something.)

Go get this book. Seriously. It is 1,000% worth your time. Whether you’ve never thought about your gender at all or have a degree in Gender Studies, whether you’ve always been comfortable with your gender or have no idea what the heck to call your gender identity, there’s a lot to be gleaned from this marvelous text.

3 thoughts on ““How to Understand Your Gender” should be required reading for all humans

  1. This book was one of a “holy trinity” of books (along with CN Lester’s Trans Like Me and Jeffey Marsh’s How to Be You) I read that helped me figure out who and what the heck I am as a nonbinary trans person. It is so in depth but never feels too heavy or theoretical. I agree with you that it should be read by everyone!

  2. I picked this up as well, I’m only on the second chapter but I had to quote this from the foreword – it’s on the 2nd page of the entire book and it really pulled me in, hook, line and sinker:

    “We all know, even those of us who don’t know first-hand, that trans and genderqueer and non-binary people’s gender identities are always subject to scrutiny, always revocable, and always, always suspect. Don’t believe me? Then why do you think the first question any trans person gets asked upon disclosure is ‘Have you had the surgery yet?’ What is that but a question of further investigation, an opportunity for a stranger to arrogate to themselves the right to decide if you’re really trans or not? If you really deserve the pronouns or name or respect you have asserted; if your transition is sufficient for their purposes?”

    Just…wow, that hit home, hard. I may not have asked that question but I know I’ve thought it in the past and resisted asking because it felt wrong to ask. Now I understand WHY it felt wrong to ask, and after reading that I even apologized directly to the trans people I know, admitting that I am ashamed to have even had the thought even though I didn’t vocalize it. I’m excited to keep reading and maybe someday soon I won’t have to identify as I do now: “amab but ?? for actual gender identity”.

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