“Rather than attempting to convey the spectrum of transgender experience through a multitude of voices, Kuklin focuses on just six young people whose gender identities are something other than what they were labeled at birth. Photographs (of most of the subjects) are candid and winning; appended material, including a Q&A with the director of a clinic for transgender teens, is valuable” (Sutton, 2014).
This was the second book I’ve ever listened to in audio format, and I have to say that I really enjoyed listening to these stories. If I had to choose again, however, I would prefer to have the physical book, as it includes both pictures of some of the teens and useful appended material (as the review above mentions). I found myself having to look up pictures of each of the participants as I read, wanting to be able to put a face to the story. I found the book itself to be extremely powerful, however, and feel as if I learned a lot more about the needs and struggles of the transgender community. This book does not tell the story of every transgender person (as that would likely be an impossible feat), but it provides an excellent entry point into their unique world and experiences.
The book tells the stories of six teens: Jessy, Christina, Mariah, Nat, Cameron, and Luke. These teens have either made the transition to another gender, are currently in the process of transitioning, or have identified as gender neutral. While I really enjoyed hearing their stories, my criticisms are the same as many others who have read this book. I understand that Kuklin was not using these six teens to represent all transgender individuals, her scope is extremely narrow. For one, most of these teens come from the same general area (New York City), and while their experiences are very different, they only really represent one area of the United States. It would’ve been nice to see a teen from a state in the Bible belt, for example, as their experiences are necessarily going to be very different from someone who grew up in a more progressive area.
Another issue I have with this book is that it has a surprisingly sexist view of gender. Almost all of the young participants make unsettling statements about what it means to be either a girl or a boy (for example, according to the teens in this book, girls have to be sensitive and enjoy gossiping, while boys have to be tough and into sports). I understand that these teenagers were young, and had been told their entire lives what the expectations are for each gender, but I was hoping they would be a little bit more open-minded about what each gender can and can’t do. I suppose this is an extremely valid commentary on the way our society views gender, but I would have liked the author (Susan Kuklin) to address these issues for young readers who might agree with these societal gender standards.
That being said, I honestly really enjoyed this book, as it’s the first I’ve seen that features candid, real stories of transgender teens. I don’t personally know anyone who is transgender, so it was extremely intriguing and interesting for me to get a glimpse into this world. Despite my issues with the work, I think this book would be an excellent resource for teens who are questioning their gender identity, as it presents the stories of teenagers who once faced the very same questions. One of the teens, Luke, had a very poignant view on the subject of being transgender, as can be seen in his poem found near the end of the book:
“They told me, ‘No.’ Said, ‘What are you?’ Said, ‘You gotta choose,’ said, ‘Pink or blue?’ And I said I’m a real nice color of magenta. Everyday extremists that made this world just black and white solid stripes of a penitentiary uniform, imprisoned ourselves with nothing but the ideas of who was on top and who was on bottom” (Kuklin, Chapter 12, 1:02).
While this is only a small part of the poem, I found it to be incredibly moving and powerful. It made me wish that I could give credit to the original author, though he is known only as ‘Luke’ in the book and his personal information is not revealed. In all of these stories, a common thread is the way that society perceives anyone who is different. Almost all of the teens mentioned their parents, peers, or other adults telling them that they could not choose who they wanted to be: instead, they were assigned a gender at birth and were expected to conform to that gender role.
With that in mind, I can see why so many of the teens in this book had very stereotypical views of gender; we as a society are taught that there are two genders and only two genders, and that deviating from these set paths is “abnormal” or “wrong.” As the poem says, it’s very “black and white,” and not at all descriptive of the real world (which is far more nuanced and complicated). I, like the author who compiled the stories, applaud these teens for their bravery and courage, and I’m grateful to them for giving me a small glimpse into their extraordinary lives.
As I’ve said for many books in this blog, Beyond Magenta is an excellent book to show teens that they’re not alone; I think it would be an excellent addition to the non-fiction section of either a school or public library. Librarians and educators could direct teens interested in transgender issues to this book as an introduction to the community. It is also an excellent source for reluctant readers, as it features the actual words of the teens who are telling their stories. Overall, Beyond Magenta is both accessible and informative, and will leave teens and adults alike wanting to know more about the culture of this unique community.
Kuklin, S., Eby, T., Edwards, J., Haberkorn, T., Hernandez, R., Podehl, N., Ramirez, M., Wu, N. (2013). Beyond magenta: Transgender teens speak out. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio.
Sutton, R. (2014, Fall). Kuklin, Susan: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. The Horn Book Guide, 25(2), 141.