I just finished reading Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and it’s given
me a lot to think about. Kuklin interviewed, followed and photographed six transgender teens over the course of four years. She tells their stories through pictures, and allows them, more often than not, to tell their own stories in their own words.
As both a gay writer and a writer who writes about gay teens, transgender issues are an area I’m woefully ignorant of. To my knowledge, I’ve never had any transgender friends. The closest I’ve come are the people I knew who were involved in drag…though I suspect those have far less in common than I once believed.
Though I had my own body issues growing up—too skinny, too weak, big nose—I never felt uncomfortable with my gender. Being male always felt natural to me. I chafe at some of the societal expectations for my gender (never show emotion, don’t cry openly, must love sports), but I’ve still found a place within my gender that’s comfortable. Even when I struggled to come to terms with being gay, I never questioned my gender.
The most difficult part of reading the transgender teen’s stories was the conflicts they had with their parents. Doctors who specialize in transgender issues seem to agree that beginning hormone treatments before the onset of puberty can help the teen “pass” as their true gender when they’re an adult, and that it becomes more difficult once puberty has begun and they’ve stared to develop either masculine or feminine characteristics. I really felt for those teens who wanted to badly to be seen on the outside as the gender they felt they were on the inside, but I also sympathized with their reluctant parents. Every parent wants to do what’s best for their child, and that includes making certain that they don’t allow their children to make any permanent, life-altering choices without understanding all the ramifications. The truth is, it’s difficult to know anything for certain at 16.
Ultimately, the book opened my eyes to the spectrum of genders that exist, and to the problems transgender teens face. I wish that society could get to a point that would allow teens (and adults!) who are questioning their gender to experiment without forcing them to make permanent choices until they’re sure. I wish we could stop being so hung up on gender expectations and focus on who people are inside rather than what they look like on the outside.
Lastly, I was really caught off guard by the strength of the teens Kuklin interviewed. Reading their stories in their own words gives me hope for the future.