It’s been a minute (like, six months) since I’ve done a “super chill book review.” But I feel a few of them coming. So watch out! Here’s the first.
This one feels especially relevant in this time of states trying to pass bonkers (and deeply damaging) legislation against supportive and healthy care for trans kids and their families. The book is Found in Transition: A Mother’s Evolution During Her Child’s Gender Change by Paria Hassouri, MD (New World Library, 2020).
A few random thoughts:
1). I found this book very accessible and illuminating on a topic I don’t know a ton about. I loved Hassouri’s blunt honesty about all of her thoughts and feelings during the first year or so after her thirteen year old kid revealed that she was a girl.
Talking about LGBTQ realities—and maybe especially trans realities—as someone who doesn’t speak from personal experience can feel difficult and dicey sometimes. I try to tread somewhat carefully; mostly, I try pretty hard not to cause any more harm than has already been (and is still being) caused.
So, I appreciate that Hassouri is a fierce advocate for the trans community and trans families while also super honest about the journey it took her to get there—super honest about the reality that she was not immediately that way.
2). Super cool that Hassouri is both a mom and pediatrician. It was interesting to hear how she was supportive of trans kids and families as part of her work, but it was still so difficult for her when her own daughter came out. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t support trans people in theory, but that she didn’t believe her own child when she came out to her.
It felt different when it was her own kid. Plus, as Hassouri reflects, there was very little relevant training in her medical school and residency programs. So she was still uninformed about a lot of things, even though she’s also a (highly competent and caring, I’m sure) pediatrician.
3). Confession time: Before the last few months, I think the only book I read that focused on transgender experiences was Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture by evangelical clinical psychologist Mark Yarhouse. Would not recommend.
(Well actually, there’s a trans character in Brit Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half, which I would absolutely recommend—but he isn’t one of the super main characters, so it took me a minute to think of that.)
I hadn’t read much, and what I did read often wasn’t all that great. I felt like parts of Understanding Gender Dysphoria were helpful in terms of understanding how evangelical Christians tend to think about transgender realities, but I would say the book as a whole is more sympathetic to some icky forms of evangelical belief than it is to trans people’s experiences. It also seemed to buy into some understandings of gender roles and gender differences in general that I’m not here for.
I didn’t like any of this, but I also hadn’t really taken the time and effort to find anything better. So in the last few months it’s been really good for me to read Paula Stone Williams’ memoir As a Woman: What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned (Atria Books, 2021), Laurie Frankel’s novel This Is How It Always Is (Flatiron Books, 2017), and now Found in Transition.
I didn’t plan it this way, but between these three books, I’ve gotten to learn about three very different kinds of trans experiences. In This is How It Always Is, Poppy knows she’s trans from young childhood; in Found in Transition, Ava realizes she’s trans around puberty; and in As a Woman, Paula transitions in her 60s.
I realize that Hassouri and Frankel are both parents of trans kids (that’s true of Frankel in real life and also true of the main character in her novel)—they aren’t trans people themselves. So I probably have some more work to do. (Recommendations are welcome.)
Still, I’m grateful for the range of different stories. I’m grateful for intimate and honest and nuanced family stories, and for a diversity of perspectives that all feel much more trans-affirming than Understanding Gender Dysphoria.
4). I appreciated how Hassouri connected her own story and her own past to her reactions to her daughter coming out as trans. Hassouri worried SO MUCH about her daughter being bullied if she came out at school—but she also realized that this was because she herself experienced bullying as a young Iranian-American teen at a mostly white school.
It turned out that Hassouri’s daughter received mostly positive, supportive reactions from her peers—and when people didn’t react positively, she could handle it. It was fully worth it to her, since she got to be who she really was, and there was so much relief and joy in that.
Hassouri’s daughter’s experience had some similarities with Hassouri’s own teenage years, but also so many differences. I appreciate Hassouri’s vulnerability in sharing her own journey to figure that out.
5). Relatedly, I appreciated how Hassouri wrote so openly about her own emotions in general. She writes without shame about the (many) times she cried during that year after her daughter came out, and how some of these tears were shed in public. I like that. I want to join her in destigmatizing freedom of emotional expression.
Humans are emotional beings. It doesn’t do anyone any good when we try to hide or downplay that, or when we shame others for it. Kudos to Hassouri for leading the way.
6). I was fascinated by Hassouri’s journey from being very suspicious of “the trans agenda” to describing herself now as an advocate for trans people, all within about a year. She was suspicious enough initially that she wasn’t comfortable with her daughter’s first therapist, even though this therapist was wonderful, just because the therapist was transgender.
It took some time, but Hassouri eventually realized that what she once considered the “trans agenda”—not totally unlike, say, the “women’s agenda” at an explicitly patriarchal church…just to use a purely hypothetical example that has nothing to do with my own experiences…—is simply to love and affirm trans people in the fullness of who they are, and to want them to have access to care that will be helpful and not harmful to them.
That’s all I’ve got for now—for me, this was a memoir worth reading! Holler with your thoughts and/or suggestions for further learning.