Book review: Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices, by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Cronn-Mills Transgender livesCronn-Mills, Kirstin. Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices. Twenty-first Century Books. 2015. $34.60. 88p. HC. 9780761390220.

After her excellent YA novel Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Kirstin Cronn-Mills delivers a disappointing non-fiction book about transgender identities and experiences. Although the language is concise and approachable, it is disrespectful. For example, birth names are included for almost all the profiled subjects, and the narratives are overly simplified.

Transgender Lives alternates profiles of trans* individuals with information about transgender history, identities, and life challenges. Profiles focus primarily on individuals’ physical characteristics and transitions but occasionally explore other parts of their lives. The commentary from loved ones as well as the individuals themselves uses quotes from cisgender people rather than first-person accounts to explain trans* people’s experiences.

Both adults and teens in the book are profiled, but the subjects lack diversity. One person discusses the intersections of her African American, deaf, and intersex identities, but other profiles lack identities other than their genders.

The profiles of a drag queen and an intersex individual provide valuable perspectives, but the book fails to offer any context for their inclusion. The contextual material is equally confusing: Cronn-Mills applies the “trans*” identity to almost every person and group throughout history who didn’t conform to expected gender norms.

A strength of the book is the chapter on trans* medical challenges. Including the heartbreaking story of Robert Eads’ death, narratives detailing important issues facing transgender people make the chapter more readable and impactful. The chapter on trans* life challenges is also well-written although it covers only the most visible barriers trans* folks face. It would have benefited from a discussion of microaggressions and how cisgender teens can support transgender peers.

The supplemental material at the end of the book suggests materials that are helpful, age-appropriate, and generally respectful to trans* individuals. The glossary includes clear and concise definitions for several key terms. The glossary’s assertion that “[trans men and women have] usually had medical intervention to align [their] gender and biological identities” is questionable, but other entries seem to be accurate and free of generalizations.

The highly-reflective cover of the physical book allowing readers to see their own faces is a nice effect. However, Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, winner of the Stonewall youth award, would be a better purchase for libraries.

Jane Sandberg, Electronic Resource Librarian
Linn-Benton Community College

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