Book Review: Introducing Teddy

TITLE: Introducing Teddy: A gentle story about gender and friendship
AUTHOR: Jessica Walton
ILLUSTRATOR: Dougal MacPherson
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2016

 

This book just appeared at work one day, and I was intrigued, so I read it.

Basically, Teddy is trans and this is the coming out story.
In the beginning of the story, Teddy is very sad.  Erroll, Teddy’s owner, asks what’s wrong and is told “Please don’t make fun of me.  I don’t want to be Thomas any more, I want to be Tilly!”  And Errol says “OKAY!” and thus the teddy switches his bow tie into her hairbow and they go off to play with other friends.  “Thomas would like you to call her Tilly now.”  “Okay”  And that’s it.

I get that this book is designed for little little kids.  But remember that I spend my days with a four-year-old.  So I just kinda stared at it for a while and blinked.  I don’t know what I think about this book.  I know that the author* wanted a simple book for little kids, but a lot of people use books to open up conversation and I’m worried that this is too over simplistic.  In the same tone that a kid will tell you to call them Mallory when their name is really Valerie or “When I grow up, I want to be a [something ridiculous]!…” and then change their mind after lunch, we’re told “hey, look, this is me now,” and it doesn’t have as much weight as it should as a serious issue.

So, really, this is more about acceptance than about actual trans* issues.  Your friend is telling you this is how things are, and you’re okay with it because you’re their friend.  As adults, we know that this isn’t as simple as it is, but we as adults also understand that the world is not so black and white as a child understands it to be.

 

I am torn on this rating.  I absolutely love that the point of this story was “just please love me for me, I’m very fragile” because I believe that all of us are that to some extent.  It was very sweet and simple, and I believe that that message will get through.
That said though, as far as transgender is concerned, this is only a book about accepting somebody that has transitioned.  It doesn’t explain anything about it whatsoever, so I’m not really sure how useful a tool this is, but it was okay.  Also, the illustrations were adorable.  When “Thomas” was sitting there looking sad because “I’m afraid you won’t like me if I tell you…”  I really felt for the bear.    Anyway, Illustrations are a solid 4.  The book is more of a 3 for my liking.

 

 

*The author is a m to f trans* herself.  Also an amputee.  Read her bio on the book jacket.  She’s got an interesting life.

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Book Review – Being Jazz

TITLE: Being Jazz: My life as a (Transgender) teen
AUTHOR: Jazz Jennings
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2016

For those who don’t know, Jazz Jennings first hit America’s psyche as the 4-year-old kid who knew he was really a she. Since that moment 10+ years ago, Jazz has gained a bit more fame, and now has a children’s book and a television show, both titled I Am Jazz, and a slew of awards for being things like “amazing” and “wonderful” and “courageous” and whatever else in her quest to be an advocate for trans issues.

I wanted to read the book to understand better.

It’s listed as a memoir, published by a children’s publisher, and, at least in my library, shelved in the very odd…genre?… of YA Non-Fiction.
I don’t know what I thought I was expecting, but chances are that I wanted a look at actual trans issues.
What I got was…not that.

First of all, a then 14-year-old makes for a really boring memoir subject. I mean, take away the trans stuff, and all you have is soccer and good grades. And the book mostly glossed past all of that.

And it totally glossed over a lot of the trans stuff too. “Hey, my parents had to deal with me not being able to play soccer, but I still got to practice with the team, so at least I had that…” Um.
Somewhere about halfway through this book it dawned on me why I dislike the show so much, and it’s criticism here, too… Nothing ever is bad or hard or whatever. I mean, even when something *was* going wrong, she’d gloss over it like it was a little footnote. “My parents never told me, so everything was wonderful!”

Actually, on that note, it glossed over most stuff period. She used the phrase “chick with a dick” twice, but couldn’t actually use words to describe body parts when she talked about herself. She talked about her “D” the same way Anastasia Steele talks about her “sex”. (That is to say, stupidly.)

Come on. I know you’re not going to get the most amazing story ever told from a kid, but there are plenty of bios and memoirs about kids that were interesting to read (Ryan White, for example). This one was a snooze. The only thing that saved me from falling asleep was that it read so fast because Jazz herself is the one that wrote it.

Another criticism I have is that Jazz sort of assumed the only people that would ever read the memoir were in a trans world somehow. A lot of the chapters start off as stories but then near the end of the chapter, the fourth wall comes down and there’s a part where Jazz says something like “Hey, reader, if you need help, you should look at the appendix”…

So, again, a book I had high hopes for that ended up pretty much being crap. I mean, I don’t see a lot of purpose to the book and it’s totally fluff. Even the Q&As at the end of the book with her family seemed like crap. In the interview with her brothers, we basically get “We hate being lumped together as twins” (irony – theirs was the only interview with two people at once) and “She got to meet the president and we didn’t, but it’s okay!”

Since it’s like the only resource out there for trans kids, I should probably cut it a little slack, but the fact that there’s little resource here and just a fake sense of perfect rainbows, I’m giving it a 2 out of 5. Maybe the book will help somebody who is trans, but for anyone who isn’t, there’s nothing helpful here.

Book Review: The Letter Q

The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves
Edited By: Sarah Moon & James Lecesne
Format, etc: Hardback, 2012

So an author, Sarah, got together with the creator of the Trevor Project, James, and decided to do a non-fiction book on a simple premise – what would you say to your (sometimes much)younger self to say that everything will be okay? They then took this idea to five dozen GLBT authors and artists and came up with a collection large enough to make this book.

I’ll admit, I have no need for this book. (Truth be told Q is my favorite letter of the alphabet and the cover grabbed me.) But when I saw it at the library, I was intrigued. I wanted to know what these people needed to say.

As far as the letters themselves… here’s the thing. I was expecting something…less mainstream. But the letters all just basically say “Hey, life will be good, everything will be better, push through the crap you’re dealing with now,” which isn’t a bad thing, but. Very few of these letters actually address GLBT issues directly. And like I said, that’s not a bad thing, but since that’s the point of the book, I was sort of expecting a little more of it. Also, the letters all sort of blend together after a while. After you read a handful of them, there aren’t any extra gems of wisdom, and since they’re letters to the author’s self, some of them don’t really apply to anyone else. I read the intro paragraph of a couple of them and then skipped on to the next one.

Another issue that I had with this book is that I didn’t really know who a lot (okay most) of these people were. I think that it would have made a little more of an impact for the people to have been better known so that the people reading the book could be like “Oh, if made it…”

Still, I think that for a teenager dealing with GLBT issues (the book’s actual demographic), that the book will be helpful. Because of that, I’m torn with giving it a number. If the book fits, It’s a 5/5, but if the book doesn’t, it’s barely a 3/5.

trevor-project-image-31

If you need help, call the helpline.  Remember, you *are* important
and loved and you will make a difference in this world…

Book Review – Sex Changes by Christine Benvenuto

Sex Changes: A memoir of marriage, gender, and moving on
Christine Benvenuto
Hardback
2012

I’ve been reading more about transgender issues lately in an attempt to understand them better. I know a couple people that fall somewhere to the left of the male/female spectrum. When I found this book, I thought it would be an interesting take on the issue.
The author is a woman of some age (they never really told us, but I’m guessing about 40), who has three kids, Adam, Bibi and Lilly (not their real names), oh, and a husband, Tracy (not his real name), who is a woman trapped in a man’s body. The book picks up pretty much when he declares that to his wife.
Before I go any further with this review, a bit of a side note – I do believe firmly that I should refer to “Tracy” by whichever pronoun Tracy prefers, but since the book referred to Tracy as “he” the whole time, I’m going to as well, just to make the review all streamlined and stuff.
The book is done in three parts. Part one is called, originally, Part One. It deals with the author finding out what’s going on with her husband, and getting to the point where Tracy finally moves out. We find out that they’re Jewish, that they’ve spent much of their marriage living separately because of work and whatever, and that there are three kids. That’s about it.
And I have to say that I have never, ever, ever in my life read a memoir about a more unsympathetic twat in my life. I’m serious. I have no sympathy at any point in this book for this woman because of how she is. Keep in mind, this is how she’s telling her story, how she wants it known and (hopefully) how it really went down. And all I read in the first 120 pages or so was about a woman whose husband came to her with a statement (“I feel like I’m a woman trapped as a man”) and she said “no” and “don’t tell the kids.”
I’m not going to use this review to argue with how she should have handled the situation, one way or another, but before any of my readers get up in arms, remember that there’s a difference between playing along and having compassion, and I at least expected a little compassion. Yeah, I expected the “my marriage is over” part of things, and no, I never expected her to go dress shopping with Tracy (which she totally didn’t) but I did not, at any point prior to having the book in my hands, expect this to be the memoir of a woman who was all “I’m such a victim, feel bad for me!” about everything.
I read through to page 120, and all I could think was that I wanted to bean this chick with a baseball bat a few dozen times. And while I don’t at all agree with the way her husband went about being towards her during the transition, I can’t help but wonder if maybe a gram of compassion from Christine at any point could have softened the entire situation for all involved.
So I started trying to figure out why I hated this woman so much. Yes, a lot of it was her actions. “I couldn’t believe everyone was taking HIS side, but then again, we live in the Valley of the Politically Correct!” A lot of it was the fact that she had gone to the trouble of writing a memoir and had somehow managed to not put a detail about ANYTHING in this book. (No, I’m not asking for her street address, but I want some idea of what’s really going on other than her being Jewish in the Valley of the Politically Correct [her term] somewhere in, I think, New England, which is about as vague as saying you live “over yonder” and pointing while on vacation somewhere.)
Then there’s her style. Her style of speaking and doing and everything. At one point, the author is talking about her 8=year-old daughter. “I was in shock. I knew my little girl to be precociously verbal, but even so her words added shock to shock.” Wait. What? Or, another favorite. “Over the years, Lilly has become more articulate about her feelings. When she was six, she began to pontificate on the subject of having a dad who is a girl.”
It’s like the author was so busy telling us what her feelings should have been that she didn’t feel anything. There’s nothing at all comfortable about this woman. Nevermind the fact that she stripped out so much of anything, whatsoever that would have connected us with her…
We hear about the half-assed friendships she had (“it wasn’t until I lost these people that I realized I had never really been close to them”), how nobody cared about her because it wasn’t politically correct to do so, etc. I don’t know what she’s been doing in therapy all these years, but seriously, all she’s telling us is how much of a fucking victim she was through all of it, sad and alone and stuck with the kids. Nevermind the fact that she starts her damn story out by talking about how, because of work, she was often the only parent with the kids anyway.
Part 2 of the book is almost a totally different book the way its written. She finally gets to the part about how the kids are feeling, but again, we had to hear about her “precociously verbal” children and a load of other shit that just made me want to hit her.
At one point, she listed all the things she had to do in her day, starting with her 4:30 AM getting up to exercise while checking email and read the paper while listening to NPR. In this, she refers to the kids as Ms. 7 and Ms. 4 and Mr. 13 (o_O), talks about taking three kids to three schools in three cities, and even gives us about a third of a page on getting “Ms. 4” to the center of town to get the bus to the school that she’s teaching in that day. Now, I get it that lives get complicated the more people you’re responsible for. But your son is 13, which totally means he can get his own sorry ass up with an alarm clock, and if you’re so damn busy, why are you doing things like driving across town to get your kid to a bus to take her THE SAME PLACE YOU’RE GOING ANYWAY. Also, there’s a potty training incident, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t have a change of clothes and a box of wipes in the car for the kid (really, she had to take the kid home to wash her clothes?). Oh, and seriously, she put listening to the radio on this list, so…
Folks, life lesson. Don’t overcomplicate your life and then complain about it. Seriously. And this list was TWO PAGES LONG and barely covered her getting to work with just a sentence or so gloss over about her work day.
And again, it’s another example of the disconnect we get with this woman. She wrote her kids up as Ms. 7 and Mr 13. Who does that?

I marked page 192 because it’s the first time she really talks about dealing with Tracy on an emotional level and her acceptance/understanding/adjustment to the Trans issue. Up to this point, all she’d managed to do was tell him he couldn’t be a woman and have a few convos with the kids. It took almost 200 pages to get to a point where she talks about transgender issues as anything but a slight to her marriage.

So I’m giving this book a 2 for several reasons.
The first is that if I hadn’t been reviewing it and so hell-bent on getting to the end of this for some reason other than her victim mentality, I would have put it down before the second part. The fact is that if the entire memoir had had the feel of the 2nd part (and sort of the third, even though that’s sort of just summation), I would have like d it a whole lot more.
But the second reason is because of all the things this book is missing. I don’t care that she changed names (a fact that we had to read any time she named anybody – hello, make a note at the front) and that she wanted to protect herself (although the whole small town that she never moved out of knows what’s going on, so…), but you can’t strip everything and expect there to be anything left when you’ve finished. If she would have loosened up a bit and relaxed for a minute, we might have got something out of this that was helpful.
Really, don’t bother. Even if you’re in her situation, going it alone has got to be better than this.

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