Trans Like Me is a powerful blend of biography and cultural exploration into the broad experience of being transgender and how that term encompasses a vast range of gender-diverse people. The reader is introduced to concepts such as dysphoria and gender non-conforming youth, in addition to exploring how the use of gender binaries creates the idea of an “other.”
In their book, Lester takes the reader from their struggle in childhood to find their voice, to the differences between sexuality and gender, to describing their experience before and after completing a physical transition. Lester writes,
“Coming into myself after physical transition was the most extraordinary sensation; my mother, seeing my face for the first time after surgery said she had never seen me smile so wholeheartedly before. It was like waking up well after interminable illness. Not only my mental health improved: with a body that I finally felt free in I could breathe, sing move in ways I just didn’t know existed” (p.68).
In an effort to educate the reader into what it’s like to live as a transgender person, Lester reveals intimate details of their struggle to be known, accepted, and loved. They go on to talk about abuse at the hands of cisgender people, who showered them with attention for all the wrong reasons.
“I have learned that a trans person’s needs, reality, and physicality are supposed to be secondary to those of a cis person.” (p.112)
Lester, who is an activist, musician, an academic, includes sections on cultural stars such as Caitlyn Jenner and Oscar Wilde, LGBTQ+ activists and their views on trans feminists, and how people worry too much about gender non-conforming youth and things that ultimately don’t concern them such as, “innuendos, assumptions, [and] questions about my genitals” (p.112).
In the prologue to the book, Lester writes:
“Any person who has had to challenge or change the sexed and gendered labels placed upon them at birth to honor their true selves can, by their own or others’ volition, find themselves under this trans umbrella. The category of trans can be an uncomfortable place to be, filled with the fears society has about disruption, fitting in, danger, and change.”
In your quest to learn more about transgender people and what it means to be transgender, Lester’s book is a must-read. It provides a valuable insight that only a person with lived experience can give. It is raw, honest, and heartbreaking at times.
At 228 pages and fifteen chapters, Trans Like Me is a little more difficult to read than a fiction novel, only because you will want to carefully unpack what the author is saying, and take notes in the margins. You might want to consider this for a book club selection, but give yourselves plenty of time to discuss it, and consider having a transgender person join you to answer any questions that might arise during the conversation.