Trans Like Me: Conversations For All of Us, by C. N. Lester. Seal Press, 2017. ISBN 9781580057851.
C. N. Lester’s book Trans Like Me is part memoir, but more a critique of the way trans people have been, and continue to be, portrayed in the media and popular culture. There is a mild undercurrent of anger to this book which I found invigorating. Anger has a way of focusing one on the need for action, and as Lester clearly demonstrates the battle is far from over.
Lester is a trans activist, a musician, an educator, and co-founder of the first national queer youth organization in the UK. Consequently, much of the book often references the UK. (Some examples of the behaviour of the British media toward trans people will have you gaping at their ignorant boorishness.) However, Lester is nothing if not well read, and they draw on numerous sources as well as their own reasoned arguments to dissect transphobic perspectives that are so ingrained they often appear invisible.
For example, chapter one jumps right into the concept of the “production of ignorance”. Lester is interested in why people seem to believe there were no women composers before the 20th century and they synthesize what they learned at a music conference and the work of Nancy Tuana to explain how this production of ignorance also works against trans people. Simply put, “it is not just the absence of knowledge that keeps a truth from being widely known and accepted; it is also the active production of ignorance that suppresses that truth.” This is important because it explains why it has been so difficult to get our truths told. For many years it felt like there was an organized cabal of people out there actively engaged in producing ignorance on trans people. Of course this cabal is nothing but a mass of prejudiced individuals and much of the rest of the book exposes their dishonesty.
The chapter titles reveal much about their content. “Think of the Children” demolishes the scaremongering over allowing trans kids to explore the gender they feel most comfortable in. No one has yet reported anyone in mainstream medicine performing surgery on or providing hormones to prepubescent trans children. Lester also cites a study that shows children who met the clinical guidelines of gender dysphoria generally ended up as transgender adults. The knowledge is there; only manufactured ignorance gets in the way.
Other chapter titles are equally suggestive. “Delusional and Disturbed” is about the association of transgendered people with mental illness. “The Denial of History” is self explanatory. The idea that we never existed before this period in time is especially dishonest. While it is easily refuted by doing a modicum of research, the fact that the people who oppressed us into invisibility are now blaming us for their not previously noticing us is hypocrisy in the highest degree. “Are Trans People Real?” addresses the issue that dogs our existence: our “authenticity” as men, women, or gender variant individuals. Here Lester allows some of their anger to show again. “I have learned that a trans person’s needs, reality, and physicality are supposed to be secondary to those of a cis person.” It’s a scathing indictment, but absolutely true, and you will find no small number of cis people who believe that it is absolutely right that it is so.
The only chapter that felt odd to me as a Canadian is “The T from the LGB”. My experience with the queer community in Canada is that we fought this battle long ago, and now most people in that community recognize the power of working together. Even so, what I did like about this chapter was Lester’s historical review of queer people in the past and how many don’t fit the narrow contemporary categories we have created. It’s a good argument, if one is needed, about how we are all in this together.
I like this book. Lester includes just enough of their personal life to inform the arguments they make and the arguments they make, while rational, are also frequently tinged with anger. And they ask questions, like this one: why are trans people “suitable fodder for light entertainment, but not for an urgent and sincere investigation into oppressions which are killing the most marginalized members of the trans community.”
Yes, why is that? It’s enough to get your anger going.
September 27, 2018