Gender: your guide: a gender friendly primer on what to know, what to say, and what to do in the new gender culture, by Lee Airton. Adams Media, 2018. ISBN 9781507209004.

GenderGuideReviewImageThis is an easy reading guide to gender written mostly for “people who just haven’t had to think about how gender rigidly structures our lives, spaces and interactions.” Presumably this does not include a trans audience, but there are enough stories and not so well known facts to keep a trans reader interested.

The part that I found most helpful as a trans woman who uses the she pronoun was the discussion of how Airton came to realize they were non-binary. Most trans books published thus far do not often relate non-binary people’s life experiences or explain how they have come to shape their identity. This despite the fact more people, especially youth, are taking up non-binary identities. (Studies have shown, however, they are still a minority among trans people.)

As someone who has been misgendered with the wrong pronoun I knew how important it is for non-binary people to be addressed as they or the now less used gender neutral pronoun ze; but having a sense of their lives probably reinforced the point more than the pages that followed which serve as an extensive exposition of gender neutral pronouns, they in particular. I must admit to getting a little bogged down in the “strategies for using pronouns” section. There are so many rules – or what Airton calls “tips” – that it’s impossible to remember them all. Thankfully, to a trans person anyway, most of these are common sense. Otherwise these would be most helpful to people responsible for equity issues in companies, organizations or government departments. This fits with Airton’s profession as an educator who consults on gender neutral language and gender diversity issues.

The lingering difficulty with gender neutral pronouns, despite Airton’s best effort to address the issue, is that people will use the pronoun that most fits the person’s outward appearance. I would have thought that having my hair cut in a feminine fashion, wearing make up and women’s clothing and having breasts would somehow give people I’m talking to the idea that “he” isn’t the correct pronoun, and yet still they blunder on. I don’t expect these people to suddenly develop a sensitivity to using the pronoun they, nor do I expect anytime soon to hear of a company beginning their board meetings by having the members declare which pronoun they use. I’m afraid non-binary people are in for a world of hurt if they expect otherwise.

So despite Airton’s claims that this book is very much a “guide to a particular moment in time”, I don’t think that time has arrived yet. Despite Time magazine declaring the arrival of the transgender tipping point, it simply ain’t so. This does not mean I don’t find Airton’s gender guide useful. On the contrary, I’m grateful they have started the ball rolling, and done so in such a thorough fashion.

In its treatment of cisgender readers as “co-conspirators” as opposed to allies, it occasionally reminded me of Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook. Bornstein’s book, originally published in 1998 and since updated, uses exercises to expose how we are all involved in playing the gender game and is mostly non-threatening to a cisgender audience. This sense of shared experience is a useful pathway to education.

Airton too relates examples that show when the two dominant gender categories become more rigid, they become more rigid for everyone. This is an important aspect to a book that is fundamentally about the nuts and bolts of how to implement a gender friendly environment. People will be more inclined to make necessary changes if they understand the ways in which gender affects us all.

December 2018