Trans Power: Own Your Gender, by Juno Roche. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020. ISBN 9781787750197.
August 2020 – There were times while I was reading Trans Power, by Juno Roche, when I thought I might yet learn to like this book, but those moments never lasted very long. This is not to say that the book is without its worthwhile bits, only that getting to them is often a tiresome slog through Roche’s self absorption. And in the end it doesn’t really amount to very much.
In the introductory chapter Roche reveals she went through transition but afterwards could not find her “value within the word ‘woman’. It just isn’t happening, and now it’s mine to own it still makes no difference.” (I use the pronouns “she” and “her” because she is identified that way on the book jacket.)
Fine, I thought, then you’re non-binary. But no, that doesn’t suit her either: “I wish I could simply say ‘I’m non-binary’ but I’m tired of being in direct opposition to something I don’t even believe in.”
And so that’s how Roche arrives at the word “trans” as our final destination. “I want only to be known as trans; not woman, not man. Woman or man, for me, muddies my transness. Femme or masculine muddies my transness.”
Her experience is certainly one way of living a trans life and advances the political position that pride in being trans is an effective weapon against patriarchy. The problem is her self absorption leads her to believe that her personal epiphany is the route for all of us. She pretends that it is an all inclusive philosophy – “this isn’t a ‘binary trans blame game’, she claims – and yet she always follows that with a but; as in, “but the more fluid the gendered identity, the more questions it asks”. The book has too many such unsupported statements. (The one that had me groaning was, “the gender binary is a broken, harmful construct being kept alive by a few people”. That would be a few billion, I think.)
There are eight chapters that follow this introductory one and they consist of interviews with various trans folks. I like learning about other trans experiences and so found some of these chapters interesting. Unfortunately, Roche persists in inserting herself into them. At the end of one, she must have listened to the transcript and realized how ridiculous it was because she observes, “I like that this morning it felt like they interviewed me.” That’s because Roche didn’t ask them questions; she only went on and on about her personal epiphany and tried to get them on board. As an interview, it was an abject failure.
In another chapter she asks the interviewee, “how do we reframe trans?” only to be told the glaringly obvious, “I think how we reframe it is to sit down and wonder what our goals are as people and to decide what we want from gender.” Well, duh. That’s not reframing. That’s the essence of being trans, and that’s precisely why I often found this book irritating.
I don’t think any trans person should “reframe” themselves for some nebulous political philosophy that will supposedly bring down the gender binary and destroy the patriarchy. As an oppressed group, we are necessarily political, but our journeys are deeply personal. The two things are very different, and I reject Roche’s imposition of the political on the personal. I’m glad she’s finally found her truth, but it fails as a political manifesto because it ain’t my truth. I’m a trans woman and perfectly happy being one.
I have more faith in the power of trans people as they are than Roche does. Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t need to adopt a pure trans identity stripped of all gender (as if that were even possible) to subvert the gender binary. Trans people are changing it the slow, hard, painful way, the only way true change ever happens. We are changing it by living our lives in ways that are true to ourselves, by fighting for our rights and by being proud of who we are. It is our very complexity that proves the point Kate Bornstein makes in one of the interviews that the world is a gender polynary.
This book is a mash up of the personal and the political, padded by the interviews that make up the middle of the book and which aren’t especially well done. It gives the impression of being the second book that the publisher demanded and was in the author’s contract to write. A disappointment.