A conversation in transition

Two new books help us talk about what it means to be transgender in a changing world.

As the parent of a transgender teen, I read with great interest these books about the issues transgender people face. Both books exemplify how to create conversations about gender that transcend divisive assumptions.

The painfully honest essays by Mary Collins and her son Donald lay bare the experiences of a concerned, skeptical parent and a struggling, transgender child. As a high school senior, Donald told his mother that he was transgender. Or perhaps that sentence should read (as Mary reports it) that Mary’s daughter told her she was transgender. The challenge of keeping the gender references straight in a book that spans a gender transition highlights the struggle to speak well and honestly when two people experience the same events differently.

Donald was discerned to be female at birth, was given a feminine name, and until high school presented as a girl. From Mary’s perspective, she had a daughter who transitioned against her mother’s will to become a transgender son. From Donald’s perspective, he was only ever a “daughter” (he uses scare quotes to designate his natal gender), and he speaks not of a transition so much as a process of his gender becoming physically and personally more congruent.