The Gender Games by Juno Dawson

The Blurb On The Back:

”It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” are the first words almost all of us hear when we enter the world.  Before our names, before we have likes and dislikes – before we, or anyone else, have any idea who we are.  And two years ago, as Juno Dawson went to tell her mother she was (and actually, always had been) a woman, she started to realise just how wrong we’ve been getting it.

Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone.  From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment.  From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men.  From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t.  As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.  

Featuring insights from well-known gender, feminist and trans activists including Rebecca Root, Laura Bates, Gemma Cairney, Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Witton, Alaska Thunderfuck and many more, The Gender Games is a frank, witty and powerful manifesto for a world in which everyone can truly be themselves.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Juno Dawson is an awarding-winning YA author who in 2015 announced her transition as a transgender woman and in this funny, sharply observed, magnificently sweary and seriously thought-provoking book that’s part memoir and partly a critique of modern society and its gender expectations, she picks apart what gender means and what people can do about it. This isn’t a book aimed at a YA audience, but it should be read by everyone.

Dawson hangs the book around the story of her own life and her confusion about her own identity (in part reinforced by gender roles as defined by society and what people told her she should be like).  I was particularly fascinated by her account of believing herself to be a gay man and the life she led (which is very frank) and she cleverly links her life back to gender and her own sense that something wasn’t right.

Her comments on gender expectations – especially on the double standards it places on women and men and the way it leads to and reinforces sexism and toxic behaviour – are insightful, sensitive and even-handed but it’s on the subject of being transgender that she really shines. First and foremost, she is at pains to point out that she is not the designated transgender spokesperson and I liked how she runs through the book comments and thoughts from other transgender people (including the actress Rebecca Root), which adds perspective (and I should point out that she also quotes feminists such as Laura Bates and Hannah Witton).  I particularly admired her chapter on TERFs, which points out how it reduces gender to being biologically determined (which is ironic given how the first feminists argued that a woman’s biology shouldn’t be the sole thing that determined her life).

I think what’s particularly good about Dawson’s book is that it’s written so conversationally – you can imagine sitting opposite her in a café listening to her tell you this.  She is incredibly honest, the swearing is truly a wonder to behold (although if you’re not into four letter words, perhaps you should brace yourself before starting it) and it’s very human – it acknowledges frailty and vulnerability in a way that I thought was very sensitive but without diminishing the rage she clearly feels about the damage that conceptions of gender wrecks on people.

This is one of those books that I think deserves a wide audience (and, the language notwithstanding, I really think that teenagers should be encouraged to check it out).  It’s a powerful, effective read that really challenges your preconceptions.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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