Trans Global: Transgender Then, Now And Around The World by Honor Head

The Blurb On The Back:

TRANS GLOBAL explores the fascinating long history of transgender around the world. This book uncovers the cultures and people of the past and present who have embraced, challenged or quietly subverted society’s expectations about gender. Find out:

– which cultures accepted a non-binary lifestyle for centuries before ‘transgender’ became a label;

– who fights for the acceptance of the trans community;

– what it is like for young trans people just starting out on their journey. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Honor Head’s non-fiction LGBTQ+ book for children aged 12+ (with a foreword by Jake Graf and Hannah Winterbourne) highlights the history of transgender people and the different attitudes towards them around the world but while it’s strong on showing the attitudes of different cultures, some of the descriptions of gender behaviour and issues such as transgender sports people are too simplistic, which affects its usefulness as a primer.

It’s important for young people to have books like this to show that transgender, non-binary and intersex people are not a recent phenomenon (although, thankfully, there have been more moves in recent years to be welcoming and understanding rather than judgmental and discriminatory). Head’s book is particularly strong on highlighting transgender people in history such as Lili Elbe (whose story was made famous by the film The Danish Girl) and Joe Carstairs and also in showing how transgender people are specifically recognised in certain cultures such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where the hijra date back to the Ramayana and Mahabharata and also in Mexico and Polynesian islands.

She also does well in highlighting the experience of transgender people in those societies today and in showing how some discrimination towards transgender people in such communities dates back to colonialism and colonialist attitudes and in showing how transgender, intersex and non-binary people today are taking leadership roles within societies. Head also includes a good list of further material for readers to check out at the end of the book, including helplines for young people to get support (indeed, Jake Graf and Hannah Winterbourne who contribute the foreword to this are patrons of Mermaids, a charity that supplies counselling and which has its details given at the back of the book together with other services).

However there are times when Head overreaches her subject and I found some of the emphasis on different gender behaviours to be quite simplistic (e.g. she shares experiences of transgender people who weren’t happy at playing with boys’ or girls’ toys which is not necessarily an indicator for someone being transgender). She also cites some historical people as being transgender when we just don’t have enough information about them to make such a conclusion – e.g. Dr James Barry was only discovered to be a woman on her death but rather than being transgender, his activities may have been led more about trying to escape the limitations placed on women in the 18th and 19th century than because they genuinely wanted to be a man. Also the controversial subject of transgender participation in sports is dealt with in a box that notes the split in opinion on whether male-to-female transgender people have a competitive advantage in sports, which I think reduces a charged topic to simplistic bullet points.

Ultimately although I think this is a fine starting point to introduce young people to the difficulties and experiences of transgender people, it is a book that needs to be used with other materials because of the complexities of some of the issues.

TRANS GLOBAL: TRANSGENDER THEN, NOW AND AROUND THE WORLD was released in the United Kingdom on 13th September 2018. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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