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Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers

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When Cris Beam first moved to Los Angeles, she thought she might put in just a few hours volunteering at a school for transgender kids while she got settled. Instead she found herself drawn deeply into the pained and powerful group of transgirls she discovered. In Transparent she intro­duces four of them—Christina, Domineque, Foxxjazell, and Ariel—and shows us their world, a dizzying mix of familiar teenage cliques and crushes with far less familiar challenges like how to morph your body on a few dollars a day. Funny, heartbreaking, defiant, and sometimes defeated, the girls form a singular community. But they struggle valiantly to resolve the gap between the way they feel inside and the way the world sees them—a struggle we can all identify with. Beam’s careful reporting, sensitive writing, and intimate relationship with her characters place Transparent in the ranks of the best narrative nonfiction.

318 pages, Hardcover

First published January 2, 2007

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About the author

Cris Beam

6 books72 followers
Cris Beam is a journalist who has written for several national magazines as well as for public radio. She has an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University and teaches creative writing at Columbia and the New School. She lives in New York.

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5 stars
188 (35%)
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199 (37%)
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100 (18%)
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29 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Eva-Marie.
1,672 reviews128 followers
May 18, 2012
Well, I can honestly say I learned a lot from this book. I've had it sitting around ever since I was back on bm.com and just never got to it. I wanted to start whittling away at my hardbacks and this was at the top. (Alphabetical order by author last name, had no A's.) (Yes, I'm a geek.)
Sooo, uh, I had never heard of alyhas. "Alyhas were (and sometimes still are) genetically male tribe members, who wore women's clothing, adopted women's names, and did women's work."
In the Mohave culture, four distinctions are made: male, female, alyhas and hwame (the female-to-male equivalent).
These communities were happy with these people, not ashamed.
Beam really did her research here and not just with what I've mentioned. That chipping at an iceberg. But at the same time the book isn't frustrating, it's too interesting. If the subject of transgender teens interests you this is bound to as well.
Beam doesn't just do the normal research, she got to know these girls and women. She practically adopted at least on with her own partner. These are children whose own parents disowned them. Imagine the burdens, emotional, financial, legal, etc. You don't do that and not care.
I'd have liked to have seen pictures of the major players in the book but I can see why this may not have been possible. Photos would have made the book better for me though.
Beam does some talking about genetics. I've never heard of it before but apparently some one in five hundred to a thousand people (that's a decent number) are born with Klinefelter's syndrome. Basically the person has an extra X to the XY chromosome's. Some people have XXXY and XXXXY. What does this mean? It can't mean nothing.
Swyer syndrome babies look female but their Y chromosome lacks the sex-determining agent. Can't mean nothing.
And there's a lot more to think about. Tyra Hunter. I'd never heard of her before and I almost wish I could still say the same. Tyra Hunter was a transgender woman living in D.C. She died in 1995. How did she die? She died because the EMT's caring for her during an emergency stopped all care once they cut off her clothes and saw she was born a man. She died. She is dead because of this.
The first thing that popped into my head was, "Would these male EMT' refuse treatment to any man? Or just a transgender?" What about someone else's sex life makes YOU feel uncomfortable? I couldn't care less about anyone else's sex life but MY OWN.
I'm sure this doesn't reflect on the average EMT - I sure as hell hope not - but this is outrageous. This is someones life lost. Were these people charged? Don't they take an oath? Can a racist person just not care for a person he "hates" based on skin color? What about sexists? Are they included here? This enraged me.
All in all Transparent taught me more than any other book I've read lately. And I'm glad. I was already very open to transgender people, because basically unless I'm having sex with you, your sex life doesn't effect me. Most people who know me would call me conservative and I guess I am in a lot of ways, but I have no right to deny someone else their life. If that means I'm ______ or ______, that's fine. I'll take that.
But these are children. Children whose families have totally denied them in many instances. Children who are ridiculed at school and in public. Who can't find jobs. Who can't get the surgeries and other things they need to help them feel complete. That's what we need to remember IMO.
I will say this - I am glad a young teen can't hope up and have surgery. Teens are notorious for exploring and that's not something to arrange and go through with on a whim. I think the waiting period and counseling is a fabulous idea. If may put some out but that's worth it if it keeps some from ruining their lives.
Profile Image for Lance.
32 reviews8 followers
February 19, 2012
This book made me angry. The perspective from which it's written is very much a "white savior" / "cis savior" one, if you follow me. It's all about how the writer experienced the lives of several young trans women of color, and portrays these young women's stories with a sympathetic, but never empathetic, gaze. The book has a very "save the children" tone to it, and throughout the reading, I could practically hear the author begging me to open up my heart to these women. Paternalistic, patronizing, and disempowering. This book made me sick to my stomach.
Profile Image for ONTD Feminism .
53 reviews59 followers
April 22, 2010
LJ user kissberrywish:

OMG. I can't even with this book. I've probably read it seven times. It's about a group of young trans girls of color living in L.A, told from the perspective of a lesbian woman who begins working at a school for LGBT youth. I related so much to the characters in this book, in a way that I never did with other trans narratives. It's pretty much "real talk", not a lot of sugarcoating and shows you what life is like for these women: homelessness, sex work, family rejection, violence, transition issues, etc. The one issue is that the narrator is kind of ham handed in her privilege sometimes, but overall its a kickass book.
Profile Image for Sumayyah.
Author 12 books58 followers
January 9, 2011
"Aside from some quibbles with definition of terms, pronoun usage, and the "white lesbian saves/helps/tells story of trans youth of color" thing, this is actually pretty good."

This was my initial reaction to this book. And while it held true throughout my reading of the text, I also grew to empathize, sympathize, and identify with the profiled young women.

Part memoir, part history lesson, part scientific explanation, part legal instruction, and part call-to-arms, this may not be the BEST book, but it's a great place to start. 4 stars for honesty.
Profile Image for DAISY READS HORROR.
961 reviews117 followers
February 24, 2012
Transparent is a very informative book on the Transgender Community. It was a very sad read overall. The author followed a few teenagers in the City of Los Angeles and wrote about their trials and tribulations with their sexuality and being accepted by society. These ladies lead very sad lives. Most, if not all are shunned out of their families lives and are homeless on the streets because their families don’t accept their sexuality. They grow up being confused and sad throughout puberty. Without the support from their family they turn to the dark side of the streets and prostitute themselves to make ends meet and survive. They can’t seem to hold down regular jobs because their legal Birth Certificates and Social Security Cards have their Male born names. They are discriminated upon in the workforce even though it is against the law. Many end up in Drag Houses and have Drag mothers who are sort of like a surrogate parent to them.

The saddest part was reading about the illegal activities they embark upon to achieve their perfect vision of sexuality to match how they feel inside. They turn to the “Black Market” to have Hormones injected into them. These Hormones often times are smuggled into the US from Tijuana, Mexico and are injected with syringes in an area of the body where muscle is found such as the buttocks. These Hormone injections lead to bumps throughout the area injected and look like skin bubbles. Some girls inject them on their face leaving it very swollen and bruised- looking for several weeks. These Hormones are injected so that they can have more feminine voices, grow breasts and stop facial hair from growing on their face. Another “Underground” epidemic that is occurring with this community is the illegal injections of Silicone. Silicone is now illegal in the United States because of all the medical health risks associated with this product. Infections are at a high level of occurrence with Silicone. Saline breast implants are now what is used in the US. However, many Transgenders’ are buying Silicone from the black market. Some of these transactions are taking place underneath our noses at local Swapmeets. Usually according to this book, they are sold by “Curaderos and Curaderas” which are “Botanical like Medicine People”, although they have no schooling in the Medical profession. The desperateness of these people makes them trust the Curaderos and Curaderas with their lives. Some of these Silicone injections in the breasts have been infected and there was one story in the book where a girl got an infection in her Silicone and Brown fluid started to ooze out. (Gross) There was even a story in the book about a “Doctor’s Wife” who would come down to Los Angeles from Florida and inject Silicone into these girls bodies for $200 a pop.

Another notable fact that was stated in this book was the Native American’s perception on Transgenders. According to this book when children or young teens are displaying signs that don’t follow their born sex, they are made to dance around a fire among the other tribal members where it is determined what genetic sex life they will live. In other words, if a young born male dances very feminine then he can live as a woman and be accepted in his tribe and can marry a man if he chooses.

I reccomend this book to anyone who has an open mind and believes in equality for everyone. It brings a lot of social issues to light that society doesn't want to accept, but that exists.
Profile Image for Elke.
90 reviews
April 15, 2007
i am totally impressed with how the author got involved in the lives of the teens she met. the book made me think about the coming of age experience of trans teens and how much harder their experience is when our society is so reliant on the gender binary as a means of organizing structures and support.

the book was well written and i highly recommend this to people who interact with children who might be different in the ways they express their gender identity. actually, i would recommend this to anyone who interact with children because it reminds you how important it is to show children and in my case students how much we care for them and how our love for them is unconditional and is not dependent on them following in line of preconceived notions of what their future should be like.
Profile Image for Mike.
489 reviews171 followers
May 6, 2017
This book has really not aged well - for better or worse, public perceptions of transness have changed dramatically since this was written, and almost all of the terminology Beam uses is hopelessly dated. (To give you an idea of how bad it is: the word 'cisgender' does not appear once in this book.) It's also badly organized, and on principle, I'm never going to love a book about POC communities written by a white person. Still, there are some interesting stories here, and it does a lot to document situations and communities that are largely missing from popular conception, or even mainstream queer theory. You do end up getting attached to a lot of the characters here, especially Christina, and toward the end, Beam does a pretty good job of shaping their stories into arcs that work for a book like this. This is a very problematic book, but not totally beyond redemption, and I can't think of anything else that discusses these topics, so I guess this is what I'm stuck with.
Profile Image for Mandy Johnson.
8 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2021
This book is incredible. Picked up on a whim, I could not put it down. So well written. A window into the heartbreaking world of trans kids in Los Angeles in the 2000s and their stories of navigating a world that largely refuses to accept individuals that don’t fit into archaic ideas of binary gender (actually “archaic peoples” were probably far more accepting of natural gender roles outside the Black and white male/female paradigm). Beam provides well thought, research-backed answers to questions I didn’t even know I had about the intricacies of trans folks’ lives. Her personal, deep experiences in the lives of these young women draw the reader into caring about their lives, and desperately hoping that they can beat the odds and find love and acceptance in life. Reading this book has shed light on aspects of trans life and opened my eyes to how to be a better ally. Here’s hoping that by now things are getting better for trans kids in the world…
208 reviews
December 10, 2018
Honestly, I really liked this book. I felt enthralled by every moment that Cris choose to write about with the transgender people in her life. I remember reading this probably about 9 years ago when I took it out from the library. Now, I got a severely cliff-noted version by the previous owner version that I managed to still read through. Truthfully, books like these, although they can be for transgender people to read about how its like in other locations, are more for allies and/or people who don't know much and want to know about transgender people. Definitely a book to read if you want a book that talks about it. It's just not a book that's worth holding onto for me.
Profile Image for Thomas Hood.
3 reviews
May 14, 2019
This book shows great understanding of the lives of teenagers experiencing gender confusion and living into a different gender. The author's sympathetic case studies of four young people provides a depth of understanding from the standpoint of one who had experienced some similar difficulties. Beam's skill as a writer makes the book very readable and enjoyable inspire of the deeply affecting difficulties experienced. I purchased a used copy that was in excellent condition, started reading and could not stop until I finished this vivid account of lives. Highly recommended to anyone interested in transgender/transsexual issues.
Profile Image for Mel.
529 reviews17 followers
March 9, 2019
For having been written in 2007, there are a lot of definitions that are highly inaccurate. I couldn't tell if these definitions were what the author constructed for the purpose of this informational biography, or if they were working off the definition of others.
109 reviews
November 21, 2020
Wonderfully written, and really helps the reader to see how difficult it is for young people to have productive lives if they are rejected by their families as teens (or even younger). By the end I felt like I really knew (and liked) the young trans people in this memoir.
Profile Image for Mary.
631 reviews
June 23, 2021
I thought I wanted to read this but when I got it, I realized I couldn't get into it. Maybe I'll pick it up again later in the summer.
Profile Image for Asher McCool.
84 reviews
July 13, 2021
Really enjoyed this one. It's old, and far from perfect, but Cris Bream loves these girls fiercely, and accepts their criticism with more grace than I've seen from most people by far.
1,838 reviews
August 19, 2015
A comprehensive, well researched and compassionate look at transgender youth, their lives on the street, and the challenges they face. Beam, a writer, informally taught at Eagles Academy a makeshift school for transgender kids. With the kids they created a magazine called Out & About. She became invested in a number of the kids and researched their journey.
I didn't know much about the transgender world and learned a lot from this book. The main cities for transgender youth are LA, SF and NYC. The youth are often adopted by a drag mother or father who is slightly older than them and teaches them the tricks of the subculture. Many of the kids are homeless and truants. They have often been kicked out of their family homes. Many of them knew they were not of their biological/genital gender since they were small children. They purchase hormones and silicon (sometimes industrial grade) on the black-market and many terrible things can happen to their bodies due to no medical oversight nor regulation. There are few plastic surgeons who specialize in sex reassignment surgeries. It is easier to convert a male to a female than a female to a male. Belgium is the world expert in penis reconstruction. Harry Benjamin, a German, was the first researcher studying transgender trends around 1910-1930. The Nazis destroyed his body of work. The Harry Benjamin "Standards of Care" are still followed today. There are not enough group homes for transgender kids. If they are arrested and jailed, they are housed with their biological gender and the boys are often at great risk of harm.
Beam and her partner, Robin, tried to shelter and became guardians of Christina (Eduardo) but the system required them to be in a licensed foster care. The craziness and injustice of the system was brought forward through their experience. The "system" is not looking out for the benefit of these kids.

"Here I really started to cry, great heaves of rage and grief filling me up and shuddering out all the broken pieces of stories I'd been carrying around these past years. I cried die the parents who threw their kids out to the streets; I raged for the system that was blind to them too, the didn't have enough beds, that sent them to parole schools, that arrested children for having sex with grown men so they could eat food at night. I cried for black-market hormones and for HIV and for the fact that every single transkid I cared about had tried to commit suicide, and I cried for meth and crack and H and smack and crank, and I cried that gender was first more crucial and then more meaningless than I ever thought it could be because really the only vital life force is love and that seemed to be what was in such short supply to begin with."
Profile Image for Isaiah.
Author 1 book77 followers
February 20, 2023
To see more reviews check out MI Book Reviews.

This is one of the books I have been longing to read since I was let loose in a bookstore with no supervision. It did not live up to the hype I had created for it in my mind. It was generally dull, but there were many stories that were interesting in it. It failed to capture my attention for large sections at a time.

I have many issues with the book such as saying it is about transgender teens when it barely mentions anything to do with transgender males (female to males, drag kings, etc). Instead it focuses almost exclusively on the author and young transsexual women. The word choice felt misleading as I was expecting some transgender male characters to appear, but yet again trans women were seen as the main source of transgender.

I felt like I know more about the author and her emotional issues over her childhood than I know about transgender teens after reading this book. This is not a bad thing, but it was not what I was expecting. I was more interested in the author than I was in the teens so this focus was the highlight of the book for me.

I was greatly upset that the author chose to focus on trans women that prostituted and did copious amounts of drugs as these are large stereotypes of the community. I can see why she would focus on these women as they were the ones she was closest to, but again it didn’t differentiate between trans women that did prostitute and those who didn’t. Instead I felt like the author thought it was normal behavior for all trans women to do this.

This book was so close to being a book that was good. Every so often the author would pipe in some facts that supported what she was saying or went against a belief she had. It made the book more than a memoir or a biography instead it started to lean the book toward stand point theory. It did not reach that status, but it was not a badly written book or one that should be mocked. However I think that the author could have made more of an impact on the world by doing newspaper or magazine articles instead of making a book. The book is great, but it does not seem like the most effective way to help the teens the author swears to love like family.
Profile Image for Hillary.
382 reviews19 followers
September 15, 2014
Engrossing narrative non-fiction in which the author began by volunteering to teach at an alternative school for LGBT homeless youth while her partner was in grad school in Los Angeles. Her journey evolved in to her getting to know and, with a few, becoming more involved in the lives of 6 or so transgender women (most homeless transgender persons are women and not men, which doesn't come as much of a surprise, and is one of many subjects delved in to in a thoughtful and well-researched manner).

Beam does an excellent job of weaving her subjects' lives with well-researched material about all the collateral issues that surround being homeless and transgender (including drug addiction, prostitution, having transgender mentors, violent crime, the struggle to finish high school, among other things). She's a character in her narrative, but not in a way that feels distasteful or not journalistic, but because she as a journalist plays a role in the narrative of her subjects.

She does such an fantastic job of portraying her subjects both honestly and yet with empathy, showing them as human, frail and a product of their environments. I was really impressed and engaged throughout the book, with the subject matter as well as the subject.

Though it is entirely gritty, dark and explicit, I think it has a place among both YA and Adult Transgender booklists alike, as transgender kids are in so many instances forced into homelessness at greater rates than lesbian or gay kids (which I get from cursory readings of the newspapers). So I think this book has a place in their lives, both in terms of a read alike for them in the vein of "A Boy Called It" and as a frank look at their potential struggles and victories.

While the events took place from 1998 to 2005, and the book was published in 2008, I think its still quite relevant in terms of advancements (or lack thereof) in transgender rights and societal treatment of transgender people.
383 reviews
February 14, 2021
Cris Beam is fast becoming one of my favorite nonfiction authors. I wanted to read about her foster parenting of Christina - which she briefly references in "To the End of June" - but the author's teaching and befriending of several teenage/young adult transgirls was excellent as well. As a civil rights attorney, I liked taking note of the things that have changed for the better since the book's 2007 publication (some laws in the prison, education, and housing contexts), although lots of hearts and minds have yet to change. The book is about a group of trans kids who - sometimes by choice but more often not - have to grow up without their biological families. Best quote: "[M]ost everyone I know ends up where they are because they're looking to answer some core question seeded in childhood, the question that shapes them and sets their bones for walking forward. If it's a hopeful question, like 'How can I live out my family's dreams?' their lives will be hopeful ones.... But if it's a bad question, their life will be hard." (P.270)
Profile Image for Jill.
880 reviews14 followers
October 5, 2014
This book is part memoir, part investigative journalism, part ethnographic study, and entirely amazing. I felt like I learned so much about the trans culture (or at least this one small part of it), though when I began I didn't consider myself uneducated. I guess I was! Or at least, I hadn't thought about it as deeply as Beam asked me to go. And I went there. Oh, I went there. And it was worth it.

If you liked this book, or like her writing style but not this topic, her book To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care is equally good. I wish she had an update on the lives of those she writes about in this book, because I want to know how they are doing now. I can't believe it's been so long since she wrote it, because it still seemed relevant.
Profile Image for Andrea Patrick.
776 reviews5 followers
September 30, 2009
I thought this was going to be about a family that included a kid that was transgender, but it's really about an out-of-work magazine writer who hung out a lot with "transgender girls", which are boys who more strongly identify with the female gender. There's hardly anything in it about girls who identify as male, so it felt a little one-sided.

It's not written well. There's a few pages about a situation going on in someone's life, then a few paragraphs thrown in that relate to how that issue was addressed in past cultures, or what other people do when confronted with the issue, etc. Lots of statistics thrown in, but not many citations. Yeah, there are endnotes, but still, it's apparent that this was written by a magazine writer, not an author.

For something a little similar, but better written, read Nora Vincent's book Self-Made Man.
Profile Image for Holly.
131 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2015
i decided to read this book after watching (and loving) the new series i am jazz on tlc. this was really eye opening and informative about transgender people and the things they go through. it's a little dated (i think transgender stuff is a little more towards the mainstream now than it was when this was written) but i really think it was a great book. there were mentions of gwen arujo (sp?) and i knew her story from watching the lifetime movie about her. so sad what happened to her. i really like how the author emphasized how the family element really makes a huge difference in the lives and outcomes of transgender individuals. i really hope that books like this one and shows like i am jazz help people to become more accepting of transgender people, especially if one of them is in their family. supportive and loving families are paramount!
Profile Image for Laura.
462 reviews
April 8, 2012
This is a great book on a woman's experiences involving some transgendered youth she meets as a teacher at an alternative school for kids in Los Angeles. This story follows her real life journey with a few of these youth. As well as the story, the author has also done research and given facts into the reality of a lot of transgender youth and the amount of difficulties they experience in day to day life and the dangers that many of these youth face on an ongoing basis. It is also a story of hope and out of the enormous amounts of pain these youth carry that growth and positivity can come. It is an eye opening and informative book without being dry and researchy.
Profile Image for Miriasha.
182 reviews30 followers
June 11, 2014
Although some parts made me uncomfortable (the author uses the girls' birth names too much for my liking, although only when describing their past) this book was overall amazing and extremely informative.
Obviously, this book is not a comprehensive picture of trans* people's experiences, but that's part of why I loved it. Instead of trying to make generalizations, it focused on four women that the author knows very personally.
I fell in love with all of them and I think that the author did an excellent job of shifting the focus from herself onto the girls that the book is really about.

(PS, Foxxjazell's music can be found here! http://www.foxxjazellmusic.com/#!musi... )
Profile Image for Summer.
1 review
December 23, 2008
I finally was able to read this book, which I picked up again to find some excerpts to have my class read. The author is a writer, mainly for magazines I believe, and the chapters can read as separate pieces at times, as she repeats things that don't need to be mentioned again, or wouldn't be in most books. But the writing is good and Beam gives the reader a very personal look at the lives of the transgender teens she meets in LA. Anyone who thinks transgender people are freaks or unnatural should read this book, it might set them straight.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,176 reviews10 followers
December 23, 2008
This is a very well done book. If you have any interest in learning about transgender youth culture, and/or transgender teens of color, or being a youth of color this is very informative. There are many issues at intersection here, youth rights, poverty, tension between generations in immigrant culture, drugs, queerness, beauty, gender, education etc. Written by a queer woman who taught, advocated for, and be-freinded several poor, trans-gender teens of color living in group homes or on the streets in Los Angeles.
Profile Image for Marie Sophia.
24 reviews16 followers
November 21, 2009
Very good book. It shows a life that isn't often explored, that of poor and immigrant transgender teens. The issues explored are real and immediate. However, the story did seem to jump in some parts, there wasnt a coherent plot, more of a series of short stories.

For what it is- the first real exploration of this type - it is excellent.

I did like the fact that she pulled no punches in describing the life these teens lead.

To me it is a good thing to have someone describe the life these kids lead, more people need to hear about this.
Profile Image for Taylor Brown.
45 reviews
April 19, 2015
The beginning of this book sort of reads like the author is someone's parent who is trying to get into the world of a teenager and is fascinated by it but doesn't understand it and it gets a little weird. There are parts that seem like the stereotypical Ally who doesn't actually know what they're talking about. There are parts where the authors opinions do not match up with the world that they are trying to live in. However, it does tell a good story and I would say it's probably worth the read if you don't mind someone acting like they did an unimaginably amazing thing for volunteering.
Profile Image for Willow.
39 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2012
When I started reading this book I was worried about that it would emphasize stereotypes, as the first 20 pages or so did, but I've since completely changed my mind. I enjoyed it so much that I had a hard time putting it down. The author has done more than just describe her experiences, she's also included historical perspectives and scientific research (or emphasized the lack thereof), which I love her for. I got it from the library, but plan to buy it and read again.
Profile Image for Jesse.
738 reviews6 followers
September 26, 2007
This book is an extremely open and powerful look at a group of young transwomen in LA, and also a revealing and powerful look at the relationship between a young teacher and the young women she teaches, befriends, and parents. It is both hard and necessary to read - you feel both the pains of adolescence and the pains of social inequality as you look through the pages of the book. The author has a strong voice that navigates the reader through.
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