Cal's Reviews > Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
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bookshelves: fiction, ya-lit, queer-lit

The first thing you should know is that this is a book written in 1st person about the experience of being nonbinary, and the author is a cis man. What.

If you're not transgender, you will probably like this ~deep~ book. If you're trans, especially nb, it will probably just frustrate you or worse.

On one hand, it actually does represent some of the nonbinary perspective pretty decently. On the other hand, it was written by a cis guy, and it's not his place to write a book specifically about being transgender when he isn't. Also, there is this whole subplot about giving advice to trans kids. Even if its coming from a trans character, ultimately its coming from a cis guy who hasn't been there.

As other trans people in the comments have said, not knowing Riley's assigned birth gender and avoiding pronouns is a cute idea but definitely kills a giant piece of the story of how trans people interact with the world and contemplate themselves and their feelings, given that one's gender given at birth dictates so much of one's life unless they can pass otherwise.

Also I fail to see how looking super androgynous is at all a flaw for a genderfluid kid. It means that you will pass if you make the effort either way and isn't that the dream??? One most people aren't so lucky to be born with.

My biggest gripe about this book though is that Riley has to experience traumatic garbage in the process of coming out, and while that might be gripping for cishet people to read, it's not helpful at all for trans people to read. I think this book is written to trigger empathy from cis people a lot more than it is written for trans kids. Like, we know coming out is terrifying, the last thing we need to read is about someone getting assaulted in a back alley for being trans. We already know these things happen more than anyone else. It doesn't need to be in our fiction too. And I feel the presence of all this bullying and trans-triggered trauma is the biggest indicator that this is written by a cis guy.

I feel author omitted the less traumatic but very real frustrations almost every trans person experiences, like misgendering, self doubt, dealing with the gendered ways people treat you based on your birth gender...things that trans people could be helped by reading how main character positively handles those things.... in favor of huge traumatic events that break the main character and that only some trans people experience and no trans people actually want to read about in their fiction.

I know his heart was in the right place but I feel frustrated that a cis guy is getting the accolades for writing a so-called "groundbreaking" novel about our experience. Like, stay in your lane. I would absolutely love if authors of all stripes wrote nonbinary characters into their works, but writing a book about what its like to BE nonbinary is something people who don't identify that way shouldn't touch, and that goes for all minorities really. Include them in your writing, but don't try to explain the lived experience of what its like to be from that minority group.
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Reading Progress

March 17, 2017 – Shelved
March 17, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
April 9, 2017 – Shelved as: fiction
April 9, 2017 – Shelved as: ya-lit
April 9, 2017 – Shelved as: queer-lit
April 9, 2017 – Finished Reading

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