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Symptoms of Being Human
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Book of the Month > July 2016 - BotM - LBTQ+ MC - "Symptoms of Being Human" *spoilers*

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Kaje Harper | 16771 comments This month's LBTQ+ MC Book of the Month is Symptoms of Being Human Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin by Jeff Garvin

This is the place to discuss the book or related topics and post reviews. You may comment at any time from today onward, at your own pace. This thread may therefore contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book yet, proceed at your own risk.

One option you may choose in commenting is putting discussion of major spoilers into a tag (view spoiler) - this is helpful for those who have not finished the book, although it is not required. To do this put <*spoiler> before the material you wish to hide, and <*/spoiler> afterward, but with the asterisks removed.

I look forward to discussing this book with the group.


Brooklyn (raynebair) I read this book last month and it was so good!! I absolutely loved it. I was so impressed with the author's ability to tell the story without swaying Riley's physical gender either way.


Kaje Harper | 16771 comments Looking forward to this one! (I'm reading the "Gives Light" series, and am sucked into it now. But this is on my list for this month. )

It is cool to finally have books that take a different view of gender, after so long with really nothing much with even trans MCs (other than Luna) for young adult readers.


Bobby (bobbery) Just finished this! I actually read Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin right before this, and I thought it was interesting to note that Riley and Max (the intersex MC of Golden Boy), in addition to having some of the more underrepresented identities under the LGBT+ umbrella, both have fathers in politics and thus have to deal with media attention as well as just the social/familial effects of the gender stuff they're dealing with.


Kaje Harper | 16771 comments Interesting parallels. I'm still caught up in Gives Light, but hope to get to this one soon.


Bobby (bobbery) Gives Light isn't in my local library so I'm probably not going to be able to read it this month unfortunately.


Bobby (bobbery) Brooklyn wrote: "I read this book last month and it was so good!! I absolutely loved it. I was so impressed with the author's ability to tell the story without swaying Riley's physical gender either way."

While I certainly appreciate the author's choice to leave Riley's birth-assigned gender ambiguous (I don't think Riley is ever actually referred to by a pronoun in the book, but I don't quite have the skill to pull that off so I'm gonna use "they"), it felt really unrealistic at times. I mean, half the characters can't decide what they think Riley's sex is, when all they do is have short-ish hair and wear jeans and a t-shirt every day-- realistically, it should be pretty easy to tell which hormone's driving their puberty.


Kaje Harper | 16771 comments Depends - there are some teens who are quite androgenous, especially if its intentional. My younger kid gets both pronouns at different times from strangers. (Although yeah, people close to them would probably have a clue.) Sounds fascinating...


Alex (unsolicitednoob) | 15 comments I really liked this book. The only thing that really didn't tick was that it was very unrealistic in certain aspects. But if you take those small details out I think it was pretty good, even informative. I already knew most of the things I read, but something I really like about it is that if someone who doesn't know a thing about the matter picks it up, they won't really be so lost about the gender issue here. Also, in my opinion, the fact that Riley's assigned gender was never specified is a very big plus because it forces the reader to focus on Riley's gender identity over everything else. Not their biology, not their anatomy, not their gender assigned at birth; which gives a nice message: those things are not really important when in contrast with the person's identity.


Brooklyn (raynebair) I was appalled that the one one girl actually said she wanted to know what was between Riley's legs because she couldn't tell otherwise. As if that affected her life in any way.

They were so obsessed with Riley's gender. I couldn't understand why it mattered so much. But then, I'm a 40-something woman, so my understanding of a teenage mind is long gone.


message 11: by Kaje (last edited Jul 28, 2016 09:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kaje Harper | 16771 comments Most people want to put other people into familiar boxes and categories, to know how to react to them, especially in highschool. Riley even does it, as they look at the tables in the cafeteria and label them "The Elite", "Thrift Shop chic", "band table", senior AP students, student government people, cheerleaders, athletes... and Riley then has expectations about how they will react based on those categories. It's a natural way to reduce the complexity of dealing with our fellow humans, and gender has always been a basic part of that, especially in sex-focused teen years. (Boy = maybe flirt; girl = probably not interested.) LGBTQ upsets those easy assumptions and that upsets people who don't like making an effort to step outside their narrow comfort zone.

Finished this one and I loved it. I thought it was very realistic, and plausible. My review :

I loved this story - there are not many books out there with genderfluid main characters, and finding one that is also a great story is delightful.

Riley is the teen child of a congressman, and they narrate this story of their life with a persuasive voice. (In fact the one criticism here would be that Riley is too talented with words to be a teenager, but in the pleasure of the story and the importance of the message, I was willing to see them as gifted, and eloquent, without damaging the image of them as teen, and vulnerable.) We never find out what Riley's assigned-at-birth gender was, and it's done naturally enough that it encourages us to accept Riley as moving around at the middle of the gender spectrum, one day, or one moment, more feminine, and at other times more masculine.

Riley opens the book in the closet to everyone except their therapist, and presenting as agender (androgynous look) because it is the one way to keep their gender dysphoria for getting triggered too hard. But staying in the middle is a constant nagging irritation - when Riley identifies as more female, she would like to be able to wear lipstick and a dress. When he feels more masculine, he would prefer to dress that way. But moving past the ambiguous center in either direction opens the door for people to notice, and then to mock or question a swing the other way. Riley's not ready to deal with that.

Riley's therapist has suggested two coping strategies. One, to write out their confusion and emotions and hopes and fears. The other to find a cause to work for, helping others, to move some of their focus off their own issues. Riley ends up combining both. First, they begin an online blog under the pseudonym Alix, where they finally put into words some of their feelings about their gender identity. Then, when a young trans girl posts a message asking for advice, Riley is pulled into the world of genderqueer support, of reactions, violence, opportunities and online community. It's not always an easy place to be.

Riley is starting a new school, as the book opens, after leaving the hostile environment of private Catholic school. They meet a couple of apparently-friendly classmates, and some who are hostile just because they can't put Riley easily into a neat little box of "girl" or "boy". But as long as Riley isn't out with their fluidity, they're not getting a reaction to their true self. They have to both doubt whether new friends would still support them, and worry that casual comments and low-level bullying will escalate. And yet, every day of not coming out adds a bit more dysphoria, and anxiety, and compromise, to how they are living their life.

I really liked that this book gave us a realistic, sympathetic, imperfect picture of a genderqueer teen. The secondary characters have a plausible range of reactions. The parents are nicely in the gray zone of loving but not understanding their child, and having comments and little moments that make Riley afraid of how they will react to the full truth. I really liked that Riley was in therapy, and had anxiety, and that the issues of gender dysphoria were not downplayed or made too melodramatic. The plot does hit a strong climax moment, but not one unusual for genderqueer teens, unfortunately. We humans have a strong streak of cruelty and rejection of those different from ourselves, and LGBTQ people, especially those on the gender spectrum, are far too often the targets.

I'd love to hand this book to teens, and family, who are trying to understand what it means when we say gender is not binary, but a spectrum. Although there are minor flaws, sometimes it moves slowly or repeats important thoughts, and the moment of drama is perhaps strong and scary (although very subtly written) for younger teens who identify with Riley, this book is hopeful and positive and useful. The story is for the most part slower and low key - not a book to read specifically for the drama, but a book about a journey to understanding and accepting yourself, and others. A story about taking control of your own life. That you cannot change how some people react to you, but what you do with your response to that, in your own life, is your choice. And how much it matters to have support. Riley is eloquent and silent, brave and afraid, anxious and positive, and someone I'd like you all to meet.


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