Five Questions With: The GENDER Book’s Creative Team

Three years ago, Mel, Robin, and Jay noticed a ton of discrimination and just a general lack of education around gender. They asked themselves “why isn’t there just a book you can hand your therapist and say here, read page 29 and you will understand, see you next week.”  They thought there should be a resource you can read in one sitting. It should be illustrated and as fun as a kid’s book while going into some real depth and true stories. The book should help people come out and educate their friends and family. Surely a book like that exists, right? Except it didn’t, so they made one: it’s called The GENDER Book, and it has a Kickstarter.

1) You explain a little about why the book came into existence – as that thing you could hand to a therapist & say, “see page 42”. Do you feel like it turned out to be that book?

Mel- Absolutely! It’s more a tool you carry around in your back pocket than a read-it-once-and-forget-it kind of book. We’ve found so many creative ways to use it for education, but my favorite is just like you mentioned- using it as a shortcut to a mutual understanding. Once we agree on the basic terms, we can talk about all the fun, juicy, personal stuff. That’s the real beauty and value in a book like this to me. It takes the burden off the trans* community to do the 101 educating work over and over again. Instead, they can use this as a fun, easy to understand primer to elevate the discussion and get past those initial hiccups to understanding so that real connection can happen.

Robin- Yes that and MORE! Plenty of people who know a lot about gender have read the book and learned something they didn’t know. Since we have leaders using the book’s images for their presentations on gender or allyship, they have come back to us and said that many people commented on they hadn’t seen the common thread through the spectrum of gender.. they are used to their boxes.. but really gender can be fluid not just in presentation but how community works together and that is a living educational experience many people haven’t had but we have here in Houston

Jay – the GENDER book has proven to be a definite starting point for those kinds of clinical conversations, which is what our intention always was: to generate an accessible primer that could leave folks with the basics to do their own personal work of data gathering to then connect through conversations that once may have been difficult to have.

2) Can you give me a partial list of identities that you cover? Were there any you hadn’t heard of before you started working on it?

Mel- Oh, absolutely. We are continually finding new terms in our research. Ultimately, there are as many gender identities on this planet as there are people; we’re all unique. But here are just a few of the words we cover that many people share:

Trans man, trans woman, genderqueer, bigender, agender, neutrois, transgenderist, crossdresser, butch, sissy, drag king, drag queen, intergender, pangender, genderfluid, polygender, third gender, and non-binary.

There’s also a whole host of non-Western identities mentioned that we invite our readers to research in the broader world of gender. There’s always more to learn and explore!

Robin- The whole project for us has been a learning experience mainly because the book is based on a common definition of gender and then people’s real life stories… so how I have experienced my gender in my sum of communities will be really different than someone else in other communities. We prioritized inclusion, and one of the biggest issue was the more we learned it was hard to keep the book at a 101 level!

Jay – what they said. J It has been so cool to learn more about the nuances of transgender experience than I ever thought possible, and folks are still sharing with us to this day.  I learned the term neutrois on this journey. We are each other’s best teachers when we take the time to empathically and generously listen to each other’s real lived experiences.

3) Was there anything in particular it was hard to create a visual for?

Mel- Oh, that’s a great question! You know, it’s funny. The visuals often live in my head. I’m such a visual person, we made this book backwards- I drew all the pictures first and we wrote the text second. So most were second-nature to me. When I think of a concept, I see it in infographics. I’m just wired that way.

But, we did struggle a long time with the “Gender Planet” page to illustrate the difference between the transgender and cisgender concepts, but I think it ended up being one of the most distinctive and successful of our pages. We started out thinking of maybe a yin/yang symbol in blue and pink, but that was too culturally appropriative. And then we thought about all the in between, and all the other colors and complexities we wanted to cover. I remember very clearly making that page- Jay and I were sitting at the big wooden kitchen table at my family’s farm. And then it struck us, we’d been using the metaphor all along- there’s a whole world of gender! Once we got the right metaphor, the visual came easily.

Jay – Yes, I’d say that was the most difficult – from a yin-yang to two sides of a river, we were hesitant to recreate another binary. The world of gender was fun to generate, as it creates gender as a part of your worldly experience that can be fixed or fluid, depending on the person. The image gives your gender identity a figurative place to stand.

Robin: I have always thought of gender and sexuality as issues every human deals with, and we thought it was important to help people see they’re not the same thing. Uncollapsing gender as who you see yourself as and sexuality as who you see yourself with was an interesting concept to discuss.

4) If there was one other book about gender each of you would recommend in addition to the Gender Book, what would it be? Why?

Mel: Kate Bornstein has always been a personal gender hero of mine, so I’d suggest her updated gender workbook. It’s fabulous if you’re going through the process of exploring your own gender.

If you’re already comfortable in your gender and want to go deeper into the social justice ramifications of it, pick up anything by Julia Serano.

Robin: I am someone who appreciates the writing behind performance – hearing Scott Turner Schofield, D’Lo, Eddie Izzard, Rye Silverman, Cameron Esposito and countless others offers me interactions with community needs and questions in a fun, interactive way. Their no-nonsense, bold, and inspired performances and grassroots community-building inspires me to find other artists doing live work.

Jay – That’s really tough!  Some first cage-rattling books about gender include Read My Lips by Riki Wilchins, Gender Outlaws edited by K. Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman, and Transgender History by Susan Stryker.

5) There’s almost always a moment after you finish a book where you realize something you left out. What was it?

Mel- Oh, we’re still adding pages (laughs). A couple late-additions that almost didn’t make it were the full-length surveys, a pull-out shareable copy of the booklet, and an interactive puzzle and game page. Oh, and the “About the creators” page – total last minute addition. I’ll let you know what else we forgot once the file goes off to the presses. J

Robin- I have been the wellness coach so more creative get-aways, more community circles, more surveys taken. We have been exploring the gender and sexuality spectrum for years, and our passion for this project will not stop. But we had to give the book a deadline so the people who had been waiting since day one were not left empty-handed. This project feels like more than a book – it’s a piece of art one page at a time, and we could have probably keep working on it forever. This is a happy medium. It’s time for everyone to love it in its fullness which means everything that’s in it and everything that could still be added; but here’s where the conversations can begin and community can take it from here.

Jay – Language is alive and culturally relevant and changes over time; if there were anything we could add to a resource like the GENDER book to create a context of timelessness, we would have added it. And additional resources would have added a million more pages to the book – trust that our website will continue to be beefy. J