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New trans-themed books dispels common myths, misunderstandings

There’s a lot of education as well as food for thought inside this book, for those who’ve transitioned as well as those who are pondering it and for their loved ones

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transgender book, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Beacon Press)

“‘You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!’ And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People” 
 
By Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs
 
Beacon Press
 
$16
 
182 pages

How does that work?

When you were little and that question arose, you simply took things apart, but that didn’t always work so well. In “‘You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!’” by Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs, it’s time for a different way of seeing things.

One million people.

That’s approximately how many transgender individuals live in the U.S. “Chances are,” say the authors, “you’ve met one (or more) of them,” and you didn’t even realize it. So why do many people think they don’t know anyone who’s transgender?

The answer goes back to a 1960s-era estimate that didn’t take race or economics into account, and that may still lead to myths and wrong assumptions. Misunderstandings happen because of that old study, lines blur and, “It’s crucial to ask ourselves why it bothers us so much.”

It’s a myth to believe that any single thing can define a “trans” person, say the authors. Each individual decides on who they are or will be, what they’ll be called, whether to have surgery and how they’ll dress. And no, you cannot ask what’s in their pants, but you can respectfully inquire about preferred pronouns.

The sexuality of a transgender individual may be complex, say the authors, or it may be a fluid process filled with surprises, but transitioning isn’t a way to “trick” anyone into anything. Disclosure to friends, family and potential mates is likewise not easily defined, so it’s best left to the individual. Obviously, none of this is easy.

Trans people have been around for centuries and were at times revered in various cultures throughout history. They are not “broken” or “trapped in the wrong body” and they do not need to be “fixed.” They’ve gone through many steps to transition and the vast majority will not have regrets for it. And using “safety” as an argument for denying them bathroom usage is incorrect, unless you’re talking “safety” for the trans individual.

Questions. You’ve got a zillion of them and, especially if you’re transitioning or thinking about it, so do your friends and family. “’You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!’” can answer 20 of them.

Beginning at the basics with “Identity,” authors Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs take the most common lore about the “T” in LGBT and gently correct any wrong beliefs that may be lurking in readers’ minds. That’s a good start, but there were times when the authors seemed too nice; more adamant language could have been appropriate.

Even so, there’s a good sense of mind-easing in most cases here, followed by a carefully measured tone. At some point, then, and no pun intended, this book transitions more toward gender-nonconforming readers and less for cisgender folks, allowing the latter even better insight.

There’s a lot of education as well as food for thought inside this book, for those who’ve transitioned as well as those who are pondering it and for their loved ones. If you need something to help set the naysayers right, “’You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!’” will work.

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New Isherwood biography an insightful read

An honest, sympathetic look at prolific writer’s life and work

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'Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out' (Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

‘Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out’
By Katherine Bucknell
c.2024, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$45/864 pages

“Christopher Isherwood: Inside Out” is an insightful biography of the prolific English writer, author of “Goodbye to Berlin” (the inspiration behind “Cabaret”), “A Single Man,” and “Christopher and His Kind,” among others. Katherine Bucknell, director of the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, as well as editor of several collections of Isherwood’s diaries and letters, draws on his letters, journals, creative work, and interviews to build an extensive look at this talented writer.

Isherwood was born in 1904 to landed gentry, with properties, a large house, and servants. His father was in the British Army and the family moved around for a while, including a stint in Ireland. His father went to fight in World War I and died in France, leaving his mother to look after Isherwood and his younger brother. This clearly affected Isherwood, although he wouldn’t discuss it until much later. While this section of his childhood is important to Isherwood’s later development, the many details make for slow reading.

The book really picks up when Isherwood travels to Germany in 1929, where he fully embraced his sexuality. In Berlin, he first lived next door to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science, one of the first sexology research centers advocating for decriminalization of homosexuality. Isherwood met many young German men, falling in love with Heinz Neddermeyer, who he tried to help get out of the country as the Nazis gained power. His short novels “Mr. Norris Changes Trains” and “Goodbye to Berlin” are fictionalized versions of the people he met and his experiences there, although they don’t tell the whole truth about his sexual adventures.

Decades later, as the German translation of “Christopher and His Kind,” a nonfiction account of Isherwood’s time in Germany, was to appear, Neddermeyer, now with a family, wrote to Isherwood despairing that the book would out him. The translation wouldn’t be published until after Isherwood’s death.

Isherwood emigrated to America with his school friend, the poet W.H. Auden, in 1939. The two collaborated on several plays and covered Japan’s invasion of China, even sleeping together several times. This move, near the start of World War II, plus Isherwood’s pacifist refusal to fight, caused bitter feelings with some friends in England.

He settled in Los Angeles where he discovered the Vedanta Hindu-inspired philosophy. He translated the Bhagavad Gita with the religious leader Prabhavananda, who he deeply admired. Although Isherwood struggled to practice all of Vedanta’s teachings, including celibacy, the religion accepted him completely.

He also met Don Bachardy, with whom he’d spend the rest of his life. Thirty years younger than Isherwood, Bachardy shared with Bucknell the challenges in their relationship. While Isherwood encouraged him to study art in England, Bachardy had affairs there, as did Isherwood back in LA. In their letters, Isherwood was “Dobbin” while Bachardy was “Kitty.” Seeing their love grow and develop is one of this book’s pleasures.

Despite the biography’s length and slow start, it reveals an honest yet sympathetic look at Isherwood’s life and work. It should inspire readers to pick up his books, either again or for the first time.

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Books

New book explores ‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’

The benefits of coming out at work

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(Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling’
By Layla McCay
c.2024, Bloomsbury
$24/240 pages

You can see the CEO’s office from the outside of your workplace.

You’ve actually been in that office, so you know what it looks like inside, too. Big, expansive desk. Cushy, expensive chair. Ankle-deep carpet. The CEO got there through regular means over the course of his career – something you’d like to do, too. But as you know, and as in the new book, “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” by Layla McCay, you’ll have to take a different path.

Of all the thousands of board seats and C-suite occupiers in American businesses, only a very tiny number – less than one percent – are occupied by people who identify as LGBTQ. In London, says McCay, no one on the Financial Times Stock Exchange identifies as such. Just six of the world’s leaders, past or current, have come out as LGBTQ.

The reasons for this are many, from discomfort to a sense of a lack of safety or just plain mistrust. Employees often don’t talk about it and employers can’t or don’t ask, which can lead to a lot of issues that cis, heterosexual employees don’t have to think about.

LGBTQ employees make less money than their straight co-workers. They experience discrimination ranging from sexual violence on one end, to micro aggressions on the other. Discrimination can be found in educational settings, and networking events, in a lack of mentorship, and the feeling that one needs to “code-switch.” Even an overseas job offer can be complicated by identifying as LGBTQ.

And yet, says McCoy, there are benefits to coming out, including a sense of authenticity, and feeling as if a load has been removed from one’s shoulders.

If you are an employer, McCoy says, there are things you can do to help. Include LGBTQ people in your diversity programs at work. Insist on it for recruitment. Make sure your employees feel safe to be themselves. Make all policies inclusive, all the time, from the start. Doing so benefits your business. It helps your employees.

“It’s good for society.”

Pretty common sense stuff, no? Yeah, it is; most of what you’ll read inside “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling” is, in fact, very commonsensical. Moreover, if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer, you won’t find one new or radical thing in this book.

And yet, inside all the nothing-new, readers will generally find things they’ll appreciate. The statistics, for instance, that author Layla McCay offers would be helpful to cite when asking for a raise. It’s beneficial, for instance, to be reminded why you may want to come out at work or not. The advice on being and finding a mentor is gold. These things are presented through interviews from business leaders around the world, and readers will find comfort and wisdom in that. You’ll just have to wade through a lot of things you already know to get it, that’s all.

Is it worth it? That depends on your situation. You may find nothing in “Breaking the Rainbow Ceiling,” or it may help you raise the roof.

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Books

‘The Other Olympians’ explores the making of modern sports

New book highlights Fascism and queerness

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(Book cover image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

‘The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports’
By Michael Waters
c.2024, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$30/368 pages

He’s going to win.

It’s apparent: much as you’re trying, hard as you’re running, as much as your lungs burn, he’s ahead by two paces. You had a good start but he’s the better athlete. You know this now. He’s going to win this competition and you’re going to lose. But, as in the new book “The Other Olympians” by Michael Waters, there may be another outcome.

Young Zdnek Koubek avoided sports as much as possible.

Born nearly seven years before the creation of the Czechoslovakian state, he always understood that he was “different”: in school, he had a fierce reputation for fighting, but he couldn’t relate to rough-and-tumble male classmates or their games. The world of girls was also baffling to him, even though, “To the world, he was a girl.”

At eight years old, Koubek participated in his first organized sporting event, a sprint he lost by “a second” that he never forgot. Seething with years-long anger, “his contempt for sports only grew” as he matured but in the fall of 1927, he had a change of heart: he’d landed a ticket to a track and field sporting event, at which he noted how “free” it must feel to run.

“In the following months,” says Waters, “Koubek couldn’t get enough of track and field.” He began competing in – and winning – women’s events, unaware that ” he wasn’t alone” in his differences.

In the early 1930s, in fact, several world-class athletes were quietly questioning their own gender; meanwhile, coaches and second- and third-place finishers cried foul over losses to “manly” women. Some athletes, assigned as female at birth, “could not evade the gender anxieties of the era.” Others lost their chance to be an Olympic competitor due to politics, and some just quit.

For other athletes with Olympic dreams, the 1936 games loomed large as they rose to celebrity status. They did so, even though Adolph Hitler and his followers had “launched a campaign to crush Germany’s queer community.”

If a book starts out with a long list of acronyms, pay attention. Take that as a sign that you may be in for a deep look and some confusion.

Indeed, author Michael Waters seems to leave no pebble unturned in this story, which tends to drag sometimes. Readers of “The Other Olympians,” for example, may wonder why long pages are sometimes devoted to people who are never mentioned again in the narrative. Were those individuals imperative to the history here? You may never know.

And yet, there’s that depth.

Waters takes his audience back to a time when heterosexuality was the absolute norm and LGBTQ people were considered to be anomalous and intriguing. The turn-around from that perception doesn’t end well, and its causation feels particularly familiar here – in more ways than one.

This is probably not anyone’s true idea of a beach read; instead, it’s timely, relevant, serious and interesting – but only if you study it fully. Don’t, and you’ll be lost. With patience, though, “The Other Olympians” is a win-win kind of read.

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