She/He/They/Me by Robyn Ryle

robyn-ryleOne of the coolest things about She/He/They/Me is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” setup. You can read through the book following all sorts of gender paths, and there are a lot of interesting things to learn. Robyn Ryle calls out inequality and unfair treatment, how gender has been colonized, and she incorporates different beliefs surrounding gender among various cultures and throughout history. It’s super interesting stuff! You can tell she’s an ally who really and truly cares, and I enjoyed reading the book.

However, if you are not cisgender, you likely won’t be able to follow your own story without running into a dead end. For example, if you arrive at chapter 78, which is about an intersectional approach to gender, the only paths are “man” or “woman” of various ethnicities. If you’re nonbinary, for example, at this point you’re unable to continue the journey, because all the path available assume a cisgender readership. You’ll just have to read the book straight through, which is fine, but not nearly as fun.

If you read through as a trans woman, let’s say you get to sexuality and follow the path saying you are straight. That chapter (about being a straight woman) ends by saying finding someone to love will be much easier for you than it is for your lesbian counterparts. Which might be true for a straight cisgender woman, but what an inaccurate statement (sometimes dangerously so) for a straight trans woman. So that was disappointing.

The wording throughout the book is sometimes spot on, super respectful and inclusive, but other times it seemed forgetful, and that, in turn, felt exclusionary. There are many places where a gender binary is assumed, and it would have been just as easy to say “people” instead of “men and women”. Some chapters use cringy phrases like “born a man” or “biological woman”, but there are plenty of other places where she used “assigned male” or “assigned female”. I found myself wishing there was a note from the author laying out the language she was going to use, how she was going to define anatomy and why it would be done that way, and then used consistent language throughout the book.

That being said, I really love how the choices at the end of each chapter are written without language that insinuates choice. It was obvious the only choices here had to do with the adventure-oriented layout of the book, because every identity is worded with strength and confidence: You ARE, you IDENTIFY, you FEEL. You are following a path and listening to yourself, discovering who you are. That was pretty awesome.

So this definitely has an “okay, the author is cis” feel, there are times when it assumes a cis readership, and there are some cringy moments. Those stumbles need to be pointed out so trans and nonbinary readers have a heads up. Overall, though, it’s good. The spirit of the book fosters empathy and understanding, celebrates human diversity, and Robyn Ryle obviously wrote it with a lot of love. But the execution isn’t really there.

It’s usually better to pick up an #ownvoices title, though, so check out A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson if you’d like something short in comic format. Or, if you’re looking for something more meaty, get a copy of Trans Like Me by CN Lester.

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