You’d think the pandemic would mean I have more time to read rather than less, right? But for some reason my reading speed has decreased rather than increased. I’m making more of a comeback, but it still took me a long time to read and review Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities. That shouldn’t reflect on the quality of this book. Similarly, I’m going to explain later that I’m kind of over these massive anthologies on subjects like this, but that isn’t a problem with this book specifically. This is a great anthology if indeed you want an anthology of this kind.
If you had asked me why I requested this from NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers, I would have said at the time, “Because it’s everyone’s responsibility to learn more about the diversity of gender identity, but it’s especially the responsibility of us cisgender people.” Haha. Oops. Since then I’ve realized that transgender better fits me as a label, and I’ve transitioned … yet I still think this was a good and important read. In particular, I identify firmly with a binary label of trans woman. Therefore, while I can definitely identify with some of the experiences of the contributors to this book, I really don’t know what it’s like to be a non-binary person. So this book was helpful both in terms of educating me about that experience and also in terms of helping me explore my quickly evolving gender identity.
This book has a lengthy roster of contributors and chapters, so I can’t possibly review them all. The editors in their foreword claim they’ve tried to bring in voices from around the world but correctly identify an overall bias towards UK writers. I don’t see that as a negative, but it’s something to be aware of. The editors also warn the reader that they’ve tried not to be too prescriptive in the language and ideas that their contributors use to discuss their experiences, so we might encounter languages or ideas that we find uncomfortable. Honestly, I didn’t see much of that—maybe my reading wasn’t as thorough as it could have been? But it definitely didn’t make me grimace the way To My Trans Sisters did with regards to the inclusion of certain contributors.
Non-Binary Lives lives up to its subtitle: it definitely focuses stories about intersections of identity. I was most fascinated by the chapters where people discuss how being non-binary related to their religion. I’m an atheist, so I haven’t had to consider my transition within the scope of any organized religious beliefs. While I didn’t naively believe that religions are always closed to trans and gender-noncomforming people, I’m glad that this book helped me understand the complexity of this experience. Some religious communities are very progressive and open-minded; others are predictably less so. The struggles that some of these contributors relate, and the joys that they or other contributors eventually reaped, make this book worthwhile for trans and cis readers alike.
I struggled with this book for so long less because of the quality of book and more because of my own waning interest in massive anthologies of trans voices. I see the appeal, the logic behind wanting to boost more than one voice, especially from people who don’t have the desire or platform to publish an entire book of their own. Nevertheless, I think what this book helped me discover is that I’m burnt out on these soundbite-style explorations of identity. I crave meaty memoirs of trans experiences, even if that means I’ll be self-selecting for trans people who have the education and opportunity and desire to write such things. I need the deep dive rather than the survey of the field. For now.