Book Review: Trans Like Me, by CN Lester

Book Review: <i>Trans Like Me</i>, by CN Lester
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Ever wondered what life is like for trans people? Trans Like Me will give you an insight into the trans experience, not by rummaging in the voyeuristic detail that delights the tabloids, but because CN Lester gives a frank account of their own life.

As well as being an LGBT and transgender rights activist, Lester is an academic, and a classical and alternative singer-songwriter. They share their everyday experiences of living and working to illustrate what everyday life is like living as a trans person, having to navigate between the prejudices and abuse, and being part of a supportive trans community.

Who knew that if you want to transition, there’s this jumping-through-hoops process called the Real Life Test? Who’s heard of the Orwellian sounding governmental Gender Recognition Committee?

Trans people, that’s who! Perhaps largely because – as Lester points out – there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Trans people and their lives are “far more likely to be written about [their italics] as an ‘issue’ than we are to be recording our experiences and insights as equal participants”.

The book goes a long way to changing that and setting the record straight, debunking pop science – “flawed methodology of all kinds, tiny sample sizes, incorrect forms of analysis, guesswork and unexamined bias” – to show how skewed and distorted our everyday assumptions about sex and gender really are.

Maybe it’s because, as a woman, I’ve been getting upset about these “studies” for decades. But how delighted was I to read what I’ve always suspected about male and female brains!

“Not only is there generally great overlap in ‘male’ and ‘female’ patterns, but also … Neuroscientists can’t even tell them apart at the individual level.”

Lester challenges the dull and limiting gender stereotypes that blight all our lives.

“We need to wake up to the fact that treating sex as a fixed and oppositional binary is not only a distortion of reality, but is doing active, extreme harm to a significant percentage of our population.”

Trans people – like so many other groups in the story of humankind – have been largely written out of history. Lester goes some way to rectify this (while also being irrepressibly hacked off about the film The Danish Girl, which I haven’t seen).

They detail stories and writings from the 1900s, and “other” genders featuring in the Byzantine Empire, as well as Ancient Greek and Roman culture, and the role of Castrati in European music.

“There have always been people and categories of people that have troubled and challenged a strict binary of male and female,” they write. And they ask, “What would it mean, to trans people now, if our history were common knowledge?”

All of this is interesting and informative, and alone makes Trans Like Me worth reading. But even better, the book is very readable even though the author’s an academic!

There were a few points at which I found the extent to which the word “which” was overused, very irritating! But Lester more than made up for that with their conversational tone, friendly, intimate voice, and moments of beautiful writing like their description of what body dysphoria feels like: “like missing a step in the dark … It’s not wanting a different body: it’s knowing how your body should be, and living with the continual pain of discord, as wrong as a broken bone”.

I hope to read more from CN Lester in the future – perhaps about trans history. And in the meantime very much recommend this book if you enjoy well researched non-fiction that marries facts and data with lived experience.

Trans Like Me is published by Virago.

Juno Baker

About Juno Baker

Juno Baker is a freelance writer, and editor of the University of Cambridge's Leading Change website. She has written articles for the Guardian and once interviewed Dolly Parton. Her fiction has been placed in several competitions – including Winchester Writers Festival, Pindrop, Short Fiction and Rubery – and was recently shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Short Story Prize. Her stories have also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently, Mslexia, Unthology and Litro.

Juno Baker is a freelance writer, and editor of the University of Cambridge's Leading Change website. She has written articles for the Guardian and once interviewed Dolly Parton. Her fiction has been placed in several competitions – including Winchester Writers Festival, Pindrop, Short Fiction and Rubery – and was recently shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Short Story Prize. Her stories have also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently, Mslexia, Unthology and Litro.

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