Book review: Before I Had the Words: On Being a Transgender Young Adult

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This memoir takes the reader back in the author’s life to a time when he wanted to be a boy when his name was Katherine and he was the only daughter of a couple in the middle of a divorce and the daughter of a mother who is fighting cancer.

As he approaches adolescence, he agonies about the change and he tells us:

I’d then have to take a huge risk with my body and safety in order to transition. And honestly, it might be super expensive and maybe I wouldn’t pass whatever “tests” they had, and then maybe I would have been better to go back to feeling like there were other girls who felt like how I did—felt like boys—but stuck it out and dealt with it.

At one point his father asks him why he just couldn’t be a very masculine lesbian. He has already been dating girls (lesbians) and has a whole string of them. When he announces that he is becoming a trans male, his lesbian girlfriend ends it with him. She tells him that as a lesbian she wants females.

He decides to make the complete change (dress stealth) as he starts his first year of college. Professors and administrative staff, despite the fact that he asks them to call him Skye and they say they will, ignore his requests, and rosters and grade sheets have his dead name, Katherine, which is announced several times by authority figures in classes. So, he is outed right away.

Skye deals with bullying and one horrible attack. He is in constant anxiety about which bathroom to use and finds himself feeling awkward in gym class. Getting his name legally changed was unnecessarily difficult. At one time his application is returned to him because he has written it in the wrong color of ink. But he keeps going through counseling, dealing with parents who eventually come around, a brother who constantly teases him, and to hormone shots and his top surgery. He starts posting his journey on YouTube and gets followers, although he has no idea how they find him.

A therapist tells him:

While some may think of this as a choice, it’s important to know that, like sexual orientation, it’s not. 

As time goes on, the reader becomes more attached to this character, this man who tells his story. Even if you aren’t or don’t know any transgendered people, this book is a clever education that illustrates every phase of Skye’s transition. In the end, the reader will respect his courage and maybe even love him a little.

Before I Had the Words: On Being a Transgender Young Adult, by Skylar Kergil. Skyhorse Publishing, Second edition 2021. P 288.

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