Stories that Must Be Told: Transparent

First, Lawrence King, then Simmie Williams, Jr., gender-nonconforming teens shot to death in the last three weeks. Both shootings appear to be hate crimes. Yet Lawrence King was not the first, as the long list of names honored during the Transgender Day of Remembrance and in the Wikipedia entry for Violence Against LGBT People makes clear.

Gender variance of any sort still scares the bleep out of many, and is often a motivating factor in hate crimes, but we as a society still can’t get our heads around it enough to pass the legislation needed for effective deterrence. Instead, we worry that two loving penguin fathers will teach children the wrong lessons. I wonder if there have been more person-hours spent trying to ban Tango than figuring out effective ways to teach tolerance in schools. For our children’s sake, I hope not.

TransparentIt is with all this in mind that I recommend Transparent, Cris Beam’s gripping book on transgender teens. It first came out last year, but is just now out in paperback. Part memoir, part investigative reporting, and part passionate advocacy, the work is a brilliant blend of all three. In it, Beam relates the stories of four homeless transgender teens she first met while teaching at a school for LGBT youth in LA. One of them, Christine, became her foster child.

Theirs are not happy stories. Living on the streets, dealing with authorities and parents who don’t understand them, while they struggle to understand themselves, these teens have seen the worst of our country’s fear of those who are different. At the same time, they display the usual teen anxieties about friends, relationships, and futures. Their courage and resourcefulness shine through, however. Although their lives are woven with tragedy, they have found ways to survive.

Beam is clear that she is only showing one small slice of the transgender community. It is an important one, however, for these are America’s children, as much as any others. Beam conveys the need for greater understanding and resources to help these teens and others like them, without ever preaching. She shows us, rather than berates us, but her call is stronger for it. At a time when the need for unity among L, G, B, and T is greater than ever, and when Lawrence King and Simmie Williams, Jr. paid the price for our societal ignorance of gender variance, Transparent is vital reading for parents, educators, advocates, and all those who care about equality, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.