Thank you, NetGalley for giving me access me to an eBook copy of Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender by Dr. Kit Heyam for free in exchange for an honest review.
Please don’t be put off by how academic this book sounds just like Beyond Pronouns: The Essential Guide for Parents of Trans Children by Tammy Plunkett this book is well researched, and the writing comes across as introductory yet engaging. The book focuses on how people throughout history have navigated gender.
Before We Were Trans serves can be read as an
introduction to the history of gender and how broad trans history is. Each
chapter focuses on a particular theme and acts as an introduction to that area
of history without information dumping on the reader. Some of the chapters in
this book look at the overlap between trans history and other histories,
particularly the history of sexuality, intersex history, and the history of
Before We Were Trans is sadly not always butterflies and rainbows but that’s the reality of life. Dr. Heyam doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities that these people have faced by not being afraid to highlighting the tragic very truth. The grim reality of how society has treated trans and non-conforming gender people throughout history should make you uncomfortable to a degree. Dr. Heyam writes these bleak sections with an important level of respect and empathy in a way that can only be seen as an acknowledgement of a crucial but cruel truth. Not something done to offend or add shock value to a book.
Fun fact of the day despite the modern narrative that non-conforming
gender people are not a new phenomenon, history shows this isn’t some new trend as
some people would like you believe. In fact, anthropologists have documented
cultures around the world that acknowledge more than two genders in fact I
think we’re one of the few cultures who only have two. There are even examples
going back as far as 3,000 years of cultures having more than two genders. I
found the chapters revealing the treatment of Indigenous and Two-spirit
populations upsetting I knew a little, but it was still a slight shock. However,
I did end up doing my own research to further the knowledge I already had.
There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, it’s full of interesting stories about specific people and communities and cultures from around the world and different time periods. This might be the geek in me but it’s nice to see a bibliography which gives you the option to follow up and investigate the topics covered in this book.