Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition - Katie Rain Hill (with Ariel Schrag)

As a scholar working on young adult literature for and about transgender teens, I was beyond thrilled when a friend at Simon & Schuster informed me that two new memoirs were coming out from Arin Andrews and Katie Rain Hill (If you've read my review of Some Assembly Required already, I apologize for some repeats in the intro!). There is a history of memoir being used as a tool for self-expression, self-exploration, and a platform through which to inform a larger population, so to see two young people using just such a form to express themselves and engage young people in thinking more about gender and sexuality was a huge thrill.

When I get this excited, I inevitably start creating HUGE expectations in my head, and sometimes that means disappointment (until I remind myself that it was my own fault for creating expectations in the first place.) This, I am happy to say, is (much like Some Assembly Required) not one of those cases! 

Rethinking Normal, along with Andrews' Some Assembly Required, should be incorporated into as many high schools and gender studies classrooms as possible, as far as I'm concerned, and they will make intriguing comparison pieces with memoirs of transgender individuals from decades earlier, especially looking at changes in social acceptance and perception. And on that note, I will move forward with my review of Hill's memoir!

Rethinking Normal is very eloquent, much like Some Assembly Required. What is incredible about these two memoirs is the way in which they are both completely separate and yet they both overlap in order to bring together the time of life in which they are dating one another. And although they had their differences in life, I love the ways in which each memoir manages to reveal how both Arin and Katie help(ed) each other to move forward in their own respective journeys to self-fulfillment.
I didn't want boys to like me back as a boy. I wanted them to like me as a girl. The thought of a boy liking me as a boy was horrifying. The thought made me feel disgusted, panicked, and trapped. It was as if a guy liking me as a guy would affirm my identity as male—which I knew I wasn't. But because I didn't know transgenderism existed, "gay" was the only word I had to describe what made me feel different. One night I decided to tell my mom.
 Though I am not entirely enamoured with the timeline of this piece (Hill's memoir is slightly less straightforward than Andrews'), but overall, Rethinking Normal is beautifully rendered in terms of the style of writing and the narrative arc. I am very much excited to see this book get out into the world. Hill's insights into the transgender experience are poignant and necessary for a cisgender/straight-privileged world!
Often trans narratives might focus on how--in the case of male-to-female, for instance--a child born male loved pink, or only wanted to play house, and this is used to is used to ' prove' the child's true female identity. I want to be clear that my love of stereotypical girl toys, such as my Easy-Bake oven or my baby doll that magically looked like it was actually drinking milk, is not what makes me female. Frankly, I think all little boys would like playing house and dress-up if they gave it a shot.
Also like Some Assembly Required, I appreciate Hill's working her history within religion to understand the relationship between forms of Christianity and sexuality/transgenderism. Hill's insights into life, relationships, and connections between family, friends, and congregation are not only important to understanding one's own sexual/gender orientation, but also the incredible connections with sexual and self-identity fulfillment. I love the complexity and nuance found throughout this book and its corresponding memoir by Arin Andrews.

Hearing so much about aspects of the physical, psychological, and emotional transition was both enlightening and incredibly helpful in my own understanding of the young adult transgender experience. Katie's expressiveness regarding her life experiences are raw, poignant, and totally relatable, even in my own cisgender experience.

I not only want to thank Katie Hill, but also Simon & Schuster for the work done on these trans youth memoirs. I can't wait to share these even more with the youth population in the lower mainland of British Columbia and throughout North America! These are such important texts and I am extremely excited to see them being published this year!!

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out September 30, 2014)


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