Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or otherwise acquired during the week. Unfortunately, I don’t have any new books to write about this week–mostly because I’m knee-deep in finishing my final semester of undergrad–so I hope you’ll join me for a brief, nerdy interlude.
When I started college in fall 2014, I was planning to be an English major with a journalism focus, but I was also having serious doubts about the whole thing, since health crises in my teens that had left me convinced I would never be able to write for a career. Fortunately for me, I stumbled into another program at my university that turned out to be a much better fit: public health sciences.
Studying public health was a welcome distraction from my writer’s block, and also gave me excellent opportunities to strengthen my research and technical writing skills (and academese-reading skills, too). I ended up unofficially specializing in the social determinants of health, especially issues of gender, sexual orientation, and disability, issues that are relevant to my life and to the lives of those around me and that certainly enrich my writing today.
Thankfully, my writing ability didn’t leave me after all, and I’ll be freelancing full-time starting in January. But I’ve learned a whole lot over the course of my public health major, and thought I’d highlight a few books that I’ve read for class and loved over the past 3.5 years.
Welcome to Friday Bookbag: Textbook Edition!
Becoming a Visible Man by Jamison Green
Written by a leading activist in the transgender movement, Becoming a Visible Man is an artful and compelling inquiry into the politics of gender. Jamison Green combines candid autobiography with informed analysis to offer unique insight into the multiple challenges of the female-to-male transsexual experience, ranging from encounters with prejudice and strained relationships with family to the development of an FTM community and the realities of surgical sex reassignment.
Class I read it for: Sociology of Gender
Why I loved it: Green is a professional writer as well as an activist, and this gripping, highly readable book definitely bears that out. Because of today’s shifting gender landscape, some of the language Green uses is already outdated, particularly his use of the terms “transsexual” and “FTM” (female-to-male), both of which are falling out of use–but it doesn’t reduce the power of his narrative. My favorite part of the book is its first chapter, wherein Green recounts asking a roomful of students how, exactly, they know what gender they are. It’s a clever and important question we could all stand to ask ourselves. Green is an icon in the transgender community for a reason, and if you’re looking for insight or just a good book, I highly recommend Becoming a Visible Man.
Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C. J. Pascoe
High school and the difficult terrain of sexuality and gender identity are brilliantly explored in this smart, incisive ethnography. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse working-class high school, Dude, You’re a Fag sheds new light on masculinity both as a field of meaning and as a set of social practices. C. J. Pascoe’s unorthodox approach analyzes masculinity as not only a gendered process but also a sexual one. She demonstrates how the “specter of the fag” becomes a disciplinary mechanism for regulating heterosexual as well as homosexual boys and how the “fag discourse” is as much tied to gender as it is to sexuality.
Class I read it for: Sociology of Gender
Why I loved it: Pascoe’s ethnography of a high school is raw and even painful (as its title might suggest). Especially in our current climate of sexual assault and harassment scandals, this book also feels necessary–it really gets to the roots of why sexism is so endemic and insidious by exploring how it is constantly enforced in school systems. Additionally, If you read or write YA at all, you’ll appreciate this nonfiction account of how awful high school can be (and the glimmers of hope at its margins).
Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America by Leslie J. Reagan
Dangerous Pregnancies tells the largely forgotten story of the German measles epidemic of the early 1960s and how it created national anxiety about dying, disabled, and “dangerous” babies. This epidemic would ultimately transform abortion politics, produce new science, and help build two of the most enduring social movements of the late twentieth century–the reproductive rights and the disability rights movements. At most a minor rash and fever for women, German measles (also known as rubella), if contracted during pregnancy, could result in miscarriages, infant deaths, and serious birth defects in the newborn. Award-winning writer Leslie J. Reagan chronicles for the first time the discoveries and dilemmas of this disease in a book full of intimate stories–including riveting courtroom testimony, secret investigations of women and doctors for abortion, and startling media portraits of children with disabilities. In exploring a disease that changed America, Dangerous Pregnancies powerfully illuminates social movements that still shape individual lives, pregnancy, medicine, law, and politics.
Class I read it for: My independent study researching the relationships between rubella, Zika virus, motherhood, and disability.
Why I loved it: I find the history of medicine–particularly the histories we’ve forgotten–fascinating. When I first read this book in the midst of the Zika crisis, it was impossible to miss the connections between rubella outbreaks fifty years ago and the current struggles that public health officials and everyday people in Zika-affected areas are facing now. The collision of those two ideas resulted in my undergraduate research focus and, honestly, my entire career focus on the intimate connections between motherhood and disability. I can’t recommend this book more highly if you’re interested in the history of disability, abortion, and the gendered structures of the modern medical system.
Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary edited by Morty Diamond
Exploring the crossroads of gender and sexuality, Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary offers unusually engaging narratives that create a raw and honest depiction of dating, sex, love, and relationships among members of the gender variant community. FTM, MTF, thirdgender, genderqueer, and other non-traditional identities beyond the gender binary of traditional male and female are included in this often heartwarming, occasionally heartbreaking, always heartfelt groundbreaking anthology. From monogamous love and marriage to anonymous sex and one-night hook-ups (and everything in between), these stories offer readers insight into the precarious emotional and practical mechanics of intimacy among gender-variant experiences.
Class I read it for: Sex and Sexuality: An American Perspective
Why I loved it: As transgender people, particularly trans women, face higher-than-ever rates of murder and assault, this book, full of essays by trans people writing about their messy, difficult, joyful, and diverse experiences is a breath of fresh air. The writings in this book range from academic to informal (and are all extremely personal), and I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the transgender community, and–cliché as it may be for me to say–learning more about themselves. The stories here are honest and lovely, and it’s a just-plain-great book of essays in addition to being an informative academic text.
Have you read any of the books here (for class or otherwise)? Did you have your own college textbooks that were surprisingly awesome? Let me know in the comments and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!
I read all of these books for class (either textbook or library copies) and was not compensated in any way for these mini-reviews.