A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book
A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens.
Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.
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|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
I was lucky. When I was a kid my family introduced me to art, theater, and books. Dinner talk often centered around the idea of social justice for all. I listened—and wanted to know more. My dream, though, was to become a ballerina or a stage actress. After high school I moved to New York, where I majored in theater at New York University. Becoming a character in a play was so much fun. It was not that I didn’t like being me, I was simply curious to know what it was like to be someone else. Then my uncle bought a Leica camera, and my life changed. Together we began exploring the world through the lens of his camera. Somehow the combination of theater arts and photography helped me develop into a nonfiction author. Go figure.
Beyond Magenta brings together so many things that are deep inside my bones: social justice, photography, and interpreting the lives of diverse human beings. I’ve learned so much from the wonderful teens in my book. With their help, I continue to grow.
Read an Excerpt
Transgender Teens Speak Out
By Susan Kuklin
Candlewick PressCopyright © 2015 Susan Kuklin
All rights reserved.
The House of My Soul
When Jessy got his period, he was confused. He says, "It was, like, 'Oh-my-good-ness!' I cried to my mom: 'Why, why, why? Why am I a woman? I don't want this. I don't want to give birth to a child. I want kids, but I don't want to be the one giving birth. I don't need menstruation. Mom, I don't want this.'
"'You think I want it?' she said. 'Every woman deals with it. It's what makes you a woman.'
"And I was, like, 'Oh, God! Here we go.'"
I was never a person who said, "I hate my body." I just wanted it to fit more with what I felt inside. I ate right and treated my body with care because it's the house of my soul. I've always loved my body, and now I love it even more because it fits how I feel.
I've never been gay-bashed. No one has ever said really hurtful things to me. I've never experienced much disrespect from my peers. I think that's because I have a positive attitude. I've always been happy and bubbly, and I've never made people feel uncomfortable about who I am. My Facebook page says "male — so happy I'm taking T," so I'm out there. ("T" stands for testosterone, a male hormone.)
All in all, I had a fun childhood. I did a lot. I took music lessons — piano and guitar. I was in honors band, and I also played the saxophone. Everyone has bad times, sad times, and I have too, but mostly I'm the funny, loud, happy person in the room. I'm the one making jokes, playing pranks. Ask my advisor. Ask my friends.
My real name is Kamolchanok. It's a long name. I'm Thai. I'm from Bangkok. When I moved to the U.S. with my parents, they said, "No one's ever going to say your name properly, so let's just call you Jessica." I was okay with that when I was little.
I was always a tomboy, always the girl who played with boys. After a while, people said, "We're going to call you Jess. Jessy." I still use my real name on legal documents, but everybody knows me as Jessy.
I'm an only child, an only daughter. My parents call me their son now.
In the beginning ...
All the Girls Wore Dresses
When I was three or four, my parents moved us to the U.S. because of my dad's career. He's a diplomat. We lived in Cooper City, Florida, until I was about thirteen.
As a three-year-old, I had a lot of boy friends and we were always playing with toy guns. One day I went into the boys' bathroom with them, and my mom pulled me out. "You can't go into that bathroom." I was heartbroken.
"Why can't I go into that bathroom?"
"You're a girl — you have to act like one. You can't always be with the boys." From that early age, I knew that being a girl is not me — that is not how I feel.
I have preschool pictures of me wearing a suit and a necktie. It was at a Valentine's Day party at school, and you had to dress nice. All the girls at school wore dresses. I said, "Dad, I don't want to wear a dress. Can you pick out a suit and a necktie for me?" And my dad bought a boy's suit and a clip-on necktie. I was about six. I loved wearing suits and neckties. It felt right to me. But usually I wore dresses and stuff.
In first or second grade, I had a little crush on a girl. I remember thinking, Oh, she's so pretty. I wanted to pull her hair, to bother her. Should I be feeling this way? I wondered if the other girls felt this way.
When I was eight, I started taking karate and boxing. I remember how much I liked punching the heck out of the boys; I never wanted to fight little girls. It felt weird. I knew I was better than the girls, and I wanted more of a challenge. One time, even though we wore foam masks, I got a cut on my face. My dad saw it. "Oh, I don't like to see you get punched," he said, and made me stop.
Instead, my mom forced me to take dancing. "Try it! If you don't like it, we'll change." She wanted me to try Thai dancing, but because of playing basketball and soccer at a really young age, my hands were not flexible. I had no flexibility in my body. I couldn't even bend over to touch the tip of my toes.
She made me do a little tap, jazz dancing, and ballet. I cried every time I had to go. "Nooooo!" I would hold on to the bar and literally cry my eyes out. "I don't want to wear spandex! No!" I just cried. When it came time for the recital, she begged me, "Please, just do it. I promise I will never make you do it again. Just do the recital." I did it. I felt like crap! I wore a sexy little red dress and bows in my hair, and I had to pose. I just wanted to cry. "Why are you making me do this?" I was so mad.
After that I started playing little-league soccer and was the star player. Everybody said, "Your daughter's amazing." All the coaches wanted me on their team.
Soccer and basketball were my main games because my dad loves those sports. He would teach me how to kick, how to shoot. He bought me a big hoop, and I would play with all the boys.
Once Jessy started puberty, reality came crashing down. There was one thing he did not want.
Breasts! I was starting to develop breasts. Oh, crap. I hated bras, never liked wearing them. I had always been a sports-bra person.
It wasn't just looks. It's the way people treated girls. I can hold my own door, thank you. I can protect myself.
When Jessy turned twelve, his family returned to Thailand. He learned to read and write Thai fluently at an international school that used an American curriculum. The textbooks were from America, and the teachers were mostly teaching in English. This helped him feel comfortable as a Thai and as an American. But yet something was wrong, and he couldn't put his finger on it.
In Thailand, they call people like me "tomboy," which is basically a butch lesbian. I guess people had questions about me. I was questioning me too. I wasn't sure what I was, so I tried to make people think I was straight. I tried to be a big girly-girl, just to fit in. No matter how pretty I looked, I felt uncomfortable. I felt like I wasn't right in a physical sense.
I went on a date or two with boys from my school — my mom even met them — but it was never an intimate relationship. It was, like, "I really like you as a friend, you're an awesome guy, and I want to hang out with you, but I don't want to go beyond that level." It felt so uncomfortable.
I had a problem with the clique of girls I was in. They were the prettiest girls in school, the conceited clique.
"We're the prettiest! We're the most popular," Jessy says, using a singsong voice, raising his eyebrows, and shaking his head from side to side in amused disgust.
They tried to push me. "You should wear this. You should wear that!" It wasn't me.
When I was with them, I'd say, "Oh, I think he's so cute!" But what I really thought was, Oh my God, what am I saying? I think she's so cute!
I had long hair and was trying hard to act like a girl. When I told them I wanted to cut my hair, they wanted to know why.
"Wait, you're not my mom," I said. "Why are you asking me this?"
At one point, they asked, "Are you gay?" I said I didn't know, and they started saying things that were kind of mean. No, not kind of — it was mean.
"I can't believe you are that kind of person," my close friend said, glaring at me like I was from another planet.
"Why would you do that?"
"Tell me if you are!"
I said, "You say you're my friend. Why can't you accept me for who I am? How can you say those things to me?"
How could I call these people my closest friends when they didn't even know who I was? That's not the definition of friend. A friend is someone you can share things with. You can be yourself around. If you had a crush on someone, you can tell your friend. I could not do that with those girls.
Finally, I said good-bye to that clique, and I ate lunch alone. I was hurt. I was kind of lonely. But I was not going to finish high school there, anyway — I was going to the States, so whatever ...
During that time I thought, Am I really a lesbian? I was scared and unsure about myself. Before I came out, I had to make sure that this was what I wanted for myself. That this was who I wanted to be.
By ninth grade, I really got into sports. I played basketball at the time, on the girls' varsity team. I tried to dress pretty, but I felt so out of place in a skirt. Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt I shouldn't be wearing it. I'm not ladylike. That's not me.
Now, when I show people a picture of me as a girl, no one believes me. In the picture, I was wearing lipstick and a dress. Everyone says, "That's your sister."
"No, I swear to God it's me."
During Jessy's early high-school years, he didn't know what the word transgender meant. He was only questioning his sexual orientation. He thought, Hey, if you like women and you're a woman, then you're a lesbian. He didn't know about gender diversity because he was young. On the one hand, he wanted to please his family and be accepted by society. On the other hand, he knew something was not right.
At first I thought maybe there is something psychologically wrong with me because I was thinking this way, because I was feeling this way. Am I abnormal? I was a little insecure. I didn't have anyone to talk to. I had to work through it on my own.
I asked myself, Well, what's wrong with liking the same sex? Is it sinful? Why does society view it as something so bad, so taboo? Love is love, and whoever you feel you love, express it, it's okay. It's not like I'm a crook or a robber or doing harmful things to people. I'm just trying to be who I am. I'm just trying to give the love that I have to someone who happens to be the same sex as me. I didn't see anything wrong with that. I started questioning a lot of things about society — especially social roles.
Coming Out, Part One
Tenth grade was when a lot of drama happened in my life. I was, like, enough! No more! I was tired of trying to make other people happy around me. I was tired! I could be so much more if I could just be myself.
I started to hang out with a group of girls who were open lesbians. I cut my hair to my earlobes and spiked it up. Spiky. I got into my new look. I started dating girls and I started to become the real me. And that's the year when my relationship with my mom got a little rocky.
When I first came out to my mom as a lesbian, she withdrew. She had to step back, like, Whoa. A lot of this was happening because of puberty. I wanted to go out; I wanted to do this and that. I was exploring myself. Those were my watershed years, years when every kid, straight or not, rebels and thinks their parents don't know anything. Everything they said was outdated. Coming out made things even more complicated.
The thing was, although I dated lesbians, I was attracted to straight women. I was attracted to girls who like men. The girl I started dating was straight. Her sister was a lesbian, but she herself was straight. I guess she was going through what I would call an experimental phase. I had classes with her every day, so we saw each other all the time. We became close, and things easily elevated. But if she had just seen me on the street or something, I don't think she would have liked me.
I wore retro-looking suits with slim neckties or bow ties. I was almost like a metrosexual man; I liked getting my nails done. A metrosexual is a guy who has certain female qualities. He likes being pampered. Hair. Nails. He dresses sophisticated. He's always on point with his style. The shoes have to match the shirt. That's something girls do. But metrosexual men are into that as well.
Back in the Closet
After finishing tenth grade in Thailand, Jessy moved back to Florida. His parents wanted him to go to college in the States and thought it would be easier to get in if he went to high school here too. Since his parents were living in Thailand, Jessy stayed with an uncle. Although Miami is a liberal area, Jessy went to a strict, Christian, coed high school.
My life became harder. I didn't want people talking about me. I didn't want them on my back. I had heard that there were a few lesbians at the school who had posted pictures of themselves and their partners on Facebook or MySpace. Some school administrator found out, printed the pictures, and showed them to the principal. They were almost suspended. That basically shoved me back into the closet.
I grew my hair out and looked more feminine. I didn't tell anybody that I was attracted to women. I said to myself that I'm here to get good grades and finish high school. I don't need to share my sexual identity with people. I made a lot of close friends, but they didn't know about me.
At the school, everybody loved Jessy. He was smart and funny and very popular. He was a terrific basketball player. But there was always a wall. That's because Jessy was living a lie. He told no one, not even his closest friends, who he really was.
When I was sixteen, I saw a TV episode about the transgender community, and the first thing that came into my head was "Oh, my god! That could definitely be me!"
I was starting to come to terms with my sexual orientation. I wanted to be the masculine figure in a relationship with a woman, to be seen as a straight man attracted to women.
I wanted to transition, but before I did, my mother had to be the first to know because we have always been so close. I knew that I could not go into transition without her knowing about it. I would never do that. Still, I kept these thoughts to myself, never saying anything till the summer before my last year in high school.
Coming Out, Part Two
Back in Florida, I started dating a girl I met on a social networking site. We had a relationship, but it didn't last that long — it was more like a fling. But because of her, it became important for me to tell my friends that I was in a relationship with a girl. Before starting college, I wanted to make it clear to my friends in high school that I date girls; I wasn't attracted to men. I called myself a butch lesbian.
On the day I graduated, I came out to my friends. I said, "There's something I have to tell you guys. I'm dating a girl."
They said, "Yeah, we kind a figured that because you're not the most feminine person. We sensed it, but we didn't want to ask you. We respected your privacy. We didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable. But we feel bad that you couldn't tell us because you're our friend, and we love you no matter what." It was a good way to leave high school.
It was also a good way to start college, knowing that my friends in high school accepted me as I am. When I went back to see them spring break of freshman year, it was so different because by then I was a hundred percent me. It was beautiful.
Coming Out Trans—to Mom
By this time, Jessy's parents had moved to Nairobi because his dad had become the minister counselor for the Thai embassy in Kenya. Jessy, who wants to become a doctor, spent the summer with them while participating in a medical internship.
I said, "Mom, I've been reading a lot about the transgender community. I've been reading a lot about taking testosterone. I think that's what I will be doing once I start my sophomore year in college. At the end of summer, I'm going to find a place where I can begin transitioning." I said it to her just that way.
I could tell she was a little bit disappointed, not disappointed but drawn back. Actually, she was kind of shocked, shaking her head, like, Why would you do this? "Why would you want to?" she asked. "Why can't you be comfortable with yourself? I don't see other lesbians doing this."
I explained that I never felt like a lesbian. I never wanted to look feminine. I'm attracted to the whole feminine look, but I never wanted it for myself. I love long hair. I love dresses. But I never wanted that on me; I wanted that on another person, the person that I was attracted to. "Besides, just because someone else doesn't do it doesn't mean I can't do it."
I told my mom that I wanted people to see me as a man in a heterosexual relationship. I wanted to be referred to as he. I wanted to live my life as the man of the house, masculine. I know there are butch lesbians, and all that stuff, but I didn't want to be that. I just wanted to be a normal man.
She took it in. She cried about it. She cried in front of me about it. Honestly, it made me feel awful. It made me feel I was doing something horribly wrong. I felt like a screw-up. But I'm not a screw-up. I told myself that sooner or later she was going to come to terms with this. I told myself that as with everything in life, things happen for a reason.
Excerpted from Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin. Copyright © 2015 Susan Kuklin. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Note to the Reader ix
Jessy: The House of My Soul 3
Christina: Every Girl Is Different 31
Mariah: The Real Deal 73
Cameron: Variables 95
Nat: Something Else 121
Luke: Untouchable 149
Notes and Resources 163
Author's Note 165
About the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center 169
Q & A With Dr. Manel Silva 170
About Proud Theater 175
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exceptional does not begin to describe the power this book holds. It captivated me from beginning to end, even beyond the sources and footnotes. I feel like I know these young individuals personally, deeply. In some part I already understood their struggle, I am transgendered myself. It is a beautiful thing to see us represented so fully and respectfully, and did I mention the exquisite photography? I would recommend this to family, friends, coworkers, anyone who could stand to gain a little understanding for the world of transgendered youth and transgendered people in general.
Being a gender neutral teen, I've felt like my story was a little weird compared to everyone else's. However, when I found this book in Barnes and Noble, it totally changed my outlook on the community I've became a part of. Susan Kuklin is an amazing writer and captures the teens lives perfectly. It's so wonderful to see a book like this really telling the stories of transgendered people. Would recommend. Purchasing this book for my Highschool, hopefully soon. I feel like it would be an amazing addition to our library.
TO THE PEOPLE BELOW: LEAVE US ALONE! THIS BOOK ISNT EVEN ABOUT GAYS AND LESBIANS?
This was such an amazing, well researched and powerful book. I am so grateful for the strength of those in the book that shared their stories. I am in awe of the author's ability to compile those stories in such a beautiful manner.
YES LEAVE US ALONE