The best books on trans liberation

Who am I?

Alongside my professional role as Emeritus professor and former head of postgraduate medical and dental education for NHS London and the South East region, I’ve been engaged with LGBTI human rights for thirty years, working with legal teams and advising a range of government departments and stakeholders. I wrote The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes to remind us all that until the late 1960s, trans people self-identified, received affirmative medical care, corrected their birth certificates, and lived in full equality. At a time when discussion of trans lives is almost submerged by entrenched ideological dogma, the historical and scientific facts of trans experience feel particularly important. I hope you enjoy my selection on this theme. 

I wrote...

The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes: And the Unwritten History of the Trans Experience

By Zoë Playdon,

Book cover of The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes: And the Unwritten History of the Trans Experience

What is my book about?

Until the 1960s trans people self-identified, had affirmative medical treatment, corrected their birth certificates, and lived in complete equality. The turning point was the hidden case of Ewan Forbes, a Scottish aristocratic trans man who received affirmative medical care when he was a child in the 1920s. Ewan corrected his birth certificate, married, and lived happily until a bitter family quarrel culminated in a 1968 court case that was considered so threatening to the British Establishment that it was removed from view for decades. 

Drawing on archival material from law and medicine, in a never-before-told story, Emeritus Professor Zoë Playdon shows how trans people worldwide had their freedoms removed and how they are still fighting to reclaim them.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice

Why did I love this book?

It’s great to hear the voices of the UK’s latest generation of trans activists, and Shon’s book – passionate, factual, well-researched – exemplifies the best of their work. Her compelling writing sets out the lived realities of trans life in the twenty-first century, from youth to old age: a clear, cold wind of reality, epitomising today’s urgent call for trans equality and dispelling media mythologizing. Shon reviews work, family, housing, healthcare, the prison system (in which any of us could be remanded while wholly innocent of any crime), the way the T relates to the rest of LGBTQ+ and the relationships between trans and feminist communities. This is a must-read for everyone interested in social justice.

By Shon Faye,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Transgender Issue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Few books are as urgent as Shon Faye's debut ... Faye has hope for the future - and maybe so should we' Independent

'Unsparing, important and weighty ... a vitally needed antidote' Observer

'Takes the status quo by the lapels and gives it a shaking' Times Literary Supplement

Trans people in Britain today have become a culture war 'issue'. Despite making up less than one per cent of the country's population, they are the subjects of a toxic and increasingly polarized 'debate' which generates reliable controversy for newspapers and talk shows. This media frenzy conceals…

Book cover of The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes

Why did I love this book?

The first trans child we know of to self-identify and receive affirmative medical care was Ewan Forbes, whose mother accessed early testosterone treatments for him in the 1920s. A hundred years later, when I’m asked by parents for one book to understand the how’s and why’s of trans kids, Diane’s is my go-to recommendation. Based on her own real-life clinical experience, she sets out a spectrum of gender diversity, and shows how parents can support their children’s explorations and decisions.

Key to this is letting children define their own social presentation and activity, for as she puts it, ‘if we want to know a child’s gender, it is not for us to say but for the child to tell’. Diane demonstrates that this approach allows both child and parent to identify whether their gender expression is ‘insistent, consistent, and persistent’, in other words, the direction in which the child’s exploration will take them. Compassionate, wise, and accessible, this is high-priority reading for parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, doctors, legislators, and everyone associated with the care of children and adolescents – including the children themselves. 

By Diane Ehrensaft,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gender Creative Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Developmental and clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, has devoted her career to the care of children and teens who do not abide by the gender binary, either in their gender identities or expressions. In her first book, Gender Born, Gender Made, she coined the phrase "gender creative" to replace what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, at the time, still officially termed a "disorder." Now, in The Gender Creative Child, Dr. Ehrensaft gives families, teachers, and therapists a totally up-to-date, comprehensive resource to caring for children whose gender expression is fluid or who question the gender they were assigned at birth.…

Confessions of the Fox

By Jordy Rosenberg,

Book cover of Confessions of the Fox

Why did I love this book?

Jordy’s astonishing page-turner is so much more than the ‘zingy romp’ its cover blurb claims for it (though it is also pretty ‘zingy’). Where to start? A beleaguered academic finds a manuscript showing that eighteenth-century London super-thief Jack Sheppard was a trans man embroiled in an attempt to acquire an early preparation of testosterone. At once a bitter satire on the crushing of academic freedom by university management’s turn to corporate capitalism, an attack on the ruthless brutality of Big Pharma, a meditation on the problematics attending historical research, a clarion call for trans voices to be heard on their own terms, and a wonderfully textured historical thriller, the book defies classification as much as its hero refuses it. Is it magical realism? Or trans activism? Or political comment? Yes is the answer.

By Jordy Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Confessions of the Fox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, 2019
Finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award, 2019

A New Yorker Book of the Year, 2018
A Huffington Post Book of the Year, 2018
A Buzzfeed Book of the Year, 2018

'Quite simply extraordinary... Imagine if Maggie Nelson, Daphne du Maurier and Daniel Defoe collaborated.' Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent

Jack Sheppard - a transgender carpenter's apprentice - has fled his master's house to become a notorious prison break artist, and Bess Khan has escaped the draining of the fenlands to become a revolutionary mastermind. Together, they find themselves at the center…

A Practical Guide to Transgender Law

By Robin Moira White, Nicola Newbegin,

Book cover of A Practical Guide to Transgender Law

Why did I love this book?

From crime to punishment, and this comprehensive guide to the facts of UK trans people’s legal protections (and their absences) is calm and authoritative. At a point when the press and media are filled with smoke and mirrors about trans rights, Robin and Nicola, both practising barristers (‘trial attorneys’ in the US) set out the current rights and responsibilities affecting areas such as education, healthcare, asylum, prisons, media, and sports.

Crucially, they include a chapter asking ‘Are Gender-Critical Views a Protected Belief?’ (they are if you keep them to yourself but aren’t if you express them at work). At the same time, the fact that such a book is needed underlines the grim truth that trans lives are not equal lives, that they aren’t able to rely on the same protections given to cis people, and that they cannot afford the insulated ignorance about the law which the rest of British society enjoys. Sobering reading, whether you are trans or cis.

By Robin Moira White, Nicola Newbegin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Practical Guide to Transgender Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A comprehensive volume filling a notable gap in the legal library.

The book has introductory sections on the facts and language related to trans, and then substantial sections on the relevant parts of the Equality Act 2010 as related to transgender individuals, and the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Specialist sections then follow, dealing with Associations, Asylum, Criminal Justice, Data Protection, Education, Employment, Family, Healthcare, Media, Name and Gender Marker Change; Politics and Parliament, Prison, Services, Sport, Gender-critical views, Example Policies and Reform. Some sections have been written with assistance from recognised experts in their field.



Book cover of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Why did I love this book?

Every list should have a classic, and Whipping Girl is a classic in spades. Written for a mainstream audience in 2007, but still vibrantly relevant to today’s trans lives, it brought the terms ‘cissexual’ and ‘cisgender’ into the mainstream, and introduced crucial concepts, such as ‘cissexual privilege’ and ‘trans misogyny’. Julia does brilliantly the difficult balancing act required to make complex ideas easily accessible to a general readership and covers a wide spectrum of debate. It’s a tour de force, and a favourite of mine when thinking or teaching about LGBT social justice. 

By Julia Serano,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Whipping Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations,both pre- and post-transition,to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole. Serano's well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is…

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