The best books about gender identity

5 authors have picked their favorite books about gender identity and why they recommend each book.

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Both Can Be True

By Jules Machias,

Book cover of Both Can Be True

I particularly like the dual narration in this 2021 debut, with two characters who challenge gender norms at different levels of intensity as they bond over a secret rescue dog. Daniel is a boy who feels all his emotions intensely, and who has been told over and over that he is too sensitive. Ash cycles through genders, feeling and expressing girl sometimes and boy other times. It’s so good to see a GNC character in a lead role. I also got a hoot out of the graphic elements, which are quirky and original.


Who am I?

When I was growing up there were no trans characters in children’s books, and partly because I had no examples I could point to, it took me until my forties to express and claim my gender truth. Now that I am a happily transitioned author, activist, and elected official, I champion middle grade novels by and about gender non-conforming humans because I want today’s trans kids to see themselves in stories. I hope to empower them to lead their best authentic lives from the beginning. I also hope to teach an often uninformed and sometimes prejudiced world to accept gender non-conforming kids as the beautiful healthy humans they are.


I wrote...

Zenobia July

By Lisa Bunker,

Book cover of Zenobia July

What is my book about?

As eighth grade begins, no one knows it's Zenobia’s first day going to school as the girl she has always known herself to be. Zen grew up in a family that did not accept or support her gender identity. One way she survived was by taking refuge online, where she discovered her natural genius for coding and hacking. 

Now she finds herself in a new city with a new family, and a chance to be her real self in the world. She makes friends, but also tangles with a queen-bee girl and a cyber rival. Then when someone vandalizes the school website, she has to decide whether to hide her gifts, or offer to help and risk exposure.

Man o' War

By Cory McCarthy,

Book cover of Man o' War

River McIntyre is a swimmer; at least that’s one element of their identity that’s safely and publicly established. But when he ends up “swimming” in the wrong place—a shark tank—it kicks off a journey of self-discovery that will change them forever. It’s such a brilliant path, taking place over the course of years and through different IDs and realizations, and I love the way everything—including River’s chosen name—always comes back to the water. 


Who am I?

My newest YA novel, Home Field Advantage, is your typical cliché sports romance between a high school quarterback and aspiring cheer captain…except that they’re both girls. Sports is such a fascinating setting for queer YA to me, because it adds a whole extra social dynamic of being teammates and how that can work for or against you, depending on the culture and who you are. It’s also a great venue for subversion of gender norms, which is always welcome to me! And in general, I really just love protagonists who are really passionate about what they do. If they happen to be queer as well, that’s just a nice bonus!


I wrote...

Home Field Advantage

By Dahlia Adler,

Book cover of Home Field Advantage

What is my book about?

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain, but it’s an extra-tall order to be spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. Watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been replaced by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. It quickly becomes clear that Amber only has a future on the squad if she helps them take Jack down. Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other.

Introducing Teddy

By Jessica Walton, Dougal MacPherson (illustrator),

Book cover of Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship

Errol and Thomas (his teddy bear), are best friends. But Errol starts noticing that Thomas doesn’t seem to enjoy all the things they do together and seems to be sad. Eventually, Thomas admits to Errol that they had always felt like a girl bear and would like to be called Tilly. Errol doesn’t care about the bear’s gender—just that they are best friends. It’s a lovely story about unconditional love and acceptance.

Who am I?

I am a lyrical writer and have a passion for quiet, thoughtful books. I wrote A Home Again when I became an empty nester. When my husband and I were discussing downsizing our home, I was surprised by the reactions of my grown children. They absolutely did not want us to sell their family home. That led me to think about how our house would feel if we left. A new book was born. My friends, a gay couple, had just bought a new home and I thought it would be wonderful to make the second family in the story two dads. We need to show children there is a diverse array of families in the world—but what connects them all is love.


I wrote...

A Home Again

By Colleen Rowan Kosinski, Valeria Docampo (illustrator),

Book cover of A Home Again

What is my book about?

Home is where the heart is. While that phrase usually speaks to human feelings, in this lovely picture book, the sentiment takes on new meaning as a house reveals its own heart to the reader. By turns, the house feels joy, tenderness, and sorrow as its first family moves in, grows, and moves away. But the heart is a funny thing, and hope—and eventually love—prevail as a brand-new family arrives.

The house experiences a gamut of emotions, and I love the way the text and art gently evoke these and that a couple of different types of families are represented—one with a mother and father and their children and one with two dads and their daughter. I hope you enjoy this tale of a home’s heart.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself

By Theresa Thorn, Noah Grigni (illustrator),

Book cover of It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity

“Why is that dad wearing a dress?”

It wasn’t the first time my toddler commented on someone’s appearance in front of them, but I was convinced that his question sounded like a judgment. We have never left our grocery store so fast. I was angry. He was worried. Had he done something wrong? Yes! Maybe? I didn’t know. Had I? Yes. I wanted my family to be cool with all forms of gender expression, but I hadn’t built the common ground or the vocabulary to make that vision a reality. I’d projected my own fears, ignorance, and self-consciousness onto my child. I blew it. This book gave me words. We don’t assume anything about ourselves or other people anymore. I can see that my son’s curiosity comes from a place of sincerity and positivity. Now, I have the confidence to follow his lead.


Who am I?

I’d been a preschool teacher and a children’s author for years before I decided to become a mom. I was pretty sure I’d kill it at motherhood, I mean, I knew all the songs and I had lots of books. I was always up for giving advice to the caregivers at my school, heck, I was the perfect parent before my son was born. I knew everything then. Not anymore. Thank goodness for books. Over the years, my child has asked some tough questions, read on…you’ll see. Do they sound familiar? If so, these books might help you find your footing as you go looking for answers. 


I wrote...

Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice

By Sarah Warren, Monica Mikai (illustrator),

Book cover of Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice

What is my book about?

Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice follows Stacey's life from her girlhood to the present, but it also portrays the ordinary people that Stacey fights for—the beautiful and diverse America that shows up to stand with one another. Backmatter includes a timeline of changes in US voting-rights law from the Constitution through the present day, demonstrating both how far the country has come and how far we have to go. With its spirited text and vivid illustrations, Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice will inspire readers to take their own steps forward.

Self-Made Man

By Norah Vincent,

Book cover of Self-Made Man: One Womans Journey into Manhood & Back Again

Reading much like a novel, Vincent's book is a first-person account of a woman going undercover as a man (cross-dressing drag rather than trans, per se) to discover what men are like: "I found masculinity distilled, unmitigated by feminine influences, and therefore observable in a concentrated state" (p181).  An intriguing contrast to Schilt's book, Vincent says "It was hard being a guy" (p275); "Someone is always evaluating your manhood" (p276); "I saw how degraded and awful a relentless, humiliating sex drive could make you" (p277).


Who am I?

I am the author of several novels—in addition to the one featured here, Impact, It Wasn't Enough (Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award), Exile, and What Happened to Tom (on Goodreads' "Fiction Books That Opened Your Eyes To A Social Or Political Issue" list).  I was a columnist for The Philosopher Magazine for eight years, Philosophy Now for two years, and the Ethics and Emerging Technologies website for a year ("TransGendered Courage" received 35,000 hits, making it #3 of the year, and "Ethics without Philosophers" received 34,000 hits, making it #5 of the year), and I've published a collection of think pieces titled Sexist Shit that Pisses Me Off. 


I wrote...

Gender Fraud: a fiction

By Peg Tittle,

Book cover of Gender Fraud: a fiction

What is my book about?

In a near future, 'gender recognition' legislation is repealed, and it becomes illegal for males to identify as females and females to identify as males. However, due in part to the continued conflation of sex and gender and in part to the insistence that gender align with sex, it also becomes illegal for males to be feminine and females to be masculine. A gender identity dystopia.  

Gender Fraud: a fiction was a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award 2021.

Gender Queer

By Maia Kobabe,

Book cover of Gender Queer: A Memoir

Loved this—it was intimate and thought-provoking, a true look inside another person's coming of age. If you took Skylar Kergil's Before I Had the Words and mixed it with Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, you’d have an idea of what this graphic memoir is like. It perfectly limns the mind of someone's journey of self-discovery, someone who’s non-binary and (possibly) asexual. Kobabe writes (and draws) with honesty, humor, and heart, not trying to speak for all nb/ace people, but just eir own experience as thoughtfully as possible. Texas wanted to ban this book— it’s a testament to how truthful and potent it is.


Who am I?

I’m a gay author, father, and voice actor living in Los Angeles. When I started writing All Kinds of Other, there was very little literature centering trans characters in YA fiction, and virtually none about trans masculine characters. Trans teens have to face a lot of challenges—in school, at home, even from the government that is supposed to protect them. It’s hard enough to just be a teenager, let alone face such discrimination. I wanted to write something that would reflect them and affirm their right to live and love, to be. Happily, since that time, there have been a number of books for teens that center trans characters, and I’m happy to include some of them here.


I wrote...

All Kinds of Other

By James Sie,

Book cover of All Kinds of Other

What is my book about?

Two boys are starting over at a new high school. Jules is still figuring out what it means to be gay and just how out he wants to be. Jack is reeling from a fall-out with his best friend, and isn’t ready to let anyone else in just yet. The two boys meet, and the sparks are undeniable.

But then a video links Jack to a pair of popular transgender vloggers, and the revelations about Jack’s past thrust both Jack and Jules into the spotlight they’d tried to avoid. Suddenly they have a choice to make — between lying low, where it’s easier, or following their hearts.

How to Be Both

By Ali Smith,

Book cover of How to Be Both

In modern-day England, a teenager, George (Georgia), has lost her mother. In Renaissance Italy, Francesco del Cossa, a young and talented fresco painter, is motherless as well. Smith gives us a choice: Read George’s half of the book first, or read Francesco’s. Whichever we choose, the lives of these two young people are intricately interlaced. Their sadness and joy; their way of looking at the world around them. George has been to see a fresco in Italy created by Francesco. She is in a complex, post-death conversation with her mother, filled with longing. Francesco (or should that be Francesca?) tells his/her own life story and observes George in hers. I loved the challenging, poetic, playful, and tender nature of this book.


Who am I?

In the acknowledgments in my novel I mention my late mother “who might have wanted to flee, but didn’t.” My pregnant mother driving eight hours down the Fraser Canyon. Baby me “in a cardboard box” in the front seat, my brothers, armed with pop guns, in the back. My dad, having finally found work, gone ahead alone. We didn’t tell this as a story of her courage and strength. It was considered funny. But after I became a mother, I had a clearer vision of the stress and poverty of my mother’s life. My novel, and the ones I’m recommending, show compassion for women as mothers, and for their children, who are sometimes left behind.


I wrote...

The Very Marrow of Our Bones

By Christine Higdon,

Book cover of The Very Marrow of Our Bones

What is my book about?

On a miserable November day in 1967, two women disappear from a working-class town on the west coast. The community is thrown into panic, with talk of drifters and murderous husbands, but no one can find a trace of Bette Parsons or Alice McFee. Ten-year-old Lulu Parsons discovers something though: a milk-stained note her mother left for her father on the kitchen table. Lulu tells no one and for forty years she uses solitude and detachment to live and cope with her mother loss. Finally, at fifty, Lulu learns she is not the only one who carries a secret.

Hopeful, lyrical, comedic, and intriguingly and lovingly told, the book explores the isolated landscapes and thorny attachments bred by childhood loss and buried secrets.

George

By Alex Gino,

Book cover of George

I love middle-grade novels and George is a classic. It reminds me of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and I can think of no higher compliment! Alex Gino masterfully captures the perspective of a trans girl and her journey to expressing herself. This book isn’t shy about the difficulties that George faces, but its tone is gentle and hopeful. That’s the balance that I try to strike in my own writing. I can only hope I’m as successful as Gino. You’ll love this book.


Who am I?

When I was a kid, I knew that my gender was different. I didn’t feel like a boy or a girl, but I didn’t know the word “nonbinary.” There were no kid’s books about people like me. I grew up with a lot of questions, which drove me to become a doctor of Women’s and Gender Studies and an expert on transgender history. Now I’m passionate about writing the kind of picture books that I needed as a child. If you want the kids in your life to understand transgender identity and feel loved whatever their gender may be, you’ll enjoy the books on my list. 


I wrote...

Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution!: The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History

By Joy Ellison, Teshika Silver (illustrator),

Book cover of Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution!: The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History

What is my book about?

"Someday girls like us will be able to wear whatever we want. People will call us by the names we choose. They'll respect that we are women. The cops will leave us alone and no one will go hungry."

Sylvia and Marsha are closer than sisters. They are kind and brave and not afraid to speak their truth, even when it makes other people angry. This illustrated book introduces children to the story of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the two transgender women of color who helped kickstart the Stonewall Riots and dedicated their lives to fighting for queer and trans liberation.

Transgender Warriors

By Leslie Feinberg,

Book cover of Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Marsha P. Johnson and Beyond

This is a great place to begin thinking about trans history. Feinberg, who died in 2014, crisscrossed the line between butch lesbian and trans man and was not particular about what pronouns they preferred. In that spirit of inclusiveness, some readers might find her book outdated or too loose in some of the people it includes—any book that ranges from Joan of Arc to NBA star Rodman is covering a lot of ground, but what’s less visible from that subtitle is the work Feinberg has done in crosscultural, anthropological, and comparative mythology studies. What results is a daring and provocative re-reading of world history that puts gender nonconformity at the center, and a stirring call to activism and solidarity that is if anything more needed since its original publication.


Who am I?

I’m an academic researcher interested in this topic but also one of the people who gets demonized in conservative media: the parent of a transgender child. I want my daughter to know that similar people have existed in history and that lawmakers are wrong to claim that we’re in a scary new world when we advocate for respect and the rights of trans people. While doing that advocacy work, I’m alarmed by positions within the LGBTQI+ movement echoing right-wing ones, including what’s known as “gender critical feminism.” My book argues a positive case for coalition in the face of pressures to fracture along distinct lines of sexuality and gender identity. 


I wrote...

LGBT Victorians: Sexuality and Gender in the Nineteenth-Century Archives

By Simon Joyce,

Book cover of LGBT Victorians: Sexuality and Gender in the Nineteenth-Century Archives

What is my book about?

LGBT Victorians re-visits nineteenth-century thinking about gender and sexual identity at a time when queer alliances are fraying. We consider those whose primary self-definition is in terms of sexuality (LGB) and those for whom it is gender identity (TI, genderqueers) as both in coalition and distinct, on the assumption that these are independent aspects of self-identification. Re-examining how the Victorians thought such categories shaped each other can ground a durable basis for our LGBTQI+ coalition. The book draws on efforts to find transgender people in historical archives, in the gaps between what were termed the sodomite and the hermaphrodite. I highlight a range of individuals, thinkers and activist, and writers like Walt Whitman and John Addington Symonds to re-map the landscape of gender and sexuality in the Victorian period. 

Before Trans

By Rachel Mesch,

Book cover of Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France

Before Trans is a triple biography of three very remarkable French women writers, all of whom preferred men’s clothing and behaved in unladylike ways. The three are Jane Dieulafoy (1850 - 1916), explorer and archeologist; the novelist Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery,1860-1953); and the erotic writer Marc de Montifaud (Marie-Amélie Charteroule de Montifaud,1845-1912). The distinctive feature of this provocative book is the author’s effort to understand these women who chose to defy the boundaries of femininity but lived in a world that was “before trans” – before what we understand today as transgender, where one’s sex and one’s gender self-understanding do not line up. It is a brilliant book, which one reviewer describes (and I agree) as “exceedingly well-written, layered, and compelling.”  Mesch’s pioneering triple biography is not to be missed.


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by France and things French. In graduate school, no women’s history was on our required reading lists. As a young woman, though, entering a professional field in which women were few on the ground, much less studied, I became an avid reader of biographies of achieving women – partly to learn how they were able to surmount (or not) the obstacles that confronted them in a male-dominated world. The five stellar biographies of French women I present here are products of the newer work in retrieving women’s histories. They are deeply researched and engagingly written. They confirm the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.”


I wrote...

Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

By Karen Offen,

Book cover of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

What is my book about?

“No one has done more over the past forty years to establish women’s history in the scholarship of the French Third Republic than Karen Offen. Now, in Debating the Woman Question, we have her chef d’oeuvre. It was worth the wait: a deeply thought-out analysis of many sides of the 'woman question' from maternity through education to religion and economics. It is a must-read for anyone interested in modern France.”

- Steven C. Hause, Professor Emeritus, Washington University, St. Louis and the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

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