Brenda Bradford Ward chronicles her lifelong struggles with gender identity conflict in this candid memoir. Spanning childhood to later life, she describes her painful efforts to suppress innate feelings of femininity to meet societal expectations of masculinity.
The book also examines the terminology, concepts, and estimated prevalence around transgender identities, arguing that gender identity is an essential component of one’s inner self, which can cause great anguish if suppressed.
Much of the memoir explores Ward’s experiences growing up. As a child, Ward played pretend as his sister’s “girlfriend” and was transfixed by the transformation of men into subhuman creatures in the film Atlantis, finding “the possibility of so extensive a physical transformation exciting and compelling.” As she grew, she tried to avoid ridicule by forcing interest in Boy Scouts and other stereotypical male activities.
Still struggling with her identity, Ward pursued a career and relationships before hitting a “crisis point” and deciding to transition to living openly as a woman. As she told friends and family, changed her appearance, and pursued hormone therapy, she encountered nervous but mostly positive reactions. Ward tells a particularly heartwarming story of a widowed neighbor who embraced her in an “unexpected, warm, gracious, and unforgettably appreciated” hug.
The content is thorough and thoughtful, with excellent research into the psychology and physiology behind gender identity. A salient theme is the lack of information, psychological screening, and support for transgender individuals, particularly children. Ward proposes steps to promote awareness and assistance and reflects on lessons learned in embracing an innate identity.
Unfortunately, the writing can sometimes be dense and academic, making reading challenging in spots. For example: “Empirical analysis and conclusion regarding the above billions of people must be dispositive to any but the most obtuse observer regarding nature’s common reproductive process, those frequent at-birth ambiguities… notwithstanding.” Combined with the outsized 739-page count, this can be daunting.
Still, Ward presents an informative first-hand view into the little-understood transgender experience. Her book is recommended to anyone seeking insights on gender identity.
Also available in paperback and ebook.