When Gender is in Question —A Guide to Understanding by Suzanne Sherkin with Dr. Helma Seidl and Skylar Hagen is an excellent resource for those who wish to expand their knowledge regarding diversity, gender, and the transition process. There are many definitions and terms included in the work that are explained clearly and succinctly. The question of gender is approached from a unique perspective with three authors who contribute based upon their individual experiences and/or professional training. Suzanne Sherkin documents the process of her child’s transition to becoming her son in a straightforward and compassionate manner. Suzanne’s son, Skyler Hagen, shares his very personal journey of transition. Dr. Helma Seidl offers her expertise from a therapeutic point of view based upon her practice where most of her clients continue to move toward a personal gender identity which they can embrace as individuals.
Supporting your child during the transition process can be very challenging, confusing, and daunting for a parent. Suzanne not only describes this process for us, but speaks about her own experiences, while remaining a loving and supportive parent. She serves as an outstanding role model for all parents of children who have transitioned or are beginning that very personal journey.
Suzanne’s son, Skyler, shares many of his emotional ups and downs during his transition. His mother describes the process of daily living for many of those questioning gender and identity as, “Eat. Pretend. Get by. Sleep. Repeat” (p. 6). Skyler explains how he never felt like he really belonged in a female body and describes his gradual shift to a male identity. Many gender questioning individuals share parts of their respective stories; the text highlights that it is important to remember that every gender diverse individual travels their own pathway. Several of Skyler’s most poignant recollections are being expelled from a women’s washroom for looking too male and being physically attacked for using a men’s washroom while still looking too feminine. Skyler mentions that to this day, he still knows where to find the best/safest gender-neutral washrooms in many large cities.
The third contributor, Dr. Helma Seidl, is a therapist with a practice composed of approximately 80% transitioning/gender questioning clientele. She discusses some therapeutic aspects of transitioning in an accepting, and supportive manner. Dr. Seidl also examines the important role the family can play in helping a person through this process, mental health concerns, transitioning in the workplace and addressing questions from parents, spouses/partners, and children.
The book offers an extensive list of definitions, and several topics are discussed such as the difference between: sex and gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation (p. 12). While it is important to recognize that language around gender is continually evolving, this is an excellent introductory book for those wishing to increase their knowledge of gender identity and transition, as it addresses these topics from a place of compassion, support, and acceptance. The book is highly recommended for educators, professional libraries, parents, and students.