Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir) by Jackson Bird Tiller Press, 2019 The audiobook published by Simon & Schuster Audio is narrated by the author himself, and is also excellent.
Assigned female at birth and raised as a girl growing up in conservative Texas in the 1990’s, Jackson often wondered if he should have been born a boy. He had no transgender role models, and barely remembers meeting anyone who was openly gay before college. With candor and humor, Jackson recalls the challenges he faced while trying to sort out his gender and sexuality and worrying about how to interact with the world.
In the introduction, Jackson writes:
Labels can be important to understanding who you are, finding a community of people with similar experiences and gaining access to resources you might need. But they can also be oppressive and limiting. … I was sorted into the female category at birth, and that defined the name I was given, the clothes I was dressed in, the way I was spoken to, and roles I was supposed to have in life. … Like so many others, I’ve resisted and fought to redefine the limitations of some labels that have been put on me, but I’ve also chosen to change some of those labels. I’ve found new ones that better reflect who I’ve been all along, or sometimes who I’ve grown to be. I’ve re-sorted myself.
Like most kids growing up in the 1990’s, Jackson became a huge Harry Potter fan. The title “Sorted” is also a Harry Potter reference. Jackson’s memoir begins with this line, “I sometimes think we SORT too soon. J. K. Rowling Albus Dumbledore.” Jackson is referencing the enchanted wizard’s Sorting Hat that sorts all incoming Hogwarts students into one of four houses for the duration of their education. Quoting from the book (p.148): “The Sorting Hat looks deep into each student’s core values and attributes to determine where they would be best suited.” Jackson reflects (p. 149) “At the end of the day, should I have cared so much into which House the official Pottermore quiz sorted me? … What you want and what feels right to you is perhaps the most important factor in sorting.” Harry Potter has played a huge role in Jackson’s life. His first job after college was with the HPA (Harry Potter Alliance), and he worked there most of his twenties. Much like Hogwarts, the HPA was Jackson’s school, and place of friendship, enveloping him in love when he came out as transgender at age twenty-five, and helping mold him into the person he is today.
With warmth and wit Jackson recounts how he navigated the many obstacles and quirks of his transition from early childhood through his late twenties. Here are a few of his captivating chapter headings:
- These Hips Don’t Lie
- It Was the Breast of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
- The Transmasculine Invisibility Cloak
- A Coming-Out Spreadsheet
- Life After the Closet
- Free My Nipples
- Finding My (Deeper) Voice
In addition to being an engaging heartfelt coming-of-age story, Jackson weaves in educational sidebars, providing peeks at other people’s experiences, and giving newcomers a starter pack of transgender knowledge. The book begins with a simple glossary of trans terminology and definitions which can be flipped to for reference while reading the book. Then, starting with chapter one, Jackson lets the reader in on every aspect of his journey, starting from his birth, taking time to explain trans issues and misunderstood facts about gender and identity along the way. Some of my favorite sidebars include: Assigned Female at Birth? Hormone Therapy vs. Puberty Blockers, Sex vs. Gender, There’s Not Just One Way to Be Trans, Jack’s Top Ten Favorite Trans Books (in No Particular Order), Jack’s Top Ten Favorite Trans Documentaries (In No Particular Order), Gender-Neutral Pronouns, and Talking about a Trans Person in Past Tense.
Sorted demonstrates the power and beauty of being yourself, even when you’re not sure who “yourself” is. This is a well written approachable book, recommended for those who are new to the trans community as well as those looking to be a better ally.
Jackson Bird is a writer, internet creator, and LGBTQ+ advocate dedicated to demystifying the transgender experience by sharing his and others’ stories online. You can hear some of those stories on his podcast, Transmission, as well as on his YouTube channel, jackisnotabird. A TED Resident and Speaker, Jackson’s TED Talk is “How to Talk (and Listen) to Transgender People,”
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.