“Gender Queer: a Memoir” review

Gender Queer is one of the most-banned books, so I ordered a copy to see what the fuss was about. Some reviewers said terrible things about it, school systems are banning it, and there is a court challenge in Virginia to rule it “obscene” so it couldn’t even be lent or sold. OMG it must be cover-to-cover debauchery!

Except… it isn’t. It’s just a memoir of a person growing up with some specific challenges. Even with a relatively supportive family, the author struggled to figure out why they never felt ‘right’ in their own skin. Yes there are a couple brief sexual scenes in the whole 234-page book, but they support the story of a person discovering that they are non-binary and asexual. There is nothing prurient or gratuitous in the whole book.

Pages 28 and 29 from Gender Queer: A Memoir, in which the author learns to read by hiding under the bedsheets with flashlight and Harry Potter
Click to enlarge

As a counter-example, I include a couple pages about the author’s struggle to learn to read, and the role played by Harry Potter in overcoming that challenge. I could imagine an equally misguided review that claimed the book was just about illiteracy. And that would no more be true than saying it was about sex.

(Also some commenters seemed not to know what a graphic novel is. They seem to think that sequential graphic storytelling is automatically aimed at young children. That may be skewing their reviews, I don’t know. Or maybe they’re just raging bigots.)

Since the book is a personal memoir, its great strength is in welcoming the reader inside the experience of the author. What’s it feel like to have an assigned gender but not be able to embrace it?

I would have loved to read this book as a teen. Though back in the ’70’s concepts of gender identity were so far underground you would need mining equipment to reach them.


  • This post was first posted as a review on my Amazon account
  • One of the commenters on Amazon said their teen requested the book. They bought it, flipped through it, sent it back without giving it to their teen, then wrote an awful review. I hope their teen is OK.