Reviewing: The Gender Games by Juno Dawson

Content warnings: Sexual assault, mentions of drug use, transphobia, homophobia, discussions of FGM

My rating: 5 Books out of 5

Highlights: 

  • I love the way Juno Dawson writes, she just has a very easy conversational tone.
  • She manages to be educational while also making it clear that her experience as a trans woman isn’t monolithic, every trans person experiences things differently. 
  • Gender roles really are shit aren’t they?
  • I can relate to the small town upbringing.
  • Rediscovered my favourite Madonna hits while reading this. 

Welcome to review one of my Transathon reading experience! I decided to start with a book that I’ve had on my shelves for a while, a gift from a good friend of mine who clearly has impeccable taste in books – Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games. Simultaneously a memoir and an in depth look at what the hell gender actually is anyway, this was an amazing starting point for me! I had, of course, heard of Dawson before – that same friend has let me borrow a copy of This Book Is Gay which I promise I will return eventually – but this was my first time reading her work and I loved it. 

I studied English Literature at university and one of our modules, and by far my favourite, was Gender and Sexuality in Literature. I loved the opportunity to study LGBT+ voices in my favourite subject, less so the opportunity to sit near a man who constantly bemoaned the lack of Straight Male perspectives in the module – I know, I know – but it struck me then as it does now that several of the books we looked into with trans character in them…were written by cisgender men. From memory I know we looked at The Wasp Factory and Middlesex and while it is years ago now I can’t remember hugely enjoying, or indeed finishing, either of them. I also remember examining gender roles in Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like A Woman which was far more enjoyable because let’s be honest here, that song is a bop. A large part of the reason I’m so happy to be taking part in the transathon this year is the opportunity to read narratives by and about trans people. So often our perception of trans people is informed by a media predominantly created by cis people, which explains why so many of those perceptions are total horse shit. 

Looking at you JK. Fuck off. Just fuck off. 

Fair warning, there were a lot of HP references in this book and each one of them broke my heart a little bit. 

Dawson starts with the basics, what is this gender shit anyway? Gender is a hulking bogeyman in this book, constantly showing up to terrify children into obedience and turn adults against each other because for some reason without asking any of us, the world we live in just kind of decided how we should act and punished us if we didn’t listen. The world informed Juno Dawson from day one that she was a boy and must like boy things and that….didn’t go well. She explores the years of questions and doubts, a secret passion for The Spice Girls and her experiences with feminism, privilege (or perceptions thereof) and dating. Social commentary and memoir all in one, I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you’re not a fan of familiar, chatty narration in your nonfiction it might be a little jarring, but I like it! Of course, while the tone is predominantly lighthearted, there are darker topics covered, and this book manages to be very informative throughout, and certainly shines a big old light on the realities of being trans – and all the decisions that entails – in the UK today. 

I would 100% recommend this book, and I am absolutely reading the rest of Juno Dawson’s writing in future! Starting with that copy of This Book Is Gay so I can return it (sorry Trina).

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