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From The Afterglow

Verses, Tales, Thoughts

by Varsha Panikar

Navigating the Trans Experience with Juno Dawson's "What's the T?"

(a book review)

Juno Dawson's "What's the T?" stands as a great resource for anyone seeking to delve into the complexities of trans identity, both on a personal level and within the broader social and political landscape. Dawson's masterful ability to weave together personal anecdotes, expert advice, and real-life stories into a compelling narrative makes this book a valuable tool for both allies and those within the transgender community.

From the outset, Dawson's conversational writing style creates a welcoming atmosphere conducive to exploration and understanding. She adeptly addresses topics such as gender identity, transition, and coming out, meticulously navigating the challenges faced by the trans community, including discrimination and societal marginalization. Simultaneously, Dawson celebrates the strength, resilience, and beauty of trans identity, encouraging readers to embrace authenticity and advocate for inclusivity.

Enriching the narrative are Dawson's personal anecdotes, which provide a relatable and authentic perspective on the trans experience, allowing readers to connect with her on a personal level. Her stories highlight the challenges and triumphs of being trans, offering valuable insights into the day-to-day realities of trans individuals. Dawson's personal experiences are further complemented by personal stories from other trans and non-binary individuals, further showcasing the diversity of experiences within the community and acknowledging unique struggles faced by those from marginalised backgrounds. In the current global political climate, especially in India, the book becomes a crucial platform for trans voices.

Additionally, Dawson incorporates expert advice from a variety of sources, including medical professionals, therapists, and activists, providing a comprehensive and well-rounded understanding of trans issues. The book lays a good foundation for understanding gender identity and expression, making it a valuable resource for both cisgender and transgender individuals of all ages and levels of knowledge. The book also includes hall of fame, history, further reading, glossary, index, advice for parents, transphobia, practical and emotional support/advice.

While Dawson includes personal stories and perspectives from non-binary individuals, her discussion of non-binary identities falls short, feeling somewhat peripheral, suggesting a need for a more thorough exploration within this aspect of the transgender spectrum. For instance, the book could provide a more detailed discussion of the terminology and language used to describe non-binary identities, as well as the various ways in which non-binary individuals experience gender identity and expression. After all, the the book is being marketed as the "The guide to all things trans and/or non-binary."

Additionally, the book's definition of asexuality is inaccurate, defining it as a lack of desire for sex rather than a lack of sexual attraction, which encompasses a broader spectrum of experiences. This inaccuracy can contribute to misconceptions about asexuality and hinder the visibility of asexual individuals. The book would have benefited from featuring the voices of asexual individuals, allowing them to share their own experiences and perspectives.

Despite these shortcomings, "What's the T?" still offers valuable insights into the trans experience and provides a useful resource for all individuals seeking to learn more about gender diversity. In a world where trans individuals are marginalized and misunderstood, "What's the T?" stands as a beacon of light and hope.

Dawson's empathetic and careful approach makes the book accessible and engaging, empowering readers to become allies and advocates for the transgender community. By incorporating additional examples and addressing the shortcomings mentioned above, the book could further enhance its impact and serve as an even more comprehensive and inclusive guide to gender diversity.


About the author:

Juno Dawson is a multi-award-winning author of young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is best known for her novels "This Book Is Gay," "Mind Your Head," "Margot & Me," and "The Gender Games." Dawson is also a regular contributor to Attitude Magazine, Glamour Magazine, and The Guardian. She has written for BBC Women's Hour, Front Row, ITV News, Channel 5 News, This Morning, and Newsnight.

Buy the book here.

I was 21 when I first watched 'Daisies'. It was my first Věra Chytilová film and I knew I didn’t understand it at the time, but also knew I loved it. It was overwhelming in its psychedelic colour, esoteric sets, and cryptic dialogue, but that wasn’t its only impact. Rather, it was the ineffable sense that these things were powerful political and social messages, ones I couldn’t yet decode. It shifted something in me. It was surreal and it stayed with me.

Daisies became a personal talisman of sorts, and over time, it opened my mind to exploring an array of experimental art. It was those things I later learned about—Dada, Fluxus happenings, feminist performance art—that have in turn continued to unlock new aspects of the film for me. It's a powerful statement piece, a surreal destruction of decadence, an experience, more felt than analysed.

Chytilová was blacklisted at the time for making Daisies, and this type of oppression and erasure can be seen all throughout history (even today), of underrepresented and marginalised visionaries in all fields, occupations and parts of life. Daisies is just first of the many formidable films by Chytilová that I grew to love.


DAISIES, 1966, ‘Sedmikrásky’, Directed by Věra Chytilová.

Plot: Two teenage girls, both named Marie, decide that since the world is spoiled they will be spoiled as well; accordingly they embark on a series of destructive pranks in which they consume and destroy the world about them. This freewheeling, madcap feminist farce was immediately banned by the government.

The dream stretched on and on. I never knew where it ended, for it didn't seem to. Eternity came and went and I just sat there and played. Lost with my toys and colours. There was no care. What I'd give to be back there.

The unrest for death is nothing compared to the vacuum, to the sense of loss, the bewilderment of her departure. A clean slate. With her gone, my whole family has disappeared. A gust of wind on the dust of time passing by in the hourglass that pulverizes everything. She was all I returned for. A slight kiss on the cheek, a little nap on her lap, inhaling her clean antique scent. I sometimes emerge from my restless sleep to bold nightmares and night terrors woven of loneliness and disillusions.

I find myself beating at her door, longing for her voice and the warmth of her embrace. The sweet illusion of being back in my childhood home to the faint beat of her ancient heart. She still whispers in my ear a reassurance, like when I was a child, but it is a pitiful lie. Everything passes and everything dissolves. People, things, love and hope.

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