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Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers    by Cris Beam order for
by Cris Beam
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Cris Beam's nonfiction narrative Transparent - an account of years spent in L.A. working with transgender teens - is very well-written, but by no means an easy read. She tells about the many transgirls she first met while volunteering at a transgender school. A few of these girls kept in contact with Beam during the five years she was living in L.A., and even after she moved back to New York. She tells us their stories.

The one thing that almost all of these transgirls had in common was that they had been thrown out of the house for various reasons - many, though, because they came out to their families and were not supported. This shunning by their families - and subsequently living in shelters and on the streets - greatly shaped the way these young girls lived their lives. Many turned to drugs and prostitution as a means to survive, blowing off school and jobs as they immersed themselves in the street life. A few were better off. Foxxjazell, who moved to Hollywood to become a star before she completely changed over to being a girl, had the support of her family back home, but being young and niave, still ended up living in shelters until she was able to save up for a place of her own. Because of this support, Foxx fared very well through her adolescence, with only a few rough spots, such as an abusive relationship.

One girl, Domineque, did not do so well. Her mother gave her up for crack, and after spending most of her teen years bouncing through the system, Domineque was taken in by a loving foster family. But her obsession with seeing why crack led her mother to give her up eventually landed Domineque in a male prison. Perhaps the girl that Beam focuses on most is Christina, a transgirl not far from sliding down the same slippery slope that Domineque took, but with enough of a life goal to make it with strong support. Beam turned out to be the support that Christina needed and seeing her journey as a parent along with Christina's journey to an adjusted adulthood is amazing.

Beam's graphic look at these young women's lives is sometimes hard to read. However, she sheds a much-needed light on a subject too often misunderstood and overlooked. Though I do not know anyone in a situation similar to what these young people went through, I now have a deep appreciation for those who work with these girls, and better understand the struggle they face in order to live in society. Beam presents all the facts and gives her own perspective, but never forces the reader to agree with her, just as she never judges the girls for their actions without knowing what led to their decisions. She introduces us to real teenagers going through regular teenage problems, amplified by how the majority of society sees them. Transparent will open the eyes of anyone who wishes to know more about the lives of transgender teenagers.

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