Beyond Magenta

by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick) 

When photographer Susan Kuklin first began work on Beyond Magenta, she intended to make a photo book about sex and alienation. What she ended up with was much more fine-tuned. In a warm and down-to-earth manner, Kuklin has profiled six teens and young adults who are transgender or intersex. The resulting book—published by Candlewick, which routinely produces thoughtful, lovely titles for young readers—is colorful and appealing. But with its glossary, interview with a doctor from a primary care clinic for teens, and lists of resources, it can be taken seriously as a useful guide for young people who are questioning their gender identities.

The subjects—by turns candid, confident, emotional and self-aware—share their childhood memories down to the most chit-chatty details. Their transition stories are about bodies, hormones and surgery, but they are also about clothing and haircuts and Barbies, family and friends and foster care. Each piece is rendered in the teen’s voice, with only small asides from Kuklin to fill in a detail here or there. This may in fact be the book’s strongest feature: The pieces read less like interviews and more like blog entries, as though they were made by the teens themselves and not shaped by an outsider’s agenda.

In an illuminating epilogue, Kuklin, who is not transgender, writes that she used to have a fairly rigid notion of what the word means. What she found instead—and what is represented in the book—is a wide range of gender identities, including genderqueer folks who don’t consider themselves to be male or female, but both, or neither. She made her book diverse in other ways as well, by talking with subjects from a range of racial and class backgrounds. In this way, trans kids should find stories they can connect to, and non-trans readers stand to have their minds opened a little—or a lot. As gender-fluid Cameron, who is neither a boy nor a girl, explains, “Gender does not have endpoints: It’s three-dimensional. Males float around somewhere, females float around somewhere else, and some people just don’t float at all—they swim.”