Review: HELLO CRUEL WORLD by Kate Boernstein

Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bernstein.  From Seven Stories Press (July 2006), available here.

I bought this book for my wife as a gift, but read it before she got her hands on it. It’s a vital book, especially at this moment, when news of “bathroom bills” and the resulting legalized harassment and abuse of trans folk who dare to… exist… in public seems to be mounting by the day.

This book is going to save lives. Maybe it will prevent some suicides from happening–one hopes–but even if that’s not the case, it’s going to change the lives of those who read it for the better by helping readers wade through the mire of things-we-know about gender. It’s going to make us all rethink, or think better… and by that, love each other better.

Boernstein writes in a clear, relatable way, about gender. I’ve been teaching versions of “gender studies” at the college level for decades now, and I’m going to sit with this book over the summer to relearn how to talk about this stuff. Boernstein makes it very clear that you can talk about very complex ideas in understandable ways without dumbing down.

Another lesson I’ll take: I cried, like, really a lot reading this. I also snickered, and downright laughed; sometimes I did all three at once. All of this is good stuff, productive for thinking; in other words, the tone of this book isn’t just an extension of Boernstein’s writer persona in the world, and isn’t just about “relating” to teens–it’s a carefully-chosen stance with respect to the material and the thinking. “Real” thought (the kind academia finds valuable) isn’t necessarily best when it’s detached, stoic, and without investment. “Real” thought belongs to all of us who are invested. This book proves that.



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