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Reviewed by:
  • The Lives of Transgender People by Genny Beemyn et al.
  • Kristen A. Renn and Jeffrey K. Grim
The Lives of Transgender People. Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2011, 230 pages, $27.50 (softcover)

Until recently the voices and narratives of transgender people have been at best neglected and at worst silenced. In their groundbreaking book, Genny Beemyn and Susan Rankin illuminate the experiences of a diverse group of people often misunderstood in higher education and society. A small but growing number of colleges and universities includes gender identity in campus nondiscrimination policies. Some institutions have added gender-neutral housing and provide care for transgender students in campus health centers. While some campuses, businesses, and healthcare providers now provide support for transgender people there are many organizations that remain unaware of the unique challenges facing this population. With Beemyn and Rankin's book—and the rich mixed-methods study underlying it—knowledge about transgender identities and experiences is now available for organizations and campus leaders to respond with better and more support for transgender people.

The study on which this book is based bears some description, as it is the most ambitious effort to date to explore the experiences and identities of transgender people in the United States. Aiming "to consider the developmental experiences of all types of people in the United States who self-identify as transgender or who did so in the past" (p. 7), Beemyn and Rankin embarked upon a mixed-methods study that included an online national survey and in-person, phone, and e-mail interviews. They recruited participants through a number of venues, including listservs, organizations, and websites. Ultimately, 3,474 participants completed the online survey between November 2005 and February 2006, and 419 of this group later participated in interviews (301 by e-mail, 109 by phone, 9 in-person). For readers interested in details of the method, appendices in the book include the survey, interview protocol, and statistical analyses. The authors are to be commended for both the study design itself and for their thoughtful attention to describing it in a way that is accessible to novice researchers yet sophisticated enough to satisfy readers seeking evidence of scholarly rigor.

The book is organized into five chapters that share important findings and address practical ways to address issues of support and inclusion for transgender youth and college students. In chapter 1 the authors introduce language, including gender-neutral terms, survey respondents used to describe themselves. Beemyn and Rankin also give a brief history of transgender research and articulate the importance of the topic. This foundation is helpful, especially to readers unfamiliar with terms and the history of oppression related to gender and sexuality. In chapter 2 the authors focus on how study participants came to form gender identities both individually and in community. In chapter 3 the authors illuminate the context of participants' lives, showing how chilly climates in organizations, education, and society can affect transgender people and their sense of belonging to a community.

In chapter 4 Beemyn and Rankin provide an historical and reflective perspective to show how the study participants developed [End Page 115] identities. Because the sample is large and diverse, the authors frame participants' narratives around "milestones" that were common among people with similar identities within the larger "transgender" category. This chapter is a particular highlight of the book, as it helps the reader to understand study participants' feelings, tribulations, and triumphs. Photographs of participants as children, youth, and adults appear throughout the book, adding to this sense of connection between reader and subject area.

Finally, in chapter 5 the authors provide practical advice, based on theoretical models and their study, for institutions seeking better to support transgender students. That both authors are experienced higher education administrators and scholars is a particular strength of the book for a student affairs audience. Beemyn and Rankin can therefore write with authority about how their study's findings apply to improving higher education policy, practice, and programs, even though not all study participants attended college.

One of the greatest strengths of this book is the sample on which the authors base their conclusions. They drew...


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pp. 115-117
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