Review of ‘What’s The T?’ by Juno Dawson

Some of you reading this book may well already be on the Transgender Express train, while some others may be thinking about whether or not to board.

page 20, What’s the T?

The book

It’s called What’s the T?: The no-nonsense guide to all things trans and/or non-binary for teens. ‘Discover what it means to be a young transgender and/or non-binary person in the twenty-first century in this frank and funny guide for 14+ teens,’ promises the blurb. The cover is draped in the gender-conforming pink, blue and white transgender tricolour flag. The art inside is provided by Soofiya, a gender non-conforming artist, whose pronouns are they/them.

Who is Juno Dawson?

I’m sure regular tweeps all know who Dawson is and what he looked like pre-transition, but if you don’t please have a quick sweep through this article. It has always struck me that Dawson was a perfectly masculine-looking man. As James Dawson, he had already had a successful Young Adult Fiction writing career, but had also written non-fiction books prior to transition, including This Book is Gay (about being LGBTQ) and also Being a Boy (a sort of guide for teen boys). Dawson simultaneously claims that the signs of him being transgender were strong all along, yet also that he had had no idea whatsoever that he was really trans.

The look

Annoyingly the E-book is set in a special format which means you can’t increase the size of the miniature-sized font, nor highlight text. This is to facilitate the cartoon art which runs throughout. I think this is to appeal to a younger age group than the one it is nominally aimed at.

The language

Even though the long form allows for none of these contractions to be required, Dawson frequently uses yoof speak, like Imma instead of I am going to, obv instead of obvious, and LOL.

LOL.

The narrative is matey and jokey and sometimes conspiratorial and frequently breaks out into HUGE CAPITAL BOLDED WORDS when Dawson thinks SOMETHING IS REALLY IMPORTANT, or REALLY FUNNY, when actually it is just REALLY IRRITATING.

The Parts and Chapters

It is divided into three parts: All About Identity, Trans Life and Help and Advice. Chapter 1 of Part 1 is the oxymoron Becoming Me. So let’s start there.

Becoming Me

Dawson introduces himself as if he were talking to very small people. ‘Hello’ is in a speech bubble. Dawson grapples with the big issue upfront – Juno was once James – and sets up a running joke throughout the book that he is ancient (he is 39 years old at the time of writing) even going so far as to describe himself as a ‘fossil person’ (replete with a little fossil cartoon – tee-hee).

Dawson explains how the mistake of his being born a boy happened:

the doctor who oversaw my birth made a whoopsie. It really wasn’t his fault. As far as he could tell from a quick scan of my body I was a baby boy.

page 10, What’s the T?

Yep, this is the moronic level of debate that Dawson keeps up throughout the book.

Dawson tells us that it took him almost 30 years to work out that he was ‘one of these mythological unicorn people I’d dimly heard about’.

Aged about 10/11 he would lie in in his ‘cramped single bed’ and plead with God to make him a girl. Unlike kids today he didn’t have a ‘litany of amazing role models’ to aspire to. No, he only had the demented Nadia Almada of Big Brother fame.

Dawson claims that he had begun to realise that he might be transgender when he did his research for This Book is Gay.

It hadn’t even occurred to my clueless little brain that my whole life had been a BIG FAT TRANSGENDER LIFE.

page 14, What’s the T?

Dawson describes that he felt like his twin sister was living inside of him and he constantly fantasised about the life ‘she’ might have. Dawson engaged a therapist to talk about his feelings in 2013 (for a whole year we learn later) and eventually ‘CAME OUT‘ two years later in 2015.

Dawson confidently assures his readers that puberty is terrible for everyone, but especially for him because he had to go ‘through puberty twice’ (he started hormones aged 32). As is fashionable now in the gender identity activist circles, we are told that there is no right way to behave like a boy or a girl and Dawson explains:

If fate, or nature, or biology had been kinder, I would absolutely, one hundred percent have been born a girl with all the ‘typical’ girl parts.

page 20

Clearly Dawson doesn’t want to upset the transladies with untypical girl parts.

Dawson says he wishes he could go back in time and read his own book when he was 12 because it contains all the important information he needed to know back then, which is a shame because the book is aimed at 14+ audience which would have made it slightly above his age group.

WTF is the T in LGBT?

In this section Dawson explains what being trans means – in the case of non-binary he says that someone might reject being both male and female, or embrace both. Simples!

In this section Dawson lays down the law about what ‘transphobia’ is.

IT’S NOT TRANSPHOBIC TO HAVE QUESTIONS,
IT’S TRANSPHOBIC TO HAVE CONCERNS.

page 25

Information is fed to us via a device where he fields questions from fictional idiots who ask dumb questions and allowing him to bitch back with tart retorts. None of it is vaguely funny.

All the usual targets are hit, sex isn’t binary because intersex and he gives a very interesting comparison that gender is socially constructed because – wait for it – toilet paper is socially constructed. This, he explains, is because some people wipe their bum with toilet paper and some people use hoses. MIND BLOWN.

Sex is really comprised of five characteristics gonads, sex chromosomes, levels of sex hormones, internal genitalia and external genitalia.

Men’s bodies are not policed and debated like women’s are.

page 31, Dawson commenting on the power of the patriarchy. Yes, really.

Dawson tells us that the world treats him just like ‘any old woman’ in terms of ‘street and online sexual harassment’ but it is so much worse for him because sometimes he gets a side order of transphobia too.

Genitals are private and he doesn’t ever think about what kind of genitals other trans people might have. Privates are private. You shouldn’t wonder what kind of surgery one might have had. He tells us this one paragraph after the revelation that he wishes he had a ‘tiny vagina’ (luckily for Dawson he has a tiny brain which must make up for the loss).

The right to identify as what you want is the basis of human rights, Dawson tells us. You might have surgery and hormones and you might not. All of it is equal to the other.

When Dawson does drag, it is just that, and when the clothes come off he is still ‘just Juno – a woman’. NURSE!

He tells us more about how he saw himself as a kid, that he always saw himself as a woman, accompanied by a triptych of cartoons of Juno as air hostess, plucky reporter, and Doctor Who companion. COMPELLING.

On detransition

Only a few people who change their mind and the regret rates for genital surgery are much lower than the regret rates for cosmetic surgery in the general population. Detransition isn’t really a thing.

In my mind, they haven’t ‘detransitioned’ – it’s just that their path towards their gender ‘sweet spot’ is different to mine.

page 45, denying identities is fine when it’s the other side.

We are told that puberty blockers is a medicine also used by ‘cisgender children’ and ‘cis women’ and that they simply pause puberty. ‘BODILY AUTONOMY‘ and the right to choose your own destiny is far more important.

A Brief History of Trans

After giving us a lecture on the importance of the space between ‘trans’ and ‘woman’, Dawson tells us that there was a 5,000 year old ‘male’ skeleton found who liked dressing up in ‘female clothes’, Romans castrated themselves, there was a cross-dressing Roman Emperor and a medieval sex worker who may have been bisexual. JESUS.

Modern medicine however had given trans people the possibility of transition and thus the first patients to undergo surgeries are presented with short bios and included Alan L. Hart, Dora Richter, Lile Elbe, Michael Dillon and Christine Jorgensen, amongst others.

In other words, trans people have always existed, so learn the factoids in this chapter kids if anyone says anything to you about it being a fad. Orwite?

Beyond the Binary

Dawson further attempts to explain the phenomenon of non-binary identities. Just like binary trans people, non-binary people have always existed and been recognised in human cultures. Tables of different genders from cultures around the world are presented, but the description column frequently admits that the gender identity is based on the prerequisite of sex. OOPS!

Dawson forgets what he told us at the beginning of the book about not realising he had gender dysphoria and tells us:

For me – a girl who always knew she was a girl – it’s not much of a stretch to imagine there are people in the world who do not have the super-strong sense of a gender.

page 79, Dawson experimenting with the Zen koan

And we’re into quotes from Jamie Windust who is ‘something of a non-binary legend’ (the whole book is peppered with quotes from the great and the good) and Travis Alabanza, both of which do literally nothing to elicit further what non-binary is.

The legal problems facing non-binary people are exactly the same as those faced by – yes, you’ve guessed it – intersex people.

Y – Tho?

In this chapter Dawson attempts to explain to us why some people are transgender. And he doesn’t disappoint:

To be honest, a lot of this stuff is SUPER-SCIENCY and SUPER-COMPLICATED.

page 92, chokes on coffee

Dawson tells us that transgender people are sort of like intersex people because their brains developed differently in the womb ‘cos hormones n’ stuff. He also talks about the possibility of gender dysphoria as being inherited, and the effect siblings and families have. Another theory is brain structure and he pelts out some very convincing prose, but even he has to admit that the ‘excellent science’ has been challenged on ‘small sample size’. Anyway, moving swiftly on.

Coming Out

Dawson gives advice about how to come out. It’s actually quite good advice. DAMN. Mermaids, Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence are obviously given the thumbs up. Which is obviously TERRIBLE.

Appearance-wise, you’ve changed a lot, obviously. But in your personality, no, I don’t think you’ve changed much at all.

ANGELA DAWSON, MY MUM

page 115, Dawson’s mum confirms he’s always been a shit bag

The Trans Life

Dawson takes on the thorny subject of ‘passing’, claiming that it shouldn’t matter, except that it obviously does if you want to be perceived as the opposite sex. Crucially Dawson bewails the fact that he never had access to puberty blockers and if he had his chances of success might have been much better.

Advice about wearing binders is given (basically they are dangerous and don’t wear them for more than 8 hours and lots of people don’t tell their parents they wear them, on which Dawson predictably has no opinion). A transmasculine person might also want to wear a packer, because ‘some cis people are obsessed with scrutinising the general crotch area of trans people’. YOU WISH.

We wouldn’t need to worry about passing so much if cis people weren’t so bloody unkind to us in the street.

page 135, ooh guess who gets wolf whistled all the time

Now for the fun bit, PICKING A NAME, ooh the excitement! Dawson let’s us know that we can change our name by deed poll over the age of 16.

Sorry, now for the fun bit, PRONOUNS, and:

You can instinctively tell when people are misgendering you maliciously and when they’re making a genuine mistake.

page 137, It’s almost like a trans superpower, isn’t it?

Dawson tells us how awfully expensive it was to change his paperwork, costing ‘around £70 or thereabouts’. Luckily the internationally successful young adult author could afford it. I suppose it was somewhat cheaper than a single session of electrolysis but there you go.

On the subject of schools, Dawson recalls his experience of teaching in primary schools between 2004 to 2011 and claims that there were trans kids. He encourages his audience to come out at a school and tells them that the school has to be supportive and either provide access to the private spaces they want or offer the disabled facilities to them. Dawson says he has delivered trans inclusivity training to big brands and the Home Office.

The Problem is Other People

The world assumes everyone is cisgender. It has been set up to work best for cis people. And so …

* Sanitary products are marketed towards women.

[…]

Trans people are – contrary to what some papers would have you believe – a tiny minority group. Yes, nearly all the people on the planet who menstruate are women.

page 153, just before a very big BUT

Dawson goes on to talk about Ben Saunders, a Stonewall Youth campaigner, who convinced Always to remove the female symbol from their packaging. A hollow victory to which I can only laugh.

Dawson also educates us on what a TERF is. They are bad people who are transphobic and the readers shouldn’t engage with. Trans people are allowed to use whatever private spaces they like and ‘cis men are scary’, but transwomen would never lie about being trans in order to do anything nasty. Dawson assures us that there is almost no data to suggest that this ever happens in public toilets or changing facilities. Why would a predator go to the bother of changing their paperwork? (especially when it’s so bloody expensive).

Doctor, Doctor! I think I’m transgender!

More on surgeries. Dawson now asserts that he wanted to be a girl since the age of 4. Some non-binary people, like Jamie Windust, don’t want surgeries and hormones, but some do. Just like with binary trans people.

Dawson advises the kids to speak to other trans people if they want to know the tricks of the trade on how to get their treatment fast-tracked. Puberty blockers are described as ‘the holy grail’ but Dawson is obliged to report that there is now restriction on them being given to under-16s in the UK and provides an extensive quote from the NHS, which begins ‘little is known about the long term side effects’ (page 178). Yet Dawson is at pains to stress that puberty blockers do definitely relieve depression and anxiety.


In fact, a study written up by clinicians at the Gender Identity Clinic at the Tavistock and the UCL Institute of Child Health says there were no changes:

There were no changes from baseline to 12 or 24 months in CBCL or YSR total t-scores or for CBCL or YSR self-harm indices, nor for CBCL total t-score or self-harm index at 36 months. 

paragraph from Short-term outcomes of pubertal suppression in a selected cohort of 12 to 15 year old young people with persistent gender dysphoria in the UK, link to full article

The report avoids analysing girls and boys separately, as the preliminary results (for 30 out of 44 patients) were worse for girls. The report also documents that bone mineral loss is real and one can only wonder what the psychological impact of that must be on the patient cohort.


Cross sex hormones are referred to as ‘hormone replacement therapy’. Dawson does point out that the cosmetic results of cross sex hormones can’t be known until you start taking them.

Although in the UK hormone treatment and surgery are available for free in the NHS, Dawson wouldn’t blame anyone going privately and he urges people to donate to crowdfunders for the same.

On the one hand he advises the kids not to pursue surgery unless they really want to, on the other he does close the chapter saying that with each successive surgery he has had, he continues to prefer his body.

Make of that what you will.

page 193, WE WILL

Love and romance

In which Dawson reassures his teen readers that it is still possible to find love when you’re trans and that sexuality and gender is likely to change over time (which can only be laying the ground for them to later accept that they might not be able to find exactly who they want, I am thinking specifically of trans-identified females who become so masculinised that lesbians no longer find them attractive and straight women and gay men who never would).

We are given a run down of the different sexualities around, notably Dawson tells us that aromantic and asexual people still have sex. Dawson explains that we are attracted to people, not bodies, and makes it clear that sexuality will be no bar to desirability (one wonders what he might have said had this been published after the #superstraight meme) and that people won’t automatically reject the idea of dating a trans person. WRONG!

Bottom line is this: I really don’t think my gay male friends would ever fancy me – I’m just too obviously a woman, whereas they’d totally fancy trans men.

page 200

Dawson tells his teen audience there are in fact people who are specifically interested in dating trans people (known as chasers).

Back to online dating. First things first: pretty much all the dating apps I know of insist on users being over eighteen, but that doesn’t stop younger people from naughtily signing up.

page 208, [picks jaw off floor]

Not only that but you can also sign up to social media platforms and direct message people!

Dawson then tells his teen audience not to send nudes if you’re under 18 and not to ask for nudes from under-18s either. Why? Well, it’s illegal. Other than that he doesn’t appear to be that bothered.

One good thing he does recommend though is ‘REVERSE IMAGE SEARCH‘ and ask to see multiple images and gives some other okay-ish stranger danger advice.

Dawson’s fiance, Max, also makes a guest appearance attesting to how unbothered he was by Dawson’s transness. Max does not disclose whether he was previously dating men or women, or both, prior to his meeting Dawson.

The most revealing statement though comes from Jake Graf, who gives a very long quote about finding love with her transgender partner, Hannah:

We receive hundreds of messages every month from trans folk across the world, some of whom have been single for several years, asking us how we found each other and hoping that ‘their person’ is out there too.

page 215, from Jake Graf

Sexy fun times

Everything to do with sex is a ‘hormonal thing’ which is particularly relevant to trans people because they might be on ‘hormone replacement therapy’. Oestrogen makes a person receptive to the idea of sex and testosterone is responsible for initiating it. Um, okay. Know your place wims!

On the subject of anal sex, Dawson says that you must use lube, and gives conflicting advice on douching, suggesting that it will get rid of ‘sneaky poo-nugs’ (lovely turn of phrase) but that it also poses a health risk (not explained) so you shouldn’t do it. CONFUSING.

Very grown up things

Dawson assures his teen readers that once they get through the storm of transition normality exists on the other side and they will be able to start a family! For example, the amazing Jake and Hannah Graf who had a big fancy wedding covered by the red tops now have a baby! With the use of a ‘surrogate’! Hurrah!

Seriously though, if you want to have a baby you will have to preserve your eggs and sperm before having hormone therapy. Later a lovely happy ‘surrogate’ will have your baby to make you happy! Just like that! Okay, a bit of extra costs may be involved, but trans people can have all the things that cis people have. It’s just admin, innit?

A statement from a trans-identified female called Will is included. She is ‘dad’ to her wife’s children from a previous relationship. Will felt that her step-son was probably trans. Kid was taken to a London clinic and was socially transitioned and is now on blockers. Will transitioned after the kid. The kid therefore paved her way. WRONG!

You and the Law

Dawson misquotes the Equality Act 2010 and says that trans people can use whatever toilet or changing rooms they want and in fact they have to really otherwise they won’t be able to go out in public.

Advice about changing names without applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate is rehashed. He also advises that a passport can be changed without a GRC.

Dawson whinges that the cost of getting a GRC is a ‘small fortune (around £100)’. Of course all of the current legislation excludes non-binary and genderfluid people and that just isn’t fair and a battle for the future.

What next?

Er, some stuff. Vote in elections and be your best self. White straight cisgender able-bodied men are literally the bane of the world.

Also: Look at all the people who have appeared in my Transgender Hall of Fame*, they are all ‘highly talented, skilled, clever, funny, kind, intelligent and charming’ people, who are famous.

And: You will get bored talking about your gender.

* Each chapter begins with a bio and quote from various celebs, vloggers and political activists.

The rest of the book, including part 3

Limping towards the end now*. Includes a tawdry online Q&A that Dawson did. One kid asks how they can transition without their parents knowing. All fine says Dawson.

* Yes, I did get bored.

Advice for parents includes:

It’s worth bearing in mind that every trans and/or NON-BINARY adult was a trans or non-binary child. This is not a decision or choice. We were, in the words of Lady Gaga, ‘born this way’.

page 267, deploy palm to face NOW!

Obviously MERMAIDS, GENDERED INTELLIGENCE and STONEWALL are the ones with the ‘wealth of resources’. Parents can thank their lucky socks that they are now in the same position as Cher and Charlize Theron, which is ‘pretty cool’. BRILLIANT!

Then we have five top tips direct from Mermaids, this can be summarised as follows:

  1. Ring Mermaids.
  2. Your child is intrinsically trans and there is nothing you can do about it.
  3. Believe what they say; it isn’t a phase.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (which is rather negated by points 1, 2, 3 and 5).
  5. Believe everything your child tells you about how they feel.

The Further Support chapter signposts the child to Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, The Albert Kennedy Trust (an LGBT homeless charity), Childline, and Switchboard LGBT.

The recommended reading list includes a book by Paris Lees, whose publication date is in several months into the future, ditto a book by Shon Faye. Oh, it’s a BUSY MARKET, alright.

Reflections

Well obviously it’s a terrible book with an over reliance on celebrity plugs to patch over the lack of factual information and balanced opinion about life changing treatments and surgeries. It also occasional lapses into very bad advice – sort of suggesting that children should sign up to adult dating apps being a particular low point. Incorrect information is given out about UK law. So yet again it seems like no one bothered proofreading the book. It was published by Wren & Rook, which sits within the Hachette Children’s Group, the largest publisher of children’s books in the UK.

I can’t help but think that Dawson is high on the list to be a regretter in a few years’ time because, reading between the lines in the book itself, it seems like he has experienced some sort of rapid onset gender dysphoria himself.


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