Book Review: The ABC’s of LGBT+, by Ash Hardell.

The ABC’s of LGBT+, by Ashley Mardell Ash Hardell.

The ABC's of LGBT+ BookCover

The ABC’s has never been as easy as one, two, three when it comes to the LGBT+ alphabet.  As our language continues to develop and change for the various genders and orientations all across the spectrum, it has become harder and more difficult to keep track of the supposedly all-inclusive umbrella acronym LGBT+, or LGBTQ+, or, LGBTTQQIAAP2.  See what I mean? I’m sure some of you are confused by the inclusion of “2” in that last example (it stands for Two Spirits).  So how are we supposed to keep track of all of the names and terminology to help us identify with other people in our queer community?  My first recommendation? Read Ashley Mardell’s (who has changed their named to Ash Hardell since publishing this book) The ABC’s of LGBT+:

We live in a post-binary world where gender fluency, awareness and acceptance of how people identify is essential. [Ash Hardell], a trusted voice on YouTube, looks at all things LGBT+.  [Hardell’s] book, filled with in-depth definitions and personal anecdotes, is proof it does get better every day in a world where people are empowered by information and understanding.  As [Hardell] says, “Learning about new identities broadens our understanding of humanity, heightens our empathy, and allows us different, valuable perspectives.”  Whether you are a questioning teen, a teacher or parents looking for advice or anyone wanting to learn the language or respect, this book is an essential guide for you.

Essential guide indeed! More on that in a moment. First, there was so little that I disliked about this book that I’d like to simply get that out of the way and be done with it.

The first (of the three) things I disliked about the book was that there were a few formatting and grammatical errors in the book.  There were a few times when the same word was repeated, or the formatting around pictures created too much white space on the page or gave odd page breaks (but left plenty of areas to write notes if you’re a heathenous person like me who writes on my books), and even a few instances when it felt like words were omitted causing the sentence to not make sense until you’d re-read it a few times.  The book was a huge collaboration with several people looking at it for editing.  With so many versions going back and forth, I can definitely understand how a few things were missed.  The errors were never enough to totally throw me out of the material, but some were still very noticeable.

Second on the dislike list would be that some of the transitions are very abrupt.  This book reads very conversationally so it’s hard to remember that it is actually a resource book and doesn’t need to have a beautifully crafted narrative (although it often does).  The writing is so carefully and thoughtfully done that when abrupt transitions did occur, it was a rather jarring.  A simple reminder that I wasn’t reading a story but rather reading through something more akin to a text book made the abrupt transitions less bothersome.

The third and final dislike was that the personal stories included within the book to help better facilitate understanding of certain genders and/or orientations were predominantly from AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals’ perspective.  I feel bad for even calling that a “dislike,” but I would have really liked to have had more AMAB (assigned male at birth) individuals’ stories included, as well.  That being said, there are over twenty-five personal stories included within the book.  Each story provides specific perspectives to help understand the material and I don’t mean to devalue or indicate that the stories included aren’t good – they are all very much needed if you’re to understand some of the more complex or ambiguous terms in the book.  I simply was bothered by how few AMAB perspectives were included.

Okay, now that that is out of the way – let me tell you about all the wonderful things about this book!

First of all, look at this art (art by August Osterloh, who you can find on Twitter @TallNerdyBean):

ABCsArtCompilation

These are just a few samples of the amazing inclusivity in this book just from the illustrations!  There are all types of body types, races, religions, and individuals with physical handicaps illustrated within the pages.  The illustrations not only helped explain the text, it also ensured that readers from all different backgrounds were represented in the book, even if the text wasn’t or never directly spoke about them.

Perhaps one of the best things about this book is that the narrative attempts to be as inclusive as possible and it honestly feels more like a conversation than it feels like reading a resource book.  The word choice and overall vocabulary of the book was kept very approachable and rarely used complicated language, because let’s face it, learning all of the terminology in this book is complicated enough!  The conversational tone and the approachability of the text is even prevalent in the footnotes.  Normally, I skip footnotes because they really take me out of what I’m reading and are usually very distracting or tangentially related.  That isn’t the case with this book!  The footnotes are funny, informative, and definitely add context to the subject matter as well as links to individuals quoted in the book or to other resource material for the reader.

In addition to being written in such a conversational manner, the narrative is extremely empathetic to the fact that this is a lot of information for one reader to understand all at once.  The book does its best by starting off with a section titled “Cheat Sheet,” which is actually where I was able to pull some of the information and definitions for The Queerblr’s terminology page.  Starting with all of the definitions was a little overwhelming at first, but it was actually handy to be at least visually familiar with all of the terms as I read further into the book, slowly growing off of what I knew.  The book does a great job of building off of information already given, further enforcing what it is teaching the reader and helping better understand the material and how it really all builds off of each other in day to day life.

Hardell makes it very clear that they, this book, and the individuals who contributed their personal stories aren’t subject matter experts – they use their experiences to help you understand how they interpret their gender(s) or orientation(s), but there is always an air of “but that might not be the case for you or other people who use this label, and that’s okay.”  While that might be frustrating to some of us who want more definitive definitions, it is very fitting of the LGBTQ+ culture, as no one queer person is the same and we all experience our queerness in different ways despite often sharing the same labels.

What this book did for me specifically as a reader was demonstrate the importance of labels.  I personally am not a huge fan of using labels because I find that they are very limiting. By automatically labeling someone a, for example, “butch lesbian,” there are all types of social connotations attached to that phrase and without ever getting to know the person, you have already concluded certain things about them based on the label provided to you.  What The ABC’s did for me was remind me that labels should only be used for people with their expressed consent and that labels and terminology are crucial for validation, especially when coming out or even coming to terms with your own gender(s) or orientation(s).  It also reminded me that it is through our labels that people are able to find other individuals who identify similarly, especially in an online community setting, like Tumblr, where you can go once you have the right words to do more research and potentially connect with others surround those labels.  One quote that I loved from the beginning of this book was:

While this book is chock-full of labels […] it’s important to note that this is meant to be a descriptive not prescriptive resource. It does not have an agenda to push labels on anyone, nor should you use it to label any individual without their consent. (25)

It reminds the reader to being open to having conversations with their LGBT+ friends about what their labels really mean to them and why they’re important to them in the way(s) that they use them.  It also stresses to never assume someone’s gender and/or orientation (which we all remember from reading The Queerblr’s review of A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, right?).

So how are you supposed to keep track of all of the information that the book shows you? And what are you supposed to do with all this new-found knowledge? As Hardell puts it in their book:

The short answer is, your best. […] No reasonable person is expecting you to hear these terms and immediately become a perfectly enlightened, flawless ally or LGBTQIA+ community member.  In fact, it is inevitable that you will make a few mistakes.  What is important though, is that you learn from your slip-ups, apologize when they happen, and continue to actively work on listening and educating yourself. (180)

The ABC’s of LGBT+ is a book that I believe belongs on every bookshelf.  Even as the language surrounding the LGBT+ community continues to change, expand, and evolve, this book will always be an essential foundation for many of the terms and has some amazing examples of what they mean or even how the terms came to be and how they’ve evolved so far already.  It has over twenty-five personal stories included to help readers better understand various labels and how certain individuals may or may not use their label(s) or how their label(s) applies to them and their situation.  It is with these personal stories that the transfer of knowledge and “ah-ha” moments truly happen while reading.  Readers can research terminology all day long, but without talking with someone about some of this information, chances are the information just won’t stick or make complete sense.  If you’re unable to talk with someone, this book is an amazing resource.  And to boot?  The book will make you feel valued, appreciated, valid, and will understand that it’s all a bit confusing.  Hardell did an amazing job of their conversational tone throughout the book that sometimes it’s hard to remember that you’re not actually having a conversation with the pages.

 

Rating: 5 rainbows
5 out of 5 rainbows

Recommended Reader: Absolutely everyone.
Are you a parent? Read this.
Are you a teacher? I would recommend you read it and make sure your school library has it in stock!
Are you a teenager questioning where you land on the spectrum of gender and/or sexuality? There are ways for you to acquire it online for very cheap, if not free!
Are you a person who has been open and out in the LGBT+ community for most your life? Pick it up, because you’ll learn more than you realized you didn’t know.
Seriously – Everyone. I know it seems like I say that about a lot of books so far, but if you had to buy one book from my recommendation, I would say this one.

You can find more from Ash on Twitter @AshHardell and YouTube!

AND BONUS! Within the book, there are SO MANY more amazing queer individuals to follow and where you can follow them at! So, if you’re looking to follow some amazing people, pick up the book just for the networking!

 

 

BONUS MATERIAL!

Image result for yay!!! meme

I think it is apparent how much I loved this book.  But there’s more!  This book had so many good quotes in it that I couldn’t keep them all to myself.  So, here is a smattering of quotes from throughout the book to entice your reading palate.

All of these quotes belong to The ABC’s of LGBT+ and I have listed the page numbers for where you can locate the quotes for yourself.

The lack of knowledge regarding sexual and gender diversity is also largely reflected in today’s media, which typically only showcases stereotyped, trite depictions of LGBTQIA+ people. Reducing us to these -one-dimensional clichés is not only inaccurate, but also harmful.  (22)

Used properly, language has the power to validate people’s identities and grant a sense of community. (25)

While this book is chock-full of labels […] it’s important to note that this is meant to be a descriptive not prescriptive resource. It does not have an agenda to push labels on anyone, nor should you use it to label any individual without their consent. (25)

Something about sex I don’t think many people are familiar with however, is that it’s a social construct. It’s a method of classification invented by humans. / Now don’t get me wrong – our body’s physicality is not a construct. A person may, for example, have facial hair, XY chromosomes, and tons of testosterone flowing through their veins. The way our bodies are is simply undeniable. However, labeling a person like this “male”, based on their physical characteristics is a human design. After all, body parts are not inherently male or female… they are just body part. (50)

Use of “might” throughout the book. Page 52 for example

We need to understand in many ways that while there are biological patterns, they are not rules. (53)

1 in every 200 people is intersex. […] To give you an even better idea of how common intersex people are, consider that 1 in every 200 is about the same as the number of natural redheads! (53)

We can start better understanding what this means by noting that gender, in comparison to sex, is significantly less tangible. Nothing physical about a person […] dictates their gender. Instead, gender is composed of self-understanding and self-perception. In the simplest terms: assigned sex is rooted in our biology, while gender is rooted in who we know ourselves to be beyond our biology. (61)

No gender is inherently more natural or legitimate than any other. This is because a person’s gender is their truth. (62)

Our culture is constantly thrusting gender expectation on all of us. This becomes a problem when it limits people’s expressions and identities and perpetuates intolerance of anything that’s not the norm. (62)

We have two ideas that pop into our heads when forming an opinion, the first idea is what we are conditioned to think, and the second idea is what determines who we are as people.” (65)

The word “identify” is frequently thrown around [when talking about gender] in ways that diminish the validity of trans/[non-binary] people’s gender.

CIS SITUATION:

“is charlie a girl or a boy?”

“She’s a girl.”

TRANS SITUATION:

“Is Taylor a girl or a boy?”

“They identify as a boy.”

It’s almost as if trans/[non-binary] people don’t have genders in the exact same way cis people do. […] This can be frustrating because it insinuates that non-cis people’s genders are less legitimate or inherent than cis people’s. (72)

All that gendered products do […] is limit people’s experiences and their understanding of gender. (77)

How others perceive us is not always in our control. We often talk about expression as being the public part of our gender, how we communicate our gender in the world we live in. This includes both what we are trying to communicate, as well as things we may not be intentionally communicating but that are ready by others anyway. For instance, even when Riley presents in a feminine way, she acknowledges that some people may still perceive her as a man. This just goes to show that appearance and gender, are not one in the same. (80)

QUEERBLR NOTES: This can also be said about appearance and sexual orientation – despite fashion often being an indication of orientation, just because someone dresses a certain way does not mean that there are attracted to a certain gender(s). E.G. – Juneau girls wearing what most would consider “lesbian apparel” as they wear flannels and lose fitting pants because it is practical clothing for the environment and the activities that they partake in.

Some languages gender everything, even words for objects that don’t have strong cultural associations with masculinity or femininity. In French for example, chairs are feminine and airplanes are masculine. This is a great illustration of how a word’s grammatical gender has less to do with actual gender, and more to do with having a set of rules for categorizing and forming agreements between words. […] This may surprise people seeing as many pronouns have strong gender associations. These associations however, are purely a social, not grammatical one. (81)

Pronouns are simply communication tools which are meant to best represent the person they are referring to. (83)

Never feel bad for requesting that others use your chosen pronouns. You deserve respect and to be affirmed in your identity. Your feelings are totally valid, whatever you decide is right for you! (87)

Just remember that notions most people have of masculinity are solely based on what they were taught; being a man is so much more than these stereotypes. (92)

Getting top surgery was something that I had to do for me. Testosterone was something that I wanted to do to please society. […] I had to follow the path that was right for me, not what was easier for the people around me. (97-98)

Non-binary is an extension of who I am. It doesn’t define my interactions, my feelings, or what I do on Saturdays. It’s just a feeling. It’s like how when I finally got glasses and noticed that the stars flickered or that the moon had shadows. (109)

Labels can be very powerful, and in the end, it’s really up to the individual regarding which terms they adopt and how they define them. So yes, certain terms, definitions, and the differences between them might feel a bit ambiguous. This isn’t a bad thing though as it allows for freedom and self-identification. (127)

MORE BONUS MATERIAL!?

The final bonus for this post is that I made a really crappy “video” in tandem with this review.  It’s a short audio review of me mainly reading the conclusion of the book and summarizing why I enjoyed it so much.  The audio quality sucks, I say um every other word it seems, and the video is only a vehicle for the audio track.  It really isn’t anything special, but I thought I said some cool stuff so here you have it. Watch if you’d like. And enjoy if you do. Image result for gay heart

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