Review of A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni  and Tristan Jimerson. Limerence Press. 2018.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They-Them PronounsThis is a non-fiction comics guide to using they/them pronouns written by a cis man and a non-binary person. I have mixed feelings about this book which can basically be summed up as: it’s kinda okay, I guess, but has some problems and may be helpful to some people.

The book is mostly the two authors in comic form talking to the reader, and occasionally each other. It’s kind of like…a comic version of a rather long they/them pronouns 101 lecture. That is one of my core issues with this book, because long lectures don’t even work as a pedagogical tool for most people even when they are in person, but when they are in comic form, it flattens the engagement that might come from a speaker being dynamic and moving around.

A comic could be an awesome way to teach something, if it wasn’t 90% talking heads who occasionally talk to each other, but instead used some of the awesome tools available in comics to tell story, build connection with character, illustrate things, have action on the page. This would also enable more diversity of perspective to be presented in the story; instead of the somewhat knowledgeable cis guy narrator sometimes taking on the role of an ignorant and sometimes harmful person, we could see a range of cis people and a range of non-binary people and a range of binary trans people in the universe of the book. Which then would make more diversity possible, so that readers aren’t seeing only white able bodied young masculine folks.

Another issue for me was the audience. It felt like the book was primarily for well-intended cis people who want to learn. The book says that its both for people who use they/them pronouns and people who don’t. I use they/them pronouns, and felt alienated by the book and the way it talked about people like me.

For example, I struggled with the moment where they set up the cis author as a straw man saying something hurtful, dismissive, and gaslighting (that non-binary folks are just being “dramatic” by getting upset at being misgendered), and then arguing against it. It felt both like it would be confusing for some readers, as he was originally set up as an ally and that’s not an ally thing to say, and  that it made the assumption that readers felt this way. As a non-binary reader, this section of the book felt deeply alienating.

When it got to the section specifically for non-binary readers, it assumed a ton about us, including that we all will come out, that an essential part of our coming out is being patient and understanding towards the people you come out to, and that all of us are up for letting it go when we are misgendered. It also talks about toxic relationships with folks who constantly harm and disrespect you (including misgendering), and frames exiting those relationships as simple. As an abuse survivor, that part made me cringe.

I also struggled with comprehension. This is supposed to be an easy guide to a subject that could be new to the reader. I have taught this subject and live it in my daily life, and I kept getting lost and struggling to understand what the book was saying. It was confusing at key points when the core job was clarity.

There are some parts of the content that I thought were especially good, like the tips for service workers, the brick metaphor, the explanation of how exhausting it is to be misgendered all the time, and the tips for what to do when you misgender someone. And there were some parts of the content that felt oversimplified or just off, like comparing the experience of someone deciding to call you a different name to being misgendered, saying that as cis people are less likely to experience being misgendered, and advocating for asking everyone what their pronouns are.

It felt like the book quietly centered non-binary folks that are often read as women (likely AFAB non-binary folks), and that kind of erasure is a real issue. For example, when showing Archie being misgendered, it was always with she/her pronouns. That might be Archie’s experience, but I think it’s misleading to readers, because he/him pronouns would also be misgendering and that’s not made clear. On top of being misleading, it centers AFAB non-binary experience in a way I find troubling. Which brings me back to the structure of the book being 90% talking heads and centering a white thin apparently abled cis man and a white thin apparently abled AFAB non-binary person. The possibilities for a diversity of experience and identity (and for creativity in teaching) are there with a comic, but they don’t manifest in this book, which seriously limits it’s effectiveness.

Representation

  • Non-binary character
  • Non-binary author

Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

Shows people being gaslighted and misgendered. Ableist language. 

Disclosures

  • Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
  • I have had no contact with the authors.

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