It’s an awesome time to be reading trans literature. Having long toiled to carve out spaces for their stories, trans writers have deservedly garnered a newfound attention and a growing readership in Canada and beyond. But there has yet to be a breakthrough book that brings the narrative of a non-binary person — someone whose gender identity doesn’t fit into the binary categories of man and woman — to a mainstream public. With Me, Myself, They, Vancouver-based filmmaker and advocate Joshua M. Ferguson seeks to fill that gap. In doing so, they offer readers an accessible introduction to the topic and an intimate story of struggle and growth.
Many of the painful staples of the queer memoir appear in these pages: childhood bullying, family tension, backward attitudes in a small town (in this case, Napanee, Ontario). Ferguson describes surviving the horrors of a hate crime, a harrowing sexual assault, and a lifetime of mental-health struggles. Eventually, they transcend their struggles and come to thrive. Ferguson thoughtfully intersperses these memories with reflections and explanatory detours covering topics such as gender identity, gender fluidity, pronouns, and transphobia alongside personal notes on empathy, spirituality, advocacy, and geekdom.
Using the memoir form as an educational tool is tricky. Ferguson’s personal story provides a mainstream audience a way in to potentially unfamiliar ideas about gender identity. Their prose is clear and intimate, often laced with optimistic asides and platitudes. But in striving to be loving and easy to engage, Ferguson also condescends at times, as though they are patiently revealing gender truths to a wide-eyed student.
To be fair, Ferguson does acknowledge the limits of their own experience, but they still frame important concepts as wisdom earned through their own self-discovery. In doing so, they position the individual self as the central place where gender happens, writing that “gender is self-determined and isn’t immutable.” Yes, an individual’s gender identity is theirs to delineate, but isn’t the experience of gender in the world also shaped and suffused by external forces such as power, history, and culture?
Ferguson touches on that kind of analysis and its roots in queer and feminist theory. And there is already a lot to take away from following their journey through self-actualization, activism, and filmmaking. But if readers gain some new insights about the experience of non-binary gender, they might nevertheless come away from an encounter with the book lacking the necessary tools to locate or apply them in their own life.
If Ferguson had connected their dots to the bigger picture more readily, they could have really nailed the memoir-as-societal-conversation balance on an important topic. But in this book, they at least open the door to it.