How To Understand Your Gender – Alex vs Meg-John

In this blog post, Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker interview each other about their new book ‘How to Understand Your Gender.’

 Meg-John: Hey Alex. So, we’re here in Heathrow airport waiting for our flight to a conference in Vienna and we thought it’d be a good chance to write about why we’re so excited about our book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers which comes out in a few weeks. Tell me how are you feeling about it right now?

Alex: Right now, I am incredibly nervous, both about the book coming out soon and, more immediately, about the keynote I am about give in Vienna! Lately I have been thinking about how, as someone who came from a more working-class background, I never really had a clear and detailed career plan, just some vague aspirations. Also, as a queer and trans person, I have been so focused on surviving various systems that I didn’t even notice that somewhere along the line I became someone who is seen, at times, as ‘accomplished’. I guess this book coming out is part of these accomplishments. Yet, what I am most excited about, is having a book that I am proud to recommend to supervisees, to families and clients, to anyone really who wants to know more about gender. In some ways, this is the book I wished I had in my hands as a teen. How about you? You have written some wonderful books already, how do you feel about this one and how it fits in your body of work?

 Meg-John: You are so accomplished Alex! And I can totally understand why you’re nervous as well as excited. With the first non-academic book I published – on relationships – I was completely overwhelmed because it felt so personal and important. There was a lot riding on it because writing this kind of thing is what I really want to do with my life. Also, it was personally important because it was saying ‘hey, these diverse ways of doing relationships – including the way I want to do them – are okay.’ I guess that’s also what we’re saying about diverse ways of doing gender in this book.

How To Understand Your Gender feels at least as important as my first book – but luckily I now have the experience of knowing what the process is like so I’m a bit less nervous than I was back then. It feels amazing for two main reasons: first that I got to write with you, and second because it’s a whole book about gender which is such an important topic to me. I feel like our collaborative writing process was so wonderful, and I love how we bring all our different experiences and expertise together. Also, it feels so exciting to be part of the ongoing conversation about gender that’s happening at the moment, and to have the chance to put something out there which’ll hopefully help others to navigate the complex terrain that we’re both navigating ourselves.

Alex: Yes! I too found our writing partnership wonderful and easy. I am so grateful for our process! I cannot even remember who wrote what in the book, since it really feels that our voices are both distinct and intertwined.

This book does feel personal. As I said, in many ways it is the book I wish I had to navigate my own experiences of gender as I became increasingly aware of the difference between how I perceived myself and how many in the world perceived me. It is also a book where we have tried to share what we have witnessed other people share with us in so many contexts. We both have so much experience with teaching, speaking engagements and therapeutic work. I feel nervous about doing justice to people with identities and experiences that are not ours. Yet, this is the only way I could have imagined writing this book. It was essential for this to be an intersectional book, to address how gender essentialism is inextricably linked to settler colonialism, how bodies are gender and racialized in specific ways.

It was essential to write the book the way we did, while maintaining confidentiality for individuals by creating composite vignettes. However, I wonder about who is going to find themselves in the book and who is not. And I know it is essential too, to stay open to this learning, who have we missed, who have we misrepresented, this is the vulnerable work of writing. We have thought about these ideas as much as we could, cited other people’s work, including all who inspired us and made our lives and this book possible, and now it is time to see what relationships readers will form with this book. I am looking forward to feedback, maybe especially because we got such great feedback from sensitivity readers and people who were able to read advanced electronic copies of the book! Maybe I would be even more nervous if feedback had not been as encouraging as it has been so far…

Meg-John: Absolutely. For me working together gave me a lot of confidence as I feel I’ve learnt so much from you about intersectional approaches. Also, your expertise and lived experiences in so many areas complemented my own. At the same time, I’m always painfully aware of how limited any one – or two – perspectives inevitably are, so I look forward to feedback and to continually reading and talking about gender and its intersections to inform our future work in this area. We already have a couple of ideas for further books expanding on this topic up our sleeves…

I hope that readers will find it an accessible and engaging read. So much that’s written in academia and activism about gender can be hard to follow for people who’re not already immersed in it. So, I hope we’ve done a decent job at getting those vital ideas out there, but in a way that readers will find simple to understand and apply to their lives.

I also love the pauses that you suggested we put in the book to give people time to let what they’ve read sink in, and to notice the impact it has on their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. I think writing this book with you has given me greater confidence in the self-help style format with loads of examples and activities as a legit kind of book to write. I think it enables the reading experience to be more of a dialogue than a book that’s more of an essay or polemic for example.

Now I think I’m going to return to my cocktail and let you wind this up 🙂

Alex: Ah yes, those slow down pages… As a somatic focused therapist, I love them but my spouse found them irritating. I am going to be so curious about people’s reception of these pages! I really wanted to convey that these stories live in us, not just our thoughts and feelings but our bones, muscles and sinews. We are most certainly not the first ones to write about gender and I sure hope we will not be the last. Just as we carry generation of gender stories within and between us, so do our readers. I hope that those pages will feel like solace, like a tiny oasis of calm and reflection on the journey.

You have taught me so much about how choices we make open up some possibilities and closed down others. I think we have been very intentional with our choices and that this book will feel spacious in possibilities for as many readers as possible. I am definitely holding our offering with open hands, practicing letting this creation be whatever the world needs it to be in this moment. Thank you for being on this writing and publishing adventure with me!

Meg-John: Cheers Alex. Good writing with you as always 🙂

For more information and to buy a copy of the book, please follow this link

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