This post centers around three facts:

  1. It’s LGBTQIAP+ pride month
  2. Two weeks ago, fifty people were murdered because they were in a gay club.
  3. I’m a straight cismale who wrote a book from the POV of a gender fluid teenager.

So the question I’ve been asking myself is:

What, if anything, do I possibly have to contribute to this conversation?

It’s a difficult question, and I’m not sure I have the answer. Being a cismale who wrote a book from the point-of-view of a gender fluid teenager can be very uncomfortable: Friends and family wonder if there’s something I’m not telling them. Acquaintances on Facebook “pray for me.” Anonymous reviewers accuse me of paganism. 

But you know what’s far more uncomfortable than all that? Being an LGBTQIAP+ person whose life gets represented by some cismale who never had to live it. There’s just no getting around that. And it’s the thing that almost prevented me from writing Symptoms of Being Human. It’s also the thing that has kept me quiet during pride month. Oh, sure, I’ve liked, reblogged, and retweeted the obligatory rainbow flag posts–but I’ve shared nothing original, nothing personal.  Every time I sit down to write something, my point of view seems too small, too irrelevant, too insignificant in comparison to the stories of the survivors of the attack: namely, every queer, trans, and non-binary person on the planet.

I’ve told myself that I’ve been silent out of respect. That I’m staying out of the conversation because I wasn’t invited.

But that’s a massive cop-out.

The truth is that I’ve stayed out of the conversation because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, enrage an influential member of the LGBTQIAP+ community, and cause my book to get trashed. 

You know what LGBTQIAP+ people are afraid of this month? GETTING MURDERED. 

So, yeah, I decided to choke down my fear and write a post.  Silence breeds misunderstanding, prejudice, and contempt. And those things lead to violence. 

I’ve  puzzled over what to write. I’ve wondered if my book would have turned out differently if the shooting at Pulse had happened before I wrote it. I am surprised and dismayed to conclude that I think the book would be exactly the same. To illustrate why, here are some statistics that pre-date the June 12 mass murder at Pulse night club in Orlando:

Among transgender and non-binary individuals:

  • 64% experience sexual violence during their lifetime
  • 12% experience sexual violence while in high school
  • 41% attempt suicide (vs. 1.6% of general population)
  • All are 4x as likely to live below the poverty line

(Statistics courtesy of

In addition, more transgender people were murdered in hate crimes in 2015 than in any previous year on record. (The 2016 statistics are not yet available.)

So, after much consideration and soul-searching, I decided that I’d said what I had to say within the pages of my book. The problem is that it takes a significant commitment of time, money, and will to read a 350-page book, and the people most in need of convincing are unlikely to wander into their local Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy.  So I’m going to post a excerpt below in the hopes that you’ll share it with someone who might not read a whole book about a non-binary teenager, but might read a page if you really pleaded with them. Please copy and paste as much as you want–just link the reader back here for more info in case they want it.

The following is a blog post by Riley, the sixteen-year-old gender-fluid protagonist of Symptoms of Being Human. (It just occurred to me that I’m about quote a blog post from a book inside a blog post about the very same book. Holy Meta. MIND=BLOWN. Gotta go watch Inception again.)

New Post: My Raging Hypocrisy. Also, Lightsabers.

October 2, 9:47 PM

Today, I met a boy.
 Well . . . I thought I met a boy. Actually, I met a girl. That’s right: I got all prematurely gender-assigny . . . and I was WRONG.
In my defense, I was in the middle of a fairly epic anxiety episode, and she—whom I thought was a he—has these unsettlingly gorgeous blue eyes. NO ONE could be expected to maintain objectivity while under the gaze of those eyes. They were, like, lightsaber blue. My guts have turned to Jell-O just replaying the scene in my head.

Oh, and did I mention the lip ring? HOT.

[NOW PLAYING: “There She Goes” by the La’s]

Okay. Given the fact that even I am capable of making premature assumptions about someone’s gender, I will attempt to explain this with less than my usual dose of Gender Fluid RageTM. (Which, by the way, is the name of my new punk band.) The point here is that somebody’s gender expression—in this case, Lip Ring Girl’s goth-boy vibe—doesn’t necessarily indicate their gender identity. There are dudes who like to cross-dress (expression), but are still 100% comfortable being dudes (identity), and vice versa. So, even if you had X-ray vision and could see through my jeans, what you’d see there—or not see—does not determine my gender identity. Gender identity is not external. It isn’t dictated by your anatomy. It’s internal. It’s something you feel, not something you see—and it can be way more complicated than just male or female. Some people, like me, slide on a continuum between the two. Others, as I’ve learned via my pathological blog-reading obsession, feel like neither, or like a third, unnamed gender.

I can’t blame you for trying to categorize me. It’s a human instinct. It’s why scientists are, to this day, completely flabbergasted by the duck-billed platypus: it’s furry like a mammal, but lays eggs like a bird. It defies conventional classification.

I AM THE PLATYPUS. (Coo coo ka-choo.)

We’re all taught from a young age that there are only two choices: pink or blue, Bratz or Power Rangers, cheerleading or football. We see gender in two dimensions because that’s what society has taught us from birth. But, are you ready for a shocking revelation?


#genderfluid #crushinghard #lightsaberblue


lgbtq, LGBTQIA, pride, SOBH, symptoms, symptoms of being human

Jeff Garvin

Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and THE LIGHTNESS OF HANDS. Cohost of THE HERO'S JOURNEY podcast. Rock musician, D&D geek, aspiring revolutionary.

Comments (12)

  • The other dynamic I have been struggling with, in all this, as somebody who falls into almost every demographic of the majority (straight, white, protestant, etc.) is realizing that my participation in debates can shut down others… It’s a huge problem that I don’t have life experience in somebody else’s skin, but it’s equally problematic that I can buy into the lie that my commentary is somehow important in a debate where the most directly impacted parties ought to have the spotlight. As I make this tremendous effort at shutting up so that I can learn from others, I find myself then fearing that my silence= death, acceptance of the status quo, etc.

    • I think, as allies, it’s our job to speak up–but also to be coachable by our loved ones in the LGBTQIAP+ community. So speak up, but be prepared to be corrected or smacked down–THEN have the guts to apologize and right the slight. That’s huge!

  • I finnished reading your book recently and i completely adore it. I am absolutely thrilled to see nonbinary representation. Especially when the author is not necessarily part of that community. It took time and dedication to understand us. But you stuck with it, you want people to see us. You care about us, our well-being, even though you are cismale and that warms my heart to see such a great human being. Symptoms has become one of my favorite books and you have become one of my favorite authors. Thank you.

  • Hi!
    I am currently reading your book (and almost finished in under two days!) and I want to say that after reading what I have, and this post about feeling uncomfortable speaking on these subjects because you are a straight cismale, I want you to know that I really appreciate you as a person and a writer. I think the story you have told through Symptoms is so important, and it was so well done. So impactful. I am also a writer and I know first hand that it is really unfair and limiting to believe that writers don’t have a right to tell stories that they don’t have first hand experience with. I know the writer mantra, ‘write what you know’. But I think that you did amazing research and executed with such depth and precision that it’s breathless. I am a bi cisfemale in a hetero marriage and I often feel a lot of guilt because I live what looks like a “normal” life. When the shooting happened I too felt stalled and unsure how I could reach out. Was I gay enough to mourn with this community? Or was my bi negated simply because I married a man? I guess what I’m saying is I understand how it feels to stand just outside the circle and not feel like you can step in. I feel a lot of guilt that my coming out and my life is so easy compared to those who face the violence daily. But like you I hope I can make a difference and speak out despite my own privilege. I’m starting to ramble now, but I just want to thank you again for writing your novel. It’s perfect and I hope you write many more beautiful things.

  • I literally just started the book (I’m on chapter 3) and I’m already obsessed. I’ve recommended it to a thousand people already, all within the LGBT+ community. I’m guessing I’ll finish it today. Excited to see how the story progresses!

  • Hi, Jeff. I just finished your book last night, and I loved it. I love Riley’s willingness and hope to stand up and, even just through blog posts, show the world who they are. (I believe I’m using the right pronouns?) Anyway, “Symptoms” has really inspired me to take action in my community. For the past 5 or 6 million months now, I have wanted to host an assembly at my school about depression, self-injury, suicide, and mental illnesses because I have struggled with these things (still do!) and I feel that the students, and faculty at my school should be informed about depression, etc. because they’re real issues that thousands of teens struggle everyday, you know? So I guess I just really wanted to thank you for creating Riley’s story and putting it out to the world. I am a large supporter of the LGBTQA+ community, and it feels good to know that stories like Riley’s exist. Riley is a true hero in my mind, and when I am down, or feel like I am alone, I know I will think of Riley and her friends, because they showed me that I am not. Thank you so much. 🙂

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