Nevo Zisin, Finding Nevo, Black Dog Books, 1 May 2017, 216pp., $18.99 (pbk.), ISBN 9781925381184
Twenty-year-old Nevo identifies as queer, transmasculine and non-binary. Nevo is part of a Jewish family, lives in Melbourne and works with youth. Finding Nevo is Nevo’s story … so far.
Nevo was assigned ‘female’ at birth. Reflecting on this gender assignation, Nevo says: ‘I wish I could have spoken then and there; I could have avoided a lot of issues down the track’. And there are issues aplenty in Nevo’s first two decades of life. (In this review, when referring to Nevo in the third person, I will use the pronoun ‘they’ in accordance with Nevo’s stated preference.) At age four, Nevo was convinced they were a boy; during adolescence they formally transitioned to a male identity and later to a transgender one.
Nevo’s story unfolds in Finding Nevo in a natural, unsophisticated and sometimes self-deprecating style. The book includes specific details of Nevo’s transition to a male identity: altering clothing and mannerisms, changing gender on Facebook, and using men’s toilets when menstruating. All these hurdles were faced before hormonal (testosterone) and surgical changes (breast surgery) took place. The inclusion of photographs in the book visually documents Nevo’s changing appearance and self-projection.
As is the case for most children and adolescents, family and friends play a critical role in Nevo’s development. The support and acceptance offered within the Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror is especially important for Nevo, as is the fact that Nevo’s secondary school was part of the Safe Schools Coalition. Without a hint of the dramatic, Nevo writes:
‘Safe Schools saved my life’.
Adolescence is a time of questioning and choosing identity—issues surrounding sexuality, belief systems, physical appearance, family and politics. Some identities may be transitory; others are more profound and determinative. Nevo offers young people a courageous model, based on unflinching self-examination and a ‘no holds barred’ honesty; a model that shouts ‘be yourself’. For parents, teachers and other adults, who may be unfamiliar with the territory Nevo charts, Finding Nevo is an educational handbook. It provides some telling insights into the gendered nature of the society in which we live.
Finding Nevo includes a glossary (defining terms such as ‘cisgender’, ‘LGBTQIA+’ and ‘polyamorous’). There is also a list of resources as well as suggestions for further reading. (For those interested in exploring Nevo’s relationship with their family in more detail, there is a range of online options including the ABC’s Life Matters program ‘Losing a Daughter, Gaining a Son’ (2015) and SBS’s Insight episode ‘Love Transformed’ (2016).)
Recommended for ages 14+.
Reviewed by Tessa Wooldridge