Book Review: The Passing Playbook

The book recommending algorithm didn’t disappoint when it brought The Passing Playbook, by Isaac Fitzsimons to my attention. Though this is a novel with a target audience of adolescents and young adults, I, reading from a therapist’s perspective, was very impressed with how well the author does with covering a multitude of topics impacting gay, transgender, and nonbinary youth.

With that in mind, I’m going to approach this review a bit differently. I’ll be listing out the various terms covered in the book, giving a concise definition. I hope you find this format helpful in better understanding folx in the LGBTQ+ community.

A Glossary of Sorts

  • Bathroom debate- There continues to be controversy about trans students using the restrooms that affirm their gender identity. I’ve listened in on school board meetings in which parents oppose students having the right to choose where to use the bathroom… What they have to say is often heavy with ignorance, bigotry, and a misguided concern that allowing choice will cause major safety concerns for cisgender (those whose assigned sex corresponds with their gender identity) students. Schools often don’t have the funding or are not willing to establish gender-neutral bathrooms, which is addressed in the book as well.
  • Binder- A binder is a device used to flatten the breasts/chest.
  • Dead name- This is the name assigned at birth that corresponds with one’s biological sex at birth. As part of transitioning to one’s affirmed gender, a trans person may choose to change their name. For example, a trans man who goes by Marcus may refer to his former name, Destiny, as his “dead name.”
  • Endocrinologist- This is the medical doctor who specializes in hormone treatments. As part of their transition, a trans person may see an endocrinologist to prescribe testosterone (“T”), estrogen, or a variety of medications known as “puberty blockers.”
  • Misgendering- This is when a person is mistaken for a gender that does not match their affirmed gender identity. I (Johnzelle) am often misgendered on junk mail or by people who see my name before meeting me; for example, for fear of botching my name, substitute teachers used to say, “Ms. Anderson” when calling roll…
  • Passing- In the context of this book, “passing” refers to a trans person not specifically expressing that they are transgender; for example, the book’s main character, Spencer, doesn’t tell anyone at his new school that he’s trans. The choice to disclose/not disclose one’s transgender identity is an individual choice and allies should respect this.
    • Sidenote: Passing is also a pun in the book’s title, as the person “passing” also passes (the ball) when he’s playing soccer.
  • Pronouns- Yes… we learned about pronouns in grammar school; however, in the LGBTQ+ community, pronouns are especially important as they are a tool for affirming one’s identity. My (Johnzelle’s) pronouns are he/him/his. I have a friend whose pronouns are they/she. Other pronouns include (but are not limited to) it, them, ze, zer, xi, per, and ve.
    • Tip: If you’re unsure, kindly ask, “Can I get your pronouns?”
  • QSA- This stands for Queer Straight Alliance. These are peer support groups that typically form in middle and high schools that establish a safe place for students of all identities.
  • Sports bans for transgender youth– This happens to the book’s main character, Spencer. Because his state didn’t allow him to change the gender marker on his birth certificate from female to male, he was benched from playing in a soccer game despite being one of the best players on his school’s men’s soccer team. As happened in the book, teams can sometimes be disqualified in tournaments for having a trans team member… often citing the bullsh*t rhetoric that a trans person could potentially have an atheletic advantage over their cisgender counterparts. An article in this week’s paper talks describes a similar issue going on in Texas.
  • Top/bottom surgery- Top surgery often involves augmentation or removal of the chest/breasts. Bottom surgery is more nuanced and can involve changes to the reproductive organs and genitalia.
    • Not every trans person undergoes gender-affirming surgery and it is NOT polite to ask a trans person if they have.

Other Topics Covered in the Book

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into depth about other important topics covered in the book, but here’s a teaser list: bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, parents and teens disagreeing about the speed/ extent of gender-affirming transitions, and dangers related to passing/being trans (due to the aforementioned homo/transphobia).

On another note the book’s author does a great job with a spectrum representation; more specifically, the novel features many facets of the LGBTQ+ community, a biracial/multiracial family, and a character with autism.

Noteworthy Quote:


I enjoyed listening to The Passing Playbook on Audible (paid links) and will definitely be sharing it with my teen clients and their parents, as I highly recommend it!

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Passing Playbook”

  1. Sounds like it covers some very important issues.

    1. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

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