Perhaps you remember this story when it made the rounds on the Huffington Post and various TV shows in the summer of 2013: Two transgender teenagers from Oklahoma, a man named Arin Andrews and a woman named Katie Rain Hill, had become a couple. They were in love, and Inside Edition and various daytime television outlets were in love with their love. The producers of these shows would film all sorts of B-roll footage of Andrews and Hill holding hands and strolling aimlessly. The hosts would ask all sorts of invasive questions about the state of their genitals, and the couple would respond with remarkable grace and patience (Hill was in the process of having surgery to transform her penis into a vagina, and Andrews was undergoing hormone treatments and breast-removal surgery, but plumbing issues are a lot more complex for FTMs than for MTFs). You probably didn't notice the much smaller flurrylette that came in January of this year, when Hill and Andrews announced that they had amicably split. By then, the media had moved on, and the young lovers found themselves out of the spotlight.
Now they're back, with two brand-new books. Hill's is titled Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition, and Andrew's memoir is Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen. Sure, the thought of a memoir written by a teenager would ordinarily inspire headaches in most reasonable readers, but the transgender experience in America is only now marching out into the light of day, and both authors seem aware of their place in history as some of the first nationally recognized spokespeople for transgender youth. These aren't embarrassing teenybopper soap operas. (And if you're concerned about the quality of a book written by a teenager, you can relax: Both books credit ghostwriters—Hill paired with cartoonist Ariel Schrag, and Andrews wrote his with Joshua Lyon—and while the prose is not particularly artful, it's at least competent.)
I recommend reading the books one after the other; they pair into a fascinating he-said, she-said account of the complicated intertwining of their lives. The narrators may share the fact that they were born into the wrong bodies, but their differences are plentiful. Andrews seems content with life in flyover country, eschewing the skyscrapers of Tulsa for the countryside of Oklahoma, "where real life begins." Hill, on the other hand, is an army brat who grew up in Okinawa and Florida, and she has little patience for the feebleminded intolerance she finds in rural life.
Andrews is younger and more earnest than Hill—in fact, a newspaper profile of Hill is a significant milestone in his realization that he's trans. The first time he meets Hill, after months of admiring her from afar, Andrews is almost painfully bashful. Hill had been through the same trials as Andrews—not having the vocabulary to describe herself, not being understood by those she loved most—but she was better at keeping it inside. Andrews was captivated by her poise, and Hill was charmed by his enthusiasm. By both accounts, they simultaneously fell hard for each other.
The books are aimed for teenage audiences ages 14 and up, but there's plenty to keep adults interested. The transitioning gender dynamic alone will be fascinating for most cisgender readers; how much of Andrews's true gender inspired his love of camouflage and short hair, back when he reluctantly identified as a girl? And women might be especially flabbergasted by Hill's response when she first dressed as a woman at a support group for teens, how they "would compliment me and tell me how pretty I looked. It felt amazing. The only praise I had ever received before had been for my grades. It felt like I was actually being seen."
As the stories cross over, both authors place importance on different moments—an evening that seems especially romantic to Andrews barely warrants a mention in Hill's narrative—and readers will likely identify with both sides at different points. The relationship, ultimately, is beside the point; the authors are more interested in letting us see their humanity. Both books include a final chapter full of tips for curious people and transgender allies (Andrews's is winningly titled "How to talk to your new transgender friend"). And Hill reminds us that even the most well-intentioned supporters can botch it all up with a few careless words:
One image of us that went viral showed us standing in our bathing suits with the caption: "DOES THIS COUPLE LOOK NORMAL? THAT'S BECAUSE THEY ARE." The intention of the caption may have been good, but what did it even mean by "normal?" That we passed as cisgender? Were heterosexual? White? Able-bodied? Attractive? If one of us hadn't been any of those things, would they still have called us normal?
Often, the definition of "normal" is "someone who thinks/looks/acts like me." These memoirs, with their passionate first loves and their painful processes of self-discovery, demonstrate that "normal" is a word that applies to all of us and to none of us at the very same time.