Symptoms of Being Human

Riley Cavanaugh is your typical rebellious teen: Riley likes to wear Doc Martins, Dad’s old Ramones shirt, and has an ambiguous haircut. Trying to fit into a box isn’t Riley’s thing, especially when it comes to gender. Because Riley is gender-fluid. 

Gender-fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender-fluid person’s identity may change constantly, so it’s always best to ask what they are in the moment. For instance: You wake up a girl, then you suddenly feel like a boy. Except it changes between ALL the gender identities. This may change dramatically, and rapidly, depending on the person. A common of gender change is in a response to different circumstances.  – Gender wiki

When Riley attends a new school, transferring over, Riley discovers that it’s gonna be even harder to fit in. 

At the suggestion of Riley’s therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog, letting other teens know exactly what it’s like to be a gender-fluid teenager. While there are haters, Riley also gets lots of love. Some kids come to Riley asking for specific advice. 

Just as the blog is going really well, just as Riley is making friends–and maybe even starting a relationship with a girl they like—someone starts messaging Riley, leaving messages specifically about getting out of their new school.

Riley is threatened by this random stranger, that they’ll be exposed, because the hater has figured out who Riley is in real life. 

Now Riley has to make a decision: Should they come out, keep/abandon the blog, or hide their identity entirely? 

One thing I really enjoyed about this book is how well it explains what it feels like to be gender-fluid. I’m cisgender myself, so I’ve never experienced what it’s like to move between (at least) two genders. I’ve always felt comfortable in my own skin, even when I dislike how much weight I’ve gained in the past year. I like being a tomboy, a woman who can create things with my mind and body, as well as someone who is blessed with an incredible support system, my family, and my friends, and my boyfriend. I’m lucky, to say the least.  

While Riley has a pretty good family, their dad is a congressman—someone who is in the political sphere. If word were to get out about Riley’s gender identity without Riley telling their parents, it could hurt Dad’s career. Riley doesn’t know what their parents will say if Riley were to come out. 

For some people, coming out can be very difficult, because not everyone has the support they need. Coming out could mean losing your family, friends, or any number of people you might have as a support system. 

And yet, kids, teens, and adults come out anyway, whether it will burn bridges or build new ones. Some coming out’s are joyous moments to be celebrated, while others may be filled with various forms of things like loss and turmoil. 

For Riley, their friends don’t care at least. The girl that Riley likes is okay with it. 

For Riley, who also deals with dysphoria and anxiety, coming out hinges on a domino effect that could possibly turn disastrous. 

Despite the threats to being exposed, Riley finds solace in new friends, as well as a potential girlfriend. Riley manages to keep going, to stay true to themself, and find a way to manage the anxiety (as well as the gender dysphoria). No matter what, Riley is still punk rock, still full of snarky comments, and still rebellious. Through it all, Riley is still uniquely Riley. 

If you enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’re going to love the Symptoms of Being Human

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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