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A Reading Group Guide for Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition
By Katie Rain Hill About the Book
In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world—and experience heartbreak for the first time—in a body that matched her gender identity.
Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal
is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self. Prereading Discussion Questions
1. What is the meaning of transgender? Dysphoric? Where have you heard these terms used before and in what context?
2. Do you care about how others see you? If so, why are others’ opinions about you important? Think of an instance when it has been important to you how you were viewed by others. Discussion Questions
1. What character traits does Katie display in the prologue? Is it significant to what happens in the story that her memoir begins with these character traits? Why?
2. Katie structures her memoir by describing her present experiences in college first, and then recounts her story from childhood. How does her college experience help you understand the central conflict in her life? Do you like that the book is structured this way?
3. Early in the book Katie talks about liking the slogan on Mark’s T-shirt: “If you got haters, you must be doing something right.” What does this tell you about her?
4. Explain how you feel about Katie’s decision to not tell her friends in college that she is transgender. How might her experience have been different if she had told them right away? How might she have told them? Do you think Katie’s idea of never telling anyone that she is transgender is consistent with her character?
5. What are some of the traumas and losses that Katie’s parents have dealt with? Why is it important for her to explain and understand her parents’ painful pasts? How have each of her parents coped with their losses?
6. Katie says of her discomfort with her gender, “How could I explain it to them when I could not understand it myself?” Is there anything that might have aided Katie in her understanding of herself? Have you ever felt this way about something inside yourself that hurts but is not accessible with words yet? Explain.
7. How does Katie manipulate the psychiatrist, Dr. Ashman? Do you think her lies and manipulation are justified or not?
8. In what ways is Katie “trapped in a tomb” like Rain, her fictional alter ego? Cite a number of instances when she is trapped. Describe the circumstances that seem to trap Katie.
9. How does Katie feel about religion? Determine when religion is a positive force for Katie and when it has a negative impact on her life.
10. What qualities or personality traits help Katie survive when she is feeling lost and alone?
11. What is the climax of Katie’s journey or the pivotal point where she begins to comprehend and embody who she really is inside?
12. What are some of the reasons why people, including her mom and Jake, have trouble accepting Katie as transgender?
13. What does Katie learn from her relationship with Hawthorne?
14. When Katie says, “Genitals aren’t the most important part of gender,” what do you think she means?
15. How would you describe Arin and Katie’s relationship? Do you think they are compatible as a couple? Why did they ultimately break up?
16. Why is Katie’s father absent from her life?
17. Why does Katie include the passage about the disagreements in the LGBT community at the Creating Change conference in Atlanta? What is the significance of including this experience?
18. What is the media’s role in Arin and Katie’s relationship? How does the media treat Arin and Katie and their transgender experiences? What is the main concern of the media?
19. Why does Katie date both Todd and Arin at the same time? Why does she lie to both? Is this a reflection of Katie trying to come to terms with her new body, or is it just typical teenage behavior? Have you ever felt conflicted about a boyfriend or girlfriend?
20. For whom is Katie writing her memoir? What is the significance of the title Rethinking Normal
? Who defines normal
21. How does Rethinking Normal
help you understand the transition process, and what it means to be transgender?
22. Katie is asked by Trisha Goddard on The Trisha Goddard Show
: “What is the one message you would like to get across?” She answers, “Listen to your children.” Why does she say that? What other messages does she try to express through her memoir? What is the book’s main message?
23. Why is it significant that Katie ends her story with climbing a mountain with Arin? Activities and Further Research
1. Katie’s friend, Catherine, has parents who object to Catherine’s friendship with Katie because she’s transgendered. Katie says, “The thing that kills me is that her parents’ main argument for why I was evil was that the Bible states you’re not supposed to alter your body. Meanwhile, I’ve heard rumors that her mom has had at least one face-lift, both her mom and dad have tons of tattoos, and all their children have braces and glasses. It was the definition of hypocrisy.” Do you think Catherine’s parents are hypocritical or not? Write a scene with Katie speaking to Catherine’s parents. How do you think their conversation would go?
2. What does self-advocacy mean? How could self-advocacy help you with a current problem that you are facing? Write a journal entry about how advocating helped Katie, and how self-advocacy can influence a person’s life.
3. Make a chart of the challenges Katie faces in her memoir. Divide your paper into two columns. One column should be headed: “Challenges Katie Faces” and the second column should be headed: “How She Faces this Challenge.” Now draw a conclusion: What is the primary way Katie faces her hardships?
4. Arin Andrews wrote a memoir entitled Some Assembly Required
. Compare and contrast his experience of dating Katie with what she describes in Rethinking Normal
. How do you think Katie would feel after reading Some Assembly Required
, and vice versa? Would you want to know what your ex thought of your relationship? Would you feel comfortable having your relationship shared with the world?
5. Look up interviews with Arin Andrews and Katie Rain Hill on YouTube and watch their interview with the Huffington Post
: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/trans-couple-memoirs_n_6035238.html. Compare the Katie you see in the interview with the Katie you experienced in Rethinking Normal.
6. Write a letter to Katie about how her memoir impacted and touched you.
7. Pretend you are a witness to one of the scenes when Katie is being bullied. What could you have done to help? What would you have done? Rewrite the scene with a different ending. Guide written by Deborah Neely, a middle and high school English teacher in Providence, RI. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.