In her unique, generous, and affecting voice, nineteen-year-old Katie Hill shares her personal journey of undergoing gender reassignment.
Have you ever worried that you’d never be able to live up to your parents’ expectations? Have you ever imagined that life would be better if you were just invisible? Have you ever thought you would do anything—anything—to make the teasing stop? Katie Hill had and it nearly tore her apart.
Katie never felt comfortable in her own skin. She realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie”—the girl trapped within her—was determined to live.
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.
I was born on May 12, 1994, in New Bern, North Carolina, with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. As soon as I came out, the doctors flew into a frenzy, grabbed me, pushed my dad—who had been waiting to cut the cord of his firstborn son—out of the way, cut the cord themselves, and rushed me to a table to try to revive me. My mom caught a glimpse as they whisked me away—my face blueberry blue from lack of airflow—and she started screaming and crying.
“Where’s my baby? Where’s my baby?”
She kicked and thrust, trying to get out of the stirrups and out of the bed, while doctors held her down.
I could have died, almost did die. The doctors pinked me back up and brought me to my mom.
“Are you sure he’s okay?” my mother asked.
According to my mom, I was completely silent—eerily so for a newborn—fast asleep in her arms. My mom was terrified that I’d somehow been damaged from the asphyxiation, that I might be mentally handicapped like her second son from a previous marriage, Josh, was. The doctors reassured her that everything was fine. They brought my dad back in, and he and my mom stared down at me. Soft, full lips. Long eyelashes. And when I slowly opened them, deep blue eyes just like my dad’s.
“Look at him,” my mom whispered. “He’s an angel.”
• • •
The very first question people ask when there’s a baby involved is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” And the instant that question is answered, people begin to place prejudgments and expectations onto that baby. If it’s a boy, they imagine the clothes he will be dressed in, what toys he will be given, what sports he will play, the woman he will fall in love with and marry. If it’s a girl, they envision party dresses, a bride walking down the aisle, a mom-to-be giving birth herself.
And so it was with me. My parents knew beforehand that they were having a boy, and planned accordingly. After I was born, they wrapped me in my blue-and-white blankie and took me home from the hospital to my blue-painted bedroom. The first couple of years of my life, I barely made a peep. I was the quietest baby you could possibly imagine. I never cried. I never whined. My mom wouldn’t even know when to feed me or change my diaper. I would just lie there with that stupid happy baby face, with a diaper full of poop, smiling at everyone. My mom says I was the happiest baby she’s ever seen. It was a happiness that would not last long.
Join our mailing list!
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
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.
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.
Katie Rain Hill is a student at the University of Tulsa majoring in anthropology and sociology. She wrote this memoir while studying for exams, writing term papers, working part-time as a pharmaceutical technician, and advocating for LGBTQA rights. Rethinking Normal is her first book.
“The writing style is open and straightforward…this is a worthwhile addition, given how few transgender memoirs there are for teens.”
– School Library Journal
“Hill tackles both painful and joyful experiences with a light touch, and background information about gender and physical transition is woven seamlessly into the narrative…Will both educate cisgender readers and strike sparks of recognition in those questioning their own gender identities.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Once I began reading Katie’s bold, beautiful unflinchingly honest memoir, I couldn’t put it down. I felt as if I could reach out and touch her.”
– Susan Kuklin, author and photographer of Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
“In this powerfully honest book, Katie Rain Hill explains it all for you. If her story of growing up transgender in Bible Belt Oklahoma doesn’t touch you, you may be made of stone.”
– Ellen Wittlinger, award-winning author of Parrotfish, Hard Love and Love & Lies.
"Part of what makes Katie’s story so extraordinary is that many of her struggles are entirely ordinary...Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson."
– Publishers Weekly
"Katie's memoir is an extraordinary educational tool for anyone who wants to understand more about the transgender experience. Her compelling personal journey and relatable modern voice make her story accessible to readers who have never experienced gender dysphoria, and allow her to casually and efficiently define terms such as sex, gender identity, gender expression, romantic attraction, and sexual attraction, as well as the differences between them."
– Edge Magazine
"Katie’s emotions are raw and gripping, and her fight to be accepted is awe inspiring...[T]his is the perfect title to foster acceptance regardless of age, gender, or orientation."
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
More books from this author: Katie Rain Hill
Thank you for signing up, fellow book lover!
Tell us what you like and we'll recommend books you'll love.