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Gender Magic Book Review - A new take on gender identity exploration.

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

The picture features the colorful cover of a book.  Feathery twists in shades of blue and orange blend together.  The cover reads Gender Magic - Live Shamelessly, Reclaim Your Joy, and Step Into Your Most Authentic Self and features the author's name: Rae McDaniel.
Gender Magic by Rae McDaniel

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Discussions related to sex, sexuality, and gender.

Are you ready to weave some Gender Magic?

As a therapist who is on their own gender journey and identifies somewhere in the realm of nonbinary, genderqueer, and genderfluid (it's wibbly-wobbly), I'm often reading books related to gender, sex, and sexuality for both personal and professional interest. I consider myself to be my own test subject when it comes to these matters because I try to be a therapist who practices what they preach. I'll freely admit I have my own challenges in these areas, but I'm not going to encourage a client to do something that I'm not willing to do myself.

One such book I read recently was "Gender Magic: Live Shamelessly, Reclaim Your Joy, & Step Into Your Most Authentic Self" by Rae McDaniel, MEd, LCPC, CST (pronouns they/them/their). This popped up in my Audible recommendations and I was instantly intrigued. What followed was not only an entertaining read narrated by McDaniel, themself, but a new way of looking at exploring gender identity and expression that greatly informs my approach to working with people who are experiencing these kinds of questions. I've since picked up a physical copy, pictured above, because it's hard the thumb through an audiobook for that specific thing you want to share with someone. And I suspect this book is going to be come well-loved and well-used in time.

In their book, McDaniel presents what they call the "Gender Freedom Model," which they also presented in an article in the Journal of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness: Research, Practice, and Education. This model, and the book, propose a new way of looking at and working with matters related to gender identity and expression. Rather than a model of pathologizing that considers issues related to gender identity as a problem to be solved by a focus on dysphoria, the Gender Freedom Model proposes an approach to exploration and transition with greater ease. The focus becomes one of exploring euphoria rather than dysphoria - good feels rather than pain and suffering.

The result is not only a shift away from a problem-focused approach to a more positive focus on desired outcomes, which often provides better directions in therapy, but it presents a better model for people who are transgender or gender nonconforming who may not experience a lot of dysphoria.

We're often given a narrative of transgender identities that follows a singular script of, "I always knew since I was little that I was born in the wrong body." What then follows is typically a story about extreme mental and emotional distress in relation to one's physical sex characteristics and social roles.

But it's not like that for everyone. It can often be subtle or a feeling like you just don't know how to perform masculinity or femininity "the right way." This can lead to feelings of failure, anxiety, and isolation from what you think should be your peer groups. McDaniel describes their experience like walking around for years in a pair of shoes that are just a little too small. The discomfort may not be much at first, but then the shoes never really break in. Over time, they continue to rub and produce sore spots but you assume that just goes with the whole experience.

In my case, I described it feeling like every other person on the planet who was assigned male at birth (AMAB) got an instruction manual that I never got. When I discovered terms like genderqueer and nonbinary later in life, things started to click into place and make sense. I could see where points of discomfort pointed to a nonbinary identity but were never so acute that they really jumped out. They were subtle but there, like those tight spots from shoes that didn't quite fit.

The Gender Freedom Model presented in "Gender Magic" shifts the conversations around gender identity and presentation to looking at what feels good instead of what feels bad. While I was familiar with this idea through my work as a therapist drawing from such theories such as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), McDaniel's work presents this idea in a well-structured approach based on the three pillars of play, pleasure, and possibility.

McDaniel's writing style is engaging and light-hearted while never making light of the pain people can experience in relation to their gender and sexuality. It is a positively-focused and very affirming read that is filled with all kinds of personal stories, humorous anecdotes, and engaging activities designed to help you on your journey regardless of whether you are just starting to question and explore or in some stage of transition.

It encourages and supports you in finding those things that say "yes!" in relation to your gender rather than "oh gosh no!" This, in turn, makes it easier to take steps that can feel big and bold but are scaled down into realistic and approachable baby steps.

I have gotten a lot of useful ideas from the book for myself and welcome the way McDaniel's model will inform my work with my clients and would consider "Gender Magic" a key part of my personal must-read recommendation list. It definitely informs how I approach LGBTQIA+ counseling.

Wherever you are in your gender journey, I believe in you,




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