Symptoms of being human * by Jeff Garvin

Ever wanted to read a novel about a genderfluid teen suffering from dysphoria?

“The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval” -Riley”

This book is filled with tons of information about the daily struggles of being genderfluid. The issues with being androgynous in a society where you have to be a boy or a girl. Riley is sometimes a feminine boy or a very tomboyish girl. He/she is a sympathetic character and the bullying Riley endures will surely speak to readers.

Riley explains over and over what gender fluidity means, how it makes them feel every day, what it was like being a child in a gendered toy store. It’s so repetitive that I started skipping through the chapters looking for some sort of a plot – a story..  Perhaps it would have made a better short story, rather than a full-length novel. Perhaps it will work for readers who have never heard of gender fluidity and are prepared to read lots of information. For those already open-minded and somewhat informed – it’s a little boring.

64% of transgender and non-binary people in the US experience sexual violence in their life—12% before they graduate high school. 41% will attempt suicide.

As staggering as those figures are,the book still presented a more hopeful picture for the gender-fluid. As hard as Riley had it, there was no dearth of understanding and support. I appreciate the message it conveys, especially to the young and conflicted – that not everybody they meet will be a prejudiced prick and that they’re not alone.

Jeff Garvin writes about gender-fluidity beautifully, let me share a few quotes:

Gender identity is not external. It isn’t dictated by your anatomy. It’s internal. It’s something you feel, not something you see—and it can be way more complicated than just male or female. Some people, like me, slide on a continuum between the two.


like I have a compass in my chest, but instead of North and South, the needle moves between masculine and feminine.


“As for wondering if it’s okay to be who you are–that’s not a symptom of mental illness. That’s a symptom of being a person.”

But why the 3 stars?

However compelling the message is, story-wise it’s a bit of a disappointment. We follow Riley’s daily struggles, even then there’s a meandering quality to the narrative as if it’s not entirely sure of that path it’s going to take. Sure, I was enraged with Riley’s plight but I did not feel the visceral connection I expected to feel when reading books about heavy issues, perhaps because of the underdeveloped plot.

Overall though, Symptoms of Being Human is an important read for gender-fluidity awareness.

Causes of body dysmorphic disorder

It’s not known specifically what causes body dysmorphic disorder. Like many other mental illnesses, body dysmorphic disorder may result from a combination of causes, such as:

  • Brain differences. Abnormalities in brain structure or neurochemistry may play a role in causing body dysmorphic disorder.

“That’s my problem, actually. I don’t talk to anybody about what’s going on in my head, because I’m afraid they might not be able to take it.”

  • Genes. Some studies show that body dysmorphic disorder is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Environment. Your environment, life experiences and culture may contribute to body dysmorphic disorder, especially if they involve negative social evaluations about your body or self-image, or even childhood neglect or abuse.


Risk factors

Certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering body dysmorphic disorder, including:

  • Having blood relatives with body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Negative life experiences, such as childhood teasing and trauma
  • Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism
  • Societal pressure or expectations of beauty
  • Having another psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or depression


“At some point during my research, I came across the term “gender fluid.” Reading those words was a revelation. It was like someone tore a layer of gauze off the mirror, and I could see myself clearly for the first time. There was a name for what I was. It was a thing. Gender fluid.

Sitting there in front of my computer–like I am right now–I knew I would never be the same. I could never go back to seeing it the old way; I could never go back to not knowing what I was.

But did that glorious moment of revelation really change anything? I don’t know. Sometimes, I don’t think so. I may have a name for what I am now–but I’m just as confused and out of place as I was before. And if today is any indication, I’m still playing out that scene in the toy store–trying to pick the thing that will cause the least amount of drama. And not having much success.”


Complications that may be caused by or associated with body dysmorphic disorder include, for example:

  • Major depression or other mood disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Health problems from behaviors such as skin picking
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse


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