I have a lot of very positive feelings about this book, and I am going to illustrate them by refuting another distinctly hateful review.
I hadn't written any reviews on this site until today, when I decided to catch up on rating my library of purchases. I remembered this one in particular as being a favorite, so imagine my surprise when I came to rate it and saw a wildly transphobic review by Scott S. that ultimately said such identities have no place in Eberron, that it's a setting codified by being Noir and Pulp, and that if such identities were desired, the author should make their own setting.
And yet, he goes on to say that transgender or other gender identities outside of the binary cannot exist without conflict in any fantasy world or setting:
"A short section on religion tries to introduce this new doctrine without any conflict whatsoever. This is totally unrealistic and would not occur in any fantasy world or setting. Conflict arrises in every culture, religion, race or belief system and it is naïve to believe this system would have no conflicts in Eberron. Unless everyone in Eberron drank the cordial, there would at least be some members to society who would have adverse feelings towards those with Queer Gender Identity. Conflict already exists within the religions in Eberron over beliefs. Saying that adding transgender elements is universally accepted just doesn’t make sense."
That's Scott's two cents, folks.
The conflict over beliefs in Eberron, for the record, largely concerns the balance of power and the fallout of the Last War, as well as the actual morality of various faiths. Let's go to a specific thought that Keith Baker himself had about the Traveler, one of the Dark Six, on his personal blog:
"In the Pyrinean myths, the Traveler seeks to lure you off the path of safety and security. In the traditions of the Children, the Traveler is the guide who walks by your side when you choose the unknown road. Because it’s only by walking your own path that you can find yourself. These two concepts—walk your own path and find yourself are important principles for those who honor the Traveler. Walk your own path is a principle that can be embraced both literally and metaphorically. On the one hand, it’s a faith that encourages a nomadic lifestyle, embracing the chaos of the road and seeking out new places and experiences. Beyond that, it’s a simple directive not to let others control your life; trust your instincts and don’t fear the unknown.
"Find yourself can likewise be embraced on multiple levels. Identify your strengths and your passions. But beyond that, figure out who you want to be and become that person. While this is an easy directive for a changeling, Eberron is a world of magic and it’s something that can be a literal truth for anyone. Disguise self and alter self allow people to temporarily assume identities, but there are transmutation spells and rituals that allow someone to permanently change any aspect of appearance or gender. Followers of the Traveler are urged not to feel bound by anyone’s expectations—only you know who you are."
This is an explicit acknowledgement of transgender individuals in Eberron. But this isn't the only time he's touched upon it. Let's look at a question he answered about the Kalashtar in a Q&A from his blog on 5/18/18:
QUESTION: Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?
KEITH BAKER: "It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):
'She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light… '
"So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture."
But if those explanations are too "word of god" and outside actual publication to be worth their salt for anyone's taste, then let's turn to the Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron, where it's made very official:
"The typical warforged has a muscular, sexless body shape. Some warforged ignore the concept of gender entirely, while others adopt a gender identity in emulation of creatures around them."
Scott actually uses the specific wording the book uses regarding the warforged's appearance: a muscular, sexless body shape. Then continues to berate the author of this book for implying the same thing that Keith Baker himself says in the Wayfinder's Guide: warforged sometimes abdicate all gender, and sometimes they adopt gender as they see fit. When faced with authorial intent that Scott obviously read and dismissed, I'm left with the conclusion that he's coming from a place of hate, or at the very least ignorance with utter refusal to learn, even when the creator of the world he obviously otherwise enjoys has overtly introduced the concepts to him.
As a final piece of evidence that Keith not only supports the inclusion of such identities in Eberron but actively believes they don't cause any conflict by their mere presence, I will include a personal email a fan received in response to a letter they wrote him regarding trans individuals in Eberron, which the author of this book also quotes in a response to another review (possibly they had the discussion with him!). The veracity of it is up to the reader, but it matches many of the above statements he's made, and even includes a mention of his latest game, Phoenix: Dawn Command.
"This is one of those questions where I generally assume that Eberron is a BETTER place than our world - it's a world I'd want to live in, as opposed to the world we do live in.
As a result, we generally don't place a focus on sexism, ethnic racism, or homophobia. I like to say that in a world where there are literal monsters, people don't judge one another by skin color or gender. Essentially, if you specifically want to play in a campaign where someone is persecuted for those things, you can add it in... but that persecution isn't a theme we wanted to explore with the setting, so we've assumed more enlightenment and equality than in our world.
With that said, I'll note that there are two reasons I would think people would be more comfortable with transgender folk in particular.
--Changelings are inherently gender fluid and in my Eberron rarely limit themselves to a single gender.
--A kalashtar can literally have a soul that has a different gender identity than its physical body.
--Warforged have no innate gender and must choose their own gender identity.
--Transformation magic exists, and there's many ways for a person to change their body to match their vision of themselves.
Essentially, people have been dealing with openly transgender individuals since the dawn of Galifar, and I feel that this would lead to a broader acceptance of the concept among other races. And sure, I think that over the course of that thousand years, Jorasco and Vadalis could have worked together to develop a ritual or series of rituals that alter gender.
As a side note, in Phoenix: Dawn Command players are people who die and have been reborn as Phoenixes. A core concept of that is that your appearance as a Phoenix matches your self-image, and that gender, race and age may all be different than how you were born... and could even change again with each death, if you feel that your identity has fundamentally changed."
NOW, at last, onto my personal feelings about this book, divorced entirely from the absolute nonsense Scott S. spouted! Actual review starts here!
This book lovingly explores the possibilities of different gender expression in the various races of Eberron, even and especially including the races that either don't have a gender or whose gender is fluid, and how they view themselves. It's a fantastic starting point for players to decide for themselves how their character exists in the world, and allows them to go on their own gender adventure, so to speak! The attention to detail in expanding what Keith Baker already lightly touched on re: gender identity is immediately apparent, and the inclusion of incredibly well crafted NPCs that seamlessly fit into and support these identities within the setting is a breath of fresh air.
I would only agree with yet another reviewer (Matthew B.!) that my singular wish is for the book to be longer! I'd love to read about the other races traditions regarding sexuality, such as halflings, shifters, etc.