“Eventually you can't help but figure out that, while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.”
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Nevada is the darkly comedic story of Maria Griffiths, a young trans woman living in New York City and trying to stay true to her punk values while working retail. When she finds out her girlfriend has lied to her, the world she thought she’d carefully built for herself begins to unravel, and Maria sets out on a journey that will most certainly change her forever. Find out more about Imogen Binnie and Nevada at http://topsidepress.com/nevada/.
First off, for those who are partaking in the Prism Community Book Club and haven't finished the book yet, SPOILERS AHEAD.
I haven’t been this deeply emotionally affected by a book since Please Don’t Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope. When I read that book in high school, it changed my life. Here was this narrator who I saw myself in so much. I processed some of the stuff I read in that book for many years to come, and I still come back to it. It was like reading my own diary – so much teenage angst. With that, I related to Maria in Nevada just like I did in PDKF. It’s such an intense feeling to read a book and realize that an integral part of your identity is reflected in a character, to have her say things that make you feel euphoric, thoughtful, and just completely fucked up.
It’s remarkable. Now this isn’t to say that I identify with Maria completely. Far from it. I’m not trans. I’m a cis-bisexual female. I can’t identify with the emotional, physical, and mental stuff that is trans specific in the story. But living in Maria’s head, and when she said things about growing up through her punk phase, wow.
She just knew that she felt weird – but literally every teenager feels weird. Who doesn't feel weird? All the music she listened to was about feeling weird. All the books she read were about feeling weird. So when she was seventeen it didn't seem strange to hang out with, like, a kid who was really into racism and another, a future truck stop mechanic, in a tent, with a ton of flannel and a bottle of Everclear or a dozen hits of acid. In a cow pasture.
Nevada follows Maria, a queer trans woman in her late twenties living in Brooklyn with her cis-girlfriend. She works in a Manhattan bookstore, and the story follows her trying to deal with her life “…and shit.” Maria Griffiths is sick and tired of pretty much everything in her life. Her union job, her girlfriend Steph, and always thinking about being trans. Her new philosophy in life comes down to irresponsibility. But is that even possible?
The first time we meet Maria, our narrator, she’s being choked during sex by her girlfriend and fakes an orgasm. It’s not like she doesn’t seem to have a fulfilling life, but something is missing for Maria, and she doesn’t know what she wants. Maria takes us through how to navigate a world as a trans single woman, how to begin being physically present but mentally absent to everyone in your life, and how to come to terms with the young life of fighting against yourself to live a more open and fulfilling life.
Her distance from her girlfriend Steph leads Steph to lie about cheating just to get her to talk. She desires any sort of reaction from Maria, and when she gets none, their relationship “mutually” ends. Maria is cynical, punk rock, sarcastic, oblivious, and sometimes full of herself. She’s real. It’s not that she doesn’t care about things in her life, but she’s so used to dissociating from things that even after transitioning she can’t stop. Her breakup with Steph makes Maria think more about life, where she is, and where her life is heading. She takes us back to her life growing up and the bad decisions she’s made. But she’s not making bad decisions like that anymore because she’s just not making any decisions, and that’s the problem. She’s stuck in a life she created but doesn’t really like anymore. This is definitely the type of book where you’re living inside someone's mind. You follow Maria through this breath-taking adventure as she neurotically brings up some serious stuff in one breath and ends it with “…whatever.”
Then, with drugs, it’s like, she took them all, but always in such moderation that it wasn’t really dangerous. Even when she was throwing up or incoherent, it was in a controlled situation. She never went to jail, never had the police bring her home, never got caught breaking curfew or went to the hospital or anything
So here’s this fiery, punk-rock woman who reveals to the reader the full uproar of living as a trans woman. Not just the before and after, but all of the messy little details in-between that are nearly always overlooked. Nevada is a book that provides crucial trans narrative beyond the traditional. It tells Maria’s coming out story slowly in bits rather than all once, and it also drops a lot of gender and sexuality 101 in a way that both flows well with the narrative, but also answers a lot of questions that readers may have.
...nobody really wants to be a trans woman, i.e. nobody wakes up and goes whoa, maybe my life would be better if I transitioned, alienating most of my friends and my family, I wonder what'll happen at work, I'd love to spend all my money on hormones and surgeries, buying a new wardrobe that I don't even understand right now, probably become unlovable and then ending my short life in a bloody murder.
Nevada has sharp prose, and an intense writing style that makes the story so much more appreciated. The writing is talky and run-on, really conversational or whatever, kind of like this, and the dialogue isn’t clearly marked so you don’t know when you’re reading Maria’s inner or outer monologues so it just makes you, as a reader, so much more aware of what you just read because the fact is, fuck, you can for some reason put things into words effectively and make the reader understand them and make them want to know more, learn more, about the characters and their stories. The long run-on sentence is exactly how this book is written AND IT WORKS SO WELL. It’s so relatable. It’s specifically written, funny where I actually laughed out loud, and darkly hard-hitting to the reader, at least for me, that it made me feel welcomed into the story as if I was actually following Maria around.
This story is so complex. Maria lets us into her own world, and shows us that it’s not easy coming out, transitioning – Life doesn’t end after you come out, and your gender and sexuality don’t cease to exist to be relevant. In fact, Maria grapples with how to live a post-transition life and how to “exist like a three-dimensional person who cares about her body and her mind and her life and her friends and her lovers and is able to exist in a relationship with another person.” When she’s fired from her comfortable bookstore position and her relationship ends, she “sorta-borrows, sorta-steals” her ex-girlfriends car, buys a bunch of heroin, and sets off to ponder gender, hetero-normativity, and emotional repression from social conditioning.
There is this dumb thing where trans women feel like we all have to prove that we’re totally trans as fuck and there’s no doubt in our minds that we’re Really, Truly Trans. It comes from the fact that you have to prove that you’re trans to psychologists and doctors: the burden is entirely on your own shoulders to prove that you’re Really Trans in order to get any treatment at all. Meaning hormones. It is stupid and there are these hoops you have to jump through, boxes you need to check: I have only ever been attracted to men, I have never fetishized women’s clothes or done anything remotely kinky, I have never been sexual with the junk I was born with. Pretty much you have to prove that you’re totally normal and straight and not queer at all, so that if they let you transition you will be a normal het woman who doesn’t freak anybody out, and so we often, as individuals, internalize these things, and then we, as a community, often reinforce them. All of which is relevant specifically because you are supposed to have known you were trans since you were a tiny little baby.
Along the way she meets James, a boy working at the Star City, Nevada Wal-Mart somewhere near Reno and realizes that he's like she was at 20; bored, confused, trying to present as a man but failing, stuck in a relationship he kind of doesn't want to be in, and hiding it all under a thick haze of drugs.
As she helps James face admitting that he's maybe/possibly/probably trans, she also gets a chance to process through the history of her own life and realize the things that she's also been avoiding. Through her interactions with James, Maria tries to be that of a trans mentor and explains her experiences to an someone outside of her own world, but you can't quite figure out if she's talking to James or just talking. The ending took me by surprise that I closed the book and exclaimed how much I hated it to my partner. I had so much investment in this story, and the narrator. Though the ending was abrupt, intellectually I was satisfied. Emotionally, it didn't provide complete satisfaction. It left me feeling half fulfilled and half bereft. But if you think about how the story starts, an emotionless sex scene between Maria and Steph, and how the book ends, another emotional sexual encounter between James and Nicole, it mirrors the other. Maria may slip back into old ways, or James may make changes in his life to create his own fulfilling ending. It could go both ways, and maybe that’s why the book ended on such an equivocal note.
So my request to other cis-identify, non-trans gender folks: read this book! Not only is it amazing, but it’s thought-provoking, challenging, and I guarantee you’ve never read something like it (unless you read PDKF as a teenager) and you’ve never experiences characters like this.
Imogen Binnie writes a column for Maximum Rocknroll magazine as well as the zines The Fact That It's Funny Doesn't Make It A Joke and Stereotype Threat. Her novel Nevada won a 2013 MOTHA award and then lost at the Lambda Literary Awards. She lives near Keene, New Hampshire with her girlfriend and their jerk dog and, most recently, their tiny little kid.
Long Story Short by Patrick Lilja
It was a hot summer afternoon in July 2015. I was on the road in western Wisconsin returning to the Twin Cities after a weekend with friends and “it”, the truth, just abruptly popped into my head: the realization that I was bisexual.
Sounds incredibly simple, but it wasn’t. I had been wondering for a few years. I felt empty inside like something was missing and I didn’t know what. The idea that maybe I wasn’t straight was one of the things I wondered but for some reason it didn’t click, as if it was really that suppressed in my mind. I’m also autistic so perhaps the long battle with accepting that part of my life prevented me from realizing I was also bi. Who knows?
While I felt a sense of peace knowing that the empty space I was feeling had been filled, the next thing was that I was scared to tell anyone, even people I knew I could trust and be supportive of me because of the way this realization had come about, and the fact that everybody had known me as straight up until now.
I reached a rest area a couple hours later and I immediately tried to call one of my close friends to tell them I was “out”. They texted me back to say they were busy at a function but I could text them if it was important. So with my shaky hands I tried to write out a message that was probably better left for an actual phone call but I couldn’t wait any longer and I dumped it into a text somehow. My friend was supportive of me as I knew they would be in my head, but that little reassurance that I had support made me feel much more secure. I began to tell a few people here and there, only people who I knew would be supportive of me. I have yet to come out to anyone who I have doubts about how they would receive the news.
As I think about my adolescence I realize now that a lot of the same physical features that I found attractive about women, I also found attractive about the boys I grew up around. It continues to be something I’m trying to integrate into my life as I try to unwrap my repressed feelings about boys.
To those who support me, thank you. You are the best!
It's Not Always Black & White by Kara Tudor
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to men. I never questioned this. I remember my crushes in high school distinctly. One of them was a huge Insane Clown Posse fan, painted face and all. Another was into grunge and garage bands. Then there’s the one who had narcolepsy and would fall asleep in study hall. It was so cute. So many interesting fellas fell in-between. I have a handful of ex-boyfriends; the musicians, the married-but-separated-one who cheated on me with his wife, the one with schizophrenia that I spent Valentine’s Day with in the mental ward of the hospital. My long-term relationships have been with all guys, always guys. I even almost married the Southern one way back when.
Black and white.
When I moved to northern Wisconsin and (finally) started college at 24 years old, things started to slowly turn grey-er. I made queer friends, joined my first LGBTQ+ social club on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus called The Alliance – a student organization for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. It was then that I began to see cis-women, lesbians, and androgynous folks differently. I started to notice how my eyes were drawn to slim hips, and how their jeans hugged their bodies. I noticed how their lips seemed more inviting than a cis-man’s. I concentrated on how the softness of feminine voices sounded. Honestly, it all happened so quickly... This change in what caught my eye. Still my mind, and my bed, focused on cis-men. All guys, always guys. I was but a mere Alliance member identifying as a straight-ally, new to the group. I was seeing a guy casually during this time, on and off, dates here and there – and I thought I was straight.
I never grew up really giving it a lot of thought. I do remember being extremely interested in Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” music video in 2002, and I knew why. She was a babe in it. I understood that, but I didn’t realize exactly why I kept watching it over and over and over again because I did the same thing to Josh Hartnett movies (Hellooo, Pearl Harbor).
I never made the connection. I didn’t realize then that I was attracted to both women and men. I didn’t know back then that bisexuality was even a thing I could identify with. I knew the label, but I didn’t have any friends in the queer community (that I knew of) and therefore never gave it more thought.
We met in 2012.
After joining The Alliance, I met Jewleah. Our small group of queer and allied students met once, maybe twice a month during the academic year. Jew was the Alliance President. So here comes this confident, smiley, charismatic person who takes charge of each Alliance meeting. They put on fun activities and start important conversations. They’re empathetic, and kind, and understanding to everyone they come in contact with. They’re patient with everyone who walks into their office in the Gender Equity Center. I was drawn to them the moment I met them.
They had a girlfriend; this shut-off person who couldn’t even muster up a respectful hello when I introduced myself to her one day in the center. I had come in to just be around Jew – I was doing that a lot more often during that time, just coming in to be there, to see them, though they never really caught on as to why. So I’m in there, and I see The Girlfriend is in there, and something inside of me explodes. This distinct feeling of jealousy, but not the ugly kind. The kind that tells you that you want to know everything about this girl because you want to know, for some reason, if anything about you is anything like them. Then maybe, just maybe, the President of The Alliance student organization might notice you.
But our 'conversation' faltered after my introductory hello. The Girlfriend brushed me aside. Jew and I talked, we laughed about things I don’t remember. The Girlfriend sat sullen and quiet in the chair across from us. It was the day that I knew something was different, though. I couldn’t get Jew out of my head. I went to class and heard their laugh and it would make me smile. I couldn’t concentrate on taking notes. I counted down the hours until I could go back into the center to see if they were working, and if they weren’t I’d leave feeling let down. I wanted to see them. I had such a strong desire to be around them again and again, and I thought I was going crazy. I felt crazy.
Jew was unlike anyone I had ever met before... Beautiful, insanely smart, ambitious, super funny. After a few months of Alliance meetings, something in me shifted. I had had a crush on a girl in the club, who rarely showed up, who reeked of arrogance. But she was this mysterious, androgynous, angsty lesbian. You know the one, the first lesbian a “straight” girl always gets a crush on (See: Ruby Rose, Katherine Moennig, Kristin Stewart).
But this girl turned out to be boring and superficial. There was nothing there, and I my mind kept coming back to Jewleah. Maybe it was because they had broken up with their girlfriend by then, maybe it was because we were in The Alliance so often together, maybe it was because our sense of sarcasm was so similar, maybe it was because they were everything a super-hot androgynous person looks like PLUS the awesome personality and sense of humor to go with it. Or maybe… maybe it just was.
There was something different about Jew. When I was around them, I was nervous with excitement. I questioned my sexuality even more. Jew was this charming, genderless person always in the cutest plaid pants and snow boots that seemed too big for their already big feet. When I found out they broke up with their girlfriend, I tried to find every excuse to be more around them. It felt wrong, trying to get someone’s attention when they were heartbroken. But I wanted to be there for them, comfort them, maybe smell their hair a little bit (they always smelled like coconut). I felt weird and I acted weird and I knew why, but couldn’t come right out and say it. Realizing you’re bisexual can be an odd experience, because it can be very easy to brush aside this new identity for a long time before realizing that you're capable of being in love with more than one gender. It's kind of scary, because society makes it so.
We got close over a semester. They asked for my number and I gave it to them. I would get excited every time they would text me. When they added me on Facebook, I stalked their whole page. I looked at every single photo – and they had hundreds upon hundreds in their albums going all the way back to high school, when in my high school days the internet was comprised of Myspace. I looked forward to sending them funny memes, we started inside jokes with each other, and suddenly thoughts of them filled every quiet moment of my day.
It wasn’t me who made anything happen. If it had been up to me, I would’ve been too shy to say or do anything. But one day after an Alliance meeting, Jew asked me if I’d like to come back to campus and study. I instantly said yes! I sped home, chain-smoked out of nervousness, changed into something casually cute that would show off my assets (aka butt), and sped back to campus to meet them in the library. This was going to be the first time we were going to hang out, alone, just the two of us.
That library. Oh, that library. It was the first place we ever started to hang out. At first, we would actually study. We would talk a bit here and there, do our homework, read our textbooks. I would steal glances at them, thinking about how adorable they were. I’d stare at their hands out of the corner of my eye and imagine having the confidence to just grab it and hold it, interlocking our fingers. I would feel light-headed every time they made eye contact with me. Oh, their big blue eyes. In those moments I didn’t think about them being a man or a woman or anything like that, it didn’t matter to me in those study rooms. They just gave me such strong butterflies, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. They were all I thought about, every single day.
Eventually when the library would close, we’d extend our study dates to the student union for an extra hour. By that time we usually stopped studying and would watch YouTube videos, talk about science, or just get to know each other. I remember one time we bonded over Tegan & Sara, and watched a bunch of their music videos. I remember telling Jew how much I had a crush on Tegan, the first time I ever hinted to them that I was bisexual (something I was just recently officially admitting to myself).
I don’t really remember how long these study dates went on. The joy of that time, and the realization that I was falling in love with one of my newest friends, who was becoming one of my best friends, was overwhelming enough to kind of blur that time together in my memory today. Our study dates ended up being longer and much more social. We saw each other almost every single day. Once I realized how in love I was with them, I started to become unable to talk to them normally and was so timid around them and I didn't know why. How did I just suddenly change how I interacted with them?
When we would go to Alliance meetings I would purposely sit next to them. Our legs or feet or arms or hands would find ways to touch one another, gently… through the exchange of cards while cheating in Apples to Apples, to the subtle footsie-play under the table, to sitting so close the skin on our arms would brush. I never thought it meant anything to them, but my body felt electric inside every time it would happen. At the time I was this straight-appearing, realizing-bisexual, cat-loving-science-nerd-punk-rock girl who smoked cigarettes and swore too much. How would Jew ever be interested in me in that way? I was older, more-boring, and more-new at 'this.' Why would they want that?
I constantly replayed conversations we had, moments we shared, trying to see if they could at all possibly be into me the way I was into them. It used to be all guys, always guys… until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly, there was something else: Jewleah. Jew, who appeared in the darkness beneath my eyelids, in the stars of my dreams every single night. Pretty soon, the guy I was casually seeing had heard around campus about Jew and I hanging out so much, and when confronted about it I let him down gently (ie: “I think I like this girl. I’m gonna pursue that instead. K, byeee.”). Then it became Jew, always Jew.
One day between Thanksgiving and Christmas one of our mutual friends, Jen, decided to bake cookies for an event The Alliance was putting on. I was driving home after an Alliance meeting when I received a call. It was Jew, and they were asking if I wanted to come to Jen’s hall and help out. I said yes, and drove to the dorms and met up with them in the basement kitchen to start baking. This was when I first realized that maybe, just maybe Jew had a crush on me too. They would flirtatiously throw flour in the air towards me, bump me softly with their hip, and seemed to always stand a little too close for just being friends. At times they would come up and grab me, playfully, from behind. Though my heart was ecstatic at the idea, my brain told me that no, Jew was flirtatious with almost everyone. It’s just who they are. They’re cuddly and touchy-feely with people they’re close with. We were, of course, drinking wine that night so it came to a point that I was thinking it was just the wine, while we sat closely on a futon in our friend’s dorm, as everyone else around us got high, and we took funny pictures on my laptop.
Eventually we realized we had drank too much wine to drive home in the starting snowstorm, so we made a bed out of blankets on the hard floor together. I couldn’t sleep. I could feel them close to me, their breath giving me chills as I could feel the warmth on my neck. I could smell the coconut of their hair. Jew shushed, jokingly, at every sound out in the hallway. We giggled together at the sounds our friends made in their drunken sleep. I don’t remember how long we stayed awake, or what we talked about. The only thing I remember is the shushing, the giggles, and then Jew turning towards me and whispering, “Can I kiss you?” I was taken by surprise. I think I just nodded, I couldn’t even find words. And so they did. Tenderly they kissed me once. Twice. A few more times. I was so elated and surprised that I just snuggled into them to get it to stop. My heart pumped so hard in my chest. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t stop smiling, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep kissing them. My brain was full of a mix of emotions, mostly positive, but a little bit of an internal freak-out was occurring inside of me. I had wanted this for so long that my reaction was shocking. I don’t think I got a blink of sleep that night.
The next morning the world was covered in a beautiful, freshly laid snow. Everything sparkled. I felt like an entirely different person. I don’t even remember the rest of that day, but somehow it was decided that Jew’s tiny-beater-car would never make it back over the bridge to Duluth to go home, so they came home with me, where we hung out, listened to music, and fell asleep when night fell again. And after that our study dates would end with Jew coming over, us creating playlists through iTunes, and spending the night at my house.
Now Jew had been out and honest since high school, and they were patient with me. They never pressured me to put a label on my sexual identity, or our relationship. I wasn’t officially out yet at this time, though people were figuring it out. I didn’t quite know if I really was bisexual or simply a straight woman who had fallen in love with someone assigned female at birth. What was my label? Did there have to be a label? What was our label? Was I selfishly pushing Jew back in the closet because I couldn’t be open about our blooming relationship in public? I knew then that I had to tell my family and friends. I knew this wasn’t a phase. I knew I was in love with this person, and I never wanted to push them away, I want to hold their hand out in public, I wanted to scream it from the rooftops.
At this time, I was living with my brother and sister-in-law. One morning my brother asked me shortly after Jew had left, “Sooo your study partner spends the night now?” and he smirked. I didn’t have to “come out” to him. He just knew. He told my sister-in-law, and she was in disbelief. “No way!” she told him, amused. They were both so good with it, it was nothing new, as if nothing big had happened. But something big had happened. I fell in love, and then suddenly after that, Jew was just there, in our lives, forever.
We married in 2017.
Jewleah is the love of my life. When I met them, I fell for them fast and hard, without any indication that they were also falling for me at the same time (but thought I was just a straight ally in The Alliance). Even now, I don’t know how Jew gathered up the courage to ask to kiss me that night. But I do know that I am a cis-woman, who was, and still is, sexually attracted to men, and to women. I also know that I am very much attracted to, in love with, and happy with a non-binary, born female, trans person. How I got here was magical. It was fate. And now, because of Jew, I know that it is perfectly normal and okay to be who I am. No one should have to justify love. Love transcends all boundaries and all labels. It’s not defined by those we have slept with before, those we have dated before, or those who we have loved before we loved each other.
I came out at 18 years old. I had a guy best friend who I was super close to, and his mom. His mom saw me as, “The kid she had always wanted.” She took me shopping, out to eat, and had me over their house so often I felt at home with them. I saw his mom as a mom to me... Her name was Karen, and her son was Tyler.
I came out to Karen one random day after I asked her if she'd still talk to me if I was different than other kids my age. She said, "Of course I would! Why would you even ask that?" She saw me as sweet and kind, something I didn't see in myself, and something that my own mom didn't see until she did after years of knowing Karen.
I eventually came out to my mom and 2 sisters through Facebook messenger, and my mom was pretty upset I didn't go to her first. She didn't know that I didn't trust her to support me as me, so I assumed she'd leave. My sisters supported me and that was all I wanted…. was people who cared.
One day my sister and I were walking through the mall. I didn't have a binder yet and felt horrible in public, and I really had to pee! I told my sister this. She was 8 months pregnant and was struggling to walk. I wanted to find somewhere for her to sit so I could find a bathroom. She shocked me with what she said, though. She said "No, let's walk to the back of the mall. I know of a public family bathroom you can use because I know how much having to choose between the men's and women's room is hard for you.”
I thank my sister to this day, almost 3 years later. Even as pregnant and big as she was, she did that for me. I couldn't help but cry a bit as I went into the bathroom that day. My sister’s been a heaven sent from day 1, even if she doesn’t fully understand what I'm going through and what I feel. She now corrects family, and even strangers, who misgender me when I can't even do it yet. My sister’s probably my favorite person in the world, and especially through this… especially only being 18, 15 when I started transitioning. She’s been my rock through this all.
So thank you Adrianna.
Savannah 'Savy' Hanson wrote this piece as a volunteer for Pride observing the events of this summer's (2017) Pride celebration. She is head of security at the Duluth Flame Nightclub, and values the safety of our community, it's unity, and all letters/etc of the LGBTQ+ alphabet. She hopes to be present at the upcoming Prism discussion on this topic, and hopes to make Pride feel more cheerful, exciting, and safe for all involved.
If you were to ask me how Pride went last year I would have had said something cheerful and exciting, in the face of the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub. I would have said how amazing it was to work for a great LGBT+ business, and how much fun it was.
Though I am still working for a great LGBT+ business, my experience this year has been different to say the least. I looked on in pain while community members were abusive toward each other. .
Domestic abuse, sexual assault, transphobia, and a lack of participation have become prevalent topics in here in the Northland LGBTQ+ community. These issues impacted my experience at Pride this year, and many, many others felt their impact as well.
The reality is anyone can be a perpetrator of domestic abuse or sexual assault, despite their position or social status. The reality is our spaces and events are being eliminated one by one because the L (lesbians) and the T+ (transgender, gender non-conforming, etc), aren’t involved or included. The reality is we are losing are momentum to keep fighting for our right to exist, because we aren’t fighting together.
There isn’t less of a fight to be fought, I know firsthand that homophobia, transphobia, and oppression of the LGBTQ+ is still here and loud. Pride Weekend 2017 included the presence of two people who thought it was appropriate to walk up and down the street with baseball bats, during the night of Party X at local queer bars.
I saw my security staff deal with being called “faggot” and “dyke,” on top of being misgendered for the duration of the weekend. We cannot forget there are people who would rather us exist in silence or not exist at all. We are still not done fighting.
I was trying very hard to find volunteers to make the events happen at all this year. One of the comments I received when asking for help with volunteers was, “I just want to go for the fun.” Well, so do I. So do most LGBTQ+ folks.
But we are still not done working. Fun does not just happen. ‘Fun’ for the past 31+ years in our community has looked like a committee and volunteers dedicating themselves and their time to their community.
Fun also does not happen when we aren’t inclusive of one another. It does not happen when we do not stick up one another. There is still so much work to be done so that we can truly have a good time.
There are so many ways we can pull our community together and make it through this fight stronger, happier, and with more fun for everyone. It just takes more willingness to volunteer (the more volunteers, the shorter the volunteer shifts), effective communication, and effort to connect as a community.
If you would like to see Pride be the inclusive, educational, fun event in future, please come help us make it that way. Prism is going to be hosting a conversation to try and get ideas and synergy flowing for next year. Pride Committee meetings are done for this year, but will start up again closer to Pride.
Written by Prism member Jewleah Johnson, who identifies as queer and transgender.
‘Deadname’ in the transgender community is a term used to describe the name that a person was given by parents/guardians. Not every transgender person has a deadname, but for some transgender folks, finding a more appropriate name for themselves is a part of their journey to presenting their true self to the world.
A sort of 'sacred' part of the social transitioning is naming yourself (or having a parent/guardian re-name you). Some folks stick with a name close to their deadname to try and make it easier for friends and family to make the switch. Some get creative and choose a name reflecting their heritage, their ‘rebirth,’ even the heroes (real and fictional) in their lives that helped them get through dark times.
A lot of thought and consideration goes into choosing a name. There’s often some guilt about letting go of a deadname, because it was somewhat of a gift from your relatives –though even gifts come with gift receipts most of the time, and that’s why there’s a process to change your legal name in the first place.
Some transgender folks legally change their names, which can cost upwards of $300, mean taking time off work to go to court and complete the process, and explaining to a judge why they want to change their name. Even Facebook makes it hard for transgender people to change their names, and often blocks them from their own accounts when they are brave enough to transition. I have seen multiple friends find the courage and strength to change their profile name, only to have a friend report the change to Facebook, and have it shut down indefinitely. The official name change process isn't accessible to a lot of folks, so many end up using their new name, and don't go through the process to change their legal name right away, or ever.
Aside from Facebook, deadnames can wind up causing many other issues for people who are trying to leave their past behind them. They can even be the portal to a hellish workplace, homelessness, unemployment, and many, many other issues to transgender folks.
Deadnames wind up in a lot of different places where they don’t have a place. In medical care they turn up on hospital wristbands, even in inpatient mental health treatment facilities –where they do a lot more harm than good. They are printed on blood samples, called out in crowded waiting rooms, printed on prescriptions, used in front of the patient constantly, and needed as signatures on some legal forms.
In school they are read out on attendance forms, used for grading, seating charts, and report cards. Peers may use them to get a rise out of others, and they may be a point of gossip with malicious intent.
At a workplace, they appear on work schedules, nametags, printed receipts, email addresses, and even ‘employee of the month’ placards. Sometimes deadnames interfere with payroll, or wind up on envelopes sent home. When applying for a job, even after a name change, they may turn up on background checks, old social security cards, or even handed over with references from old employers. It’s hard to prove employment discrimination when you were never hired in the first place, and conversations behind closed doors secured your fate. And it’s hard to go to work when you anticipate your old name being thrown at you left and right.
When applying for rental housing after a name change, potential landlords checking in with old landlords as references can find out someone identifies as transgender before the applicant can even set up an apartment showing. And though we want to say that housing discrimination is a thing of the past, and that ‘most landlords only care about getting the rent check,’ I have experience disclosing that my wife was my partner to a landlord (in person) and going from handing over the keys to the place, to a cold ‘Sorry, it’s spoken for. We will call you if anything changes. Goodbye.’ And that’s being perceived as lesbians, not transgender, which people have less understanding and exposure to.
There are so many more examples of deadnames causing issues in people’s lives, these are just a few examples. So let’s get to the meat of the issue –where you and I come in when interacting with people. When we aren’t at work, when we’re in a social setting, we may come across someone with a deadname. That’s cool, usually it doesn’t affect us at all.
We don’t need to know someone’s deadname in order to understand who they are. If we knew them previously, remembering their deadname does not help us access some sort of ‘next degree’ of friendship. A lot of people consider it to be rude or a power play to ask someone what their deadname was. If someone wants to talk about their deadname, they should be able to do so without worrying that it will cause more issues for them. However, that’s not the society we live in right now, so you and I, we have some ways we can help with that.
Here’s some tips on how:
1) Ask people their names and pronouns when you meet them. Make sure you repeat them back, and ask if you’re pronouncing them right. Ask them what nicknames are okay before choosing them. All of these are respectful things to do for ANYONE you meet, so get into the habit and people are more likely to feel respected and seen upon meeting you.
2) Don’t use people’s deadnames. Unless you are filing a restraining order and it’s their legal name, you are in need of it for other legal information, or it’s a different type of emergency, just don’t use it. It’s not pleasant.
3) If you know someone’s deadname, do not share it. Deadnames, by their nature, often ‘out’ people as transgender, and put a target on their backs. Not everyone who knows a deadname is going to keep it to themselves, and not everyone who finds out a deadname is going to be kind to the person it may hurt.
4) Shove deadnames deep, deep, down in your memory. If you heard a deadname and now it’s all you can think about, look at a picture of the person in question and say their name and pronouns (current, not past ones) out loud while looking at their face. Say a few sentences about them for practice. Use practicewithpronouns.com for some encouraging, fun help with pronouns.
5) If you hear someone using a deadname, interrupt it. ‘I think you mean [current name]?’ or even an innocent ‘What? [and give a questioning look]’ may help that person get out of a bad habit before they cause a lot of issues. I particularly like saying ‘what?’ to someone, because it makes them think about what they just said, and gives them the opportunity to correct themselves and get in the mindset to use the right name or pronouns.
6) If someone is using it to harass another person, report it. If it’s at a workplace, if it’s in school, find out the reporting process. It may be best to check in with the person being victimized first, but your corroboration of their experience is going to validate their experience if they choose to report. It may also make them feel less invisible, less alone, and give them hope for detaching from their deadname in that space.
7) Use their new name SOOOO much. It’s validating. It really is. When you come home from work, school, or any life event where you were deadnamed or gossiped about, or even plain bullied, hearing the name you choose can sound like music to your ears. You can be that music for people. You can be a ray of sunshine on a cloudy, deadname-full day. Some people say ‘I don’t really mind what name you use,’ and that’s okay too, but making an effort to use a chosen name stands out when you consider all the ways their chosen name is not being taking into account.
8) Check in with them. Social transitions can be hard. Likely this isn’t the only thing this person is dealing with, as coming out to family, friends, at work, at school, to medical professionals… well it can be exhausting. It can feel overwhelming (it IS overwhelming). Remind them to take one step at a time, that you have their back, and help them find someone to talk to if they need it (a support group, counselor, trusted adult, etc).
If you are experiencing/witnessing a situation where deadnames are causing trouble, it is probably a good idea to check in with a local resource, like Prism, to find out what can be done. A lot of people want to help make deadnames less of an issue. Ideally, one day, transgender folks won’t be treated differently because of deadnames. After all, cisgender people change their names, too, and their choices are usually respected and understood. One day, deadnames will not cause as much trouble, but until then, please be aware of the impact they may have on someone’s every day experiences.
Have something to say? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to write a blog post for Prism.
IT'S BEEN A WHILE. I've been reading a lot lately. I'm also in the process of putting together a book room (rich folks call this a library) in our spare guest room. I even have my first bookshelf! Which is already currently full, so I'll need another.
The Art of Being Normal
by Lisa Williamson
Goodreads rating: 4.21/5.00
Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.
When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…
Here's my casting! Don't get mad at me, but Kate is not trans IRL. But Leo is! Most of ya'll will recognize Leo from a little TV show called Shameless?
And so from left to right:
The Art of Being Normal starts with 14 year old David Piper, recollecting at how at the age of 8 he responds with, “I want to be a girl,” when asked by his teacher to share to his class what he wanted to be when he grew up. Kate, whose birth name is David, struggles with her fear of being rejected by her family if or when she comes out as a male to female trans woman. With her best friends, Essie and Felix, by her side, Kate lives an otherwise isolated life surrounded by her peers who are predictably mean and have nicknamed her, “Freakshow.”
Kate’s upper middle-class parents are compassionate and kind, supportive and loving, and yet predicting displeasure and distress, Kate cannot confide in them that she is not David. It is this quiet desperation that author Williamson captures so well, with ever-growing puberty sabotaging Kate’s petite and feminine body. Time races against her, and she keeps a notebook tallying all the ways biology is running it’s course. She measures herself obsessively, and is discouraged at the feeling of being a stranger in her own body. Nonetheless, she stays in the closet, dresses as neutral as possible (thank god for school uniforms), and silently cringes when everyone around her refers to her by “he” and “David.”
Then comes Leo Denton… a handsome and intriguing introvert. He comes from a challenging home, where money is sparse and, besides his twin sister, emotional support is in even more short supply. He is haunted by his father’s absence, abandoning him when he was a baby. Leo can’t help but have this deep disdain for his mother, somehow convinced it’s her fault his father left. Transferring to Kate’s fancy private school, Leo is adamant to keep to himself – keep his head low, keep his mouth shut, and graduate. However, when Kate finds herself at the horrific butt of bullying, Leo can’t help but jump in.
The Art of Being Normal shares a story about two people with secrets. The story is told in present tense, and each chapter is told in alternative first-person narratives – often times interlocking the story between each character. Once the two main characters meet, Kate and Leo are immediately drawn towards each other for unknown reasons, and they soon form a comfortable and sincere bond.
My optimism for this book came to a screeching halt when it is revealed that…
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
…Leo is trans, only because it is revealed through a sexual situation with his girlfriend. He's outed by exposing himself. That was super uncomfortable, and honestly I think this was written in this way because of its cis-author to act as a major plot twist. But it felt so, so wrong. And the whole thing really broke my heart for him, especially after the persistent bullying at his old public school in the aftermath of his initial transition from a female to male trans man.
I also couldn’t handle Kate being referred to as David throughout the entire book, except for a few chapters here and there, as well as using the wrong pronouns – especially from Kate’s confidante Leo, even though Kate refers to herself as David and uses 'he' in her own internal monologue. It just felt odd? Also, after Kate comes out to Leo, even after this, Leo STILL refers to Kate as David in his internal monologue, but only refers to her as 'she' when she's wearing feminine clothing – which only happens, I think, twice. That's something that really upset me. Add onto that fact that it’s written so many times that, “David wants to be a girl.” Kate is a girl. She doesn’t want to be, she IS. Also – why is there a rainbow on the cover, and not a trans flag? No one is gay here. Sexuality and gender ARE TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT, SEPARATE THINGS. Ok, now I'm nit-picking when in reality I actually did really like the story itself.
Another flaw I felt this story had was with the supporting characters – the girlfriend, the twin sister, the best friends. There are so many important people in the two main character’s lives that there could be so many amazing sub-plots within this story. For example, Leo’s father. That’s one of – maybe – two sub-plots of the story, and it falters so hard. It didn’t add anything to the story really, it only showed why Leo was depressed and hard on himself, and his family. But it could have been so much more interchangeable without changing the emotional impact. When faced with that sub-plot, it’s so rushed and suddenly poof! It’s gone, done and over with. I really wanted more of that story, and how it connects with his mom and his twin-sister.
Even with these flaws, Williamson’s prose and beautiful character development still made me enjoy this book. Being cis, though, it may be my privilege saying this. I would implore everyone to read more trans reviews of this book. I don’t think that this book is harmful, but is it helpful? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Williamson has taken on the challenge of writing a YA novel about trans teens and, for the most part, succeeds. The characters of this story feel real, it kind of makes you feel like you’ve met them before or know them in real life. The voices of Kate and Leo are youthful and naive, but in a good way. Although this book comes with it’s flaws, it’s a pretty respectable YA novel about trans lives and trans issues. It’s a good story for parents to read, educators, and friends of trans folks, especially in the usual YA age range. I really look forward to reading Williamson’s new book, All About Mia, next. I’ve been missing my mystery/thriller stories, so I’ve been kept busy reading those. I also made a new friend who WROTE a book, and I’ve had the pleasure and honor of getting to read it. It’s a phenomenal fantasy/YA type novel with magic and awesomeness. Maybe they’ll let me write a review on it some day for PRISM?
About the author: the ever-so-cute Lisa Williamson
Lisa was born in Nottingham in 1980. She spent most of her childhood drawing, daydreaming and making up stories in her head (but never getting round to writing them down). As a teenager she was bitten by the acting bug and at 19 moved to London to study drama at university.
Following graduation, Lisa adopted the stage name of Lisa Cassidy and spent several happy and chaotic years occasionally getting paid to pretend to be other people. Between acting roles she worked as an office temp and started making up stories all over again, only this time she had a go at writing them down.
My rating: 3.5/50
Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity
By Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Goodreads rating: 3.44/5.00
The last time Jess saw her father, she was a boy named Jeremy. Now she’s a high school graduate, soon to be on her way to art school. But first, Jess has some unfinished business with her dad. So she’s driving halfway across the country to his wedding. He happens to be marrying her mom’s ex-best friend. It’s not like Jess wasn’t invited; she was. She just told them she wasn’t coming. Surprise!
Luckily, Jess isn’t making this trip alone. Her best friend, Christophe—nicknamed Chunk—is joining her. Chunk has always been there for Jess, and he’s been especially supportive of her transition, which has recently been jump-started with hormone therapy.
Along the way from California to Chicago, Jess and Chunk will visit roadside attractions, make a new friend or two, and learn a few things about themselves—and each other—that call their true feelings about their relationship into question.
Casting call for my imaginary movie!
Photo 1 of Eve Lindley as Jess: Jess has gender dysphoria. Actress Eve Lindley would make a phenomenal Jess, even though she’s 23. It sucks that I feel like I’ve already run out of trans actresses to play these young characters.
HOLLYWOOD NEEDS MORE REPRESENTATION!
Middle Photo of Roderick Meeks as Chunk: Chuck is chubby. Chuck is pansexual (yay!). Chuck is his name, and Chunk is the nickname he was given as a result of his size (I fucking hated this). I think that the actor from Glee, Roderick Meeks, would be perfect for this role in a film.
First of all, AND MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS HERE, no matter how self-absorbed Chuck thinks Jess is, she's come out to him twice - first as gay, and then as trans - and he's never once told her that he's pan? Whaaat? They’re supposedly best friends for yearsss now. How do they never have a conversation about the fact that he's pan, when he realized it, who he's been attracted to in the past (even though this literally comes up in a conversation/question during a car ride game)? Just an odd story line, but the real reason it’s so bothersome is because I feel like this is a super strong way to suggest that a trans person isn't really of the gender with which they identify as, and this book falls right into that. I wouldn't be saying this if it weren't such token pansexual representation, but it is, and that makes me sad. There's this whole subplot about him having an internet girlfriend, Jess finding out Chuck is pansexual, the hints that Chuck likes-likes Jess… and it sucks all this great conversation they could be having into a weak conflict.
A character. Does not. Have to be pan. To be attracted. To a trans person.
Anyway, photo 3 of Jane Levy as Annabelle: Jane Levy from Suburgatory would make a badass Annabelle from the subplot.
My messy, eclectic review (with lots of spoilers!)
Jess, Chunk, and the Road to Infinity is about Jess, an eighteen year old who has finally begun her transition from being Jeremy to becoming her true, authentic self by taking hormones that her father denied her. Immediately after graduation, Jess and her best friend, Chunk, embark on a road trip from San Jose, CA, to Chicago to make her debut true self known to the world by a surprise appearance at her transphobic dad’s wedding to her mom’s former best friend. The road trip uncovers many worries, tensions, and truths following Jess’s concerns for her safety and anxiety about passing. With the urging of her long-time best friend, Chuck, and the support of her mom (who’s been divorced from dad since Jess was very young), Jess decides to travel to Chicago to attend the wedding of her father and to confront him, appearing as the girl she is transforming into that he refused to believe in.
I really liked that this showed another side to the first year of transition. Jess concentrates significantly on her Adam’s apple and light facial hair. Her hormones are mentioned, she’s concerned with finding safe spaces to stay, and her consciousness is always on passing – what clothes can she wear, around who, etc. It’s important to read this because it really takes you into that experience as a reader (does that make sense?). It doesn't take for granted the individual challenges a trans girl has even if she also has significant good in her life. I also liked that this was actually not an entirely trans-centric story. It's very rare that we get a trans protagonist whose entire story is not about coming out, and while that's certainly a big element – especially transitioning in this story – it's really Jess's parents' divorce and her father's remarriage that's the driving element of the main plot. While Jess’s mom is supportive of her transition, her dad withdrew from Jess’s life and struggles much more openly with her new self. Showing his reaction and also her feelings about his words added a much greater understanding and level of empathy to the story, because we saw not only her dad’s genuine struggle to understand why this was happening but the way his struggle made Jess feel excluded and unloved.
Jess is not a saint. In fact, she's got some serious personality flaws, and her best friend calls her out on all of it. None of her bad behavior goes unchecked by him. I loved these personality flaws because often times queer characters don't seem to get to be flawed, and I appreciated that about her a lot. She is too caught up in her own mind and her own drama to see that her best friend is hurt every time she calls him “Chunk” and uses anything fatphobic as her ultimate insult, even though Chuck has been there through all of Jess’s changes. Every single time the guy is called Chunk throughout, I winced. He clearly hates the taunting and judgemental nickname. It should be obvious to any functioning human being that Chuck would hate that nickname, and yet it is somehow not obvious to Jess until he has to yell it at her, like, a third of the way into the book.
Their friendship seems to be on the rocks. He’s spending the trip texting another girl he met on the internet while growing increasingly annoyed at Jess’s utter egotism. For someone so aware of names, image, and identity, Jess is extremely oblivious, especially when it comes to weight. It takes seeing (and overhearing) Chuck interact with new people for Jess to understand her feelings and begin to see beyond herself. Throughout the trip, Chuck drops hints about Jess’s self-involvement that Jess deflects, justifies, and sometimes turns against Chuck. Their road trip is full of tropes and clichés, including the inevitable minor car breakdown and the visits to oddball America roadside attractions, but it is punctuated more thoughtfully by Jess’ need for trans-friendly hotels and restaurants and her worries about passing. However, Jess never really grasps the point (or the story feels rushed to do so) that other people need support as well, so her happy ending feels contrived and undeserved by her character, with a plot twist that comes as a big surprise.
I loved the running theme of juxtaposition of being fat and body dysphoria. At one point, Jess thinks, "I bet I hate my body more than you do," to Chuck. The author contrasted Jess’s insecurities about her body during her transition and Chunk’s insecurities about his weight. I felt like Jess’s experience was really easy to understand and empathize with, but she’s also such a flawed character, which again I really enjoyed. It felt true and real.
And the thing is, Jess is attracted to Chuck... but also fat shames everyone. She freaks out when Chuck accidentally deadnames her but proceeds to keep failing to abide by his wish not to be referred to as "Chunk." That all falls in line with exactly why Chuck calls her out in the first place; because she's entirely about herself and doesn't give a damn about him (even though she loves him). Her self-focused thoughts and obsession over her feelings about her transition leave her blind to the feelings of others, especially her best friend.
SORRY FOR ALL THE SPOILERS, HOW DO REAL REVIEWERS DO THIS?
Overall, I liked that this story involved a trans character yet the book wasn’t focused on the character realizing she was trans. Jess is already out to the important people in her life and she’s graduated from high school, in the process of transitioning, and plans to start college as a girl. This story focuses more on Jess coming to terms with her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage to her mom’s best friend, and the fact that she *might* be in love with her best friend. SPOILER, lol.
My rating: 4.00/5.00
About the Author
Kristin Elizabeth Clark always knew she wanted to be a writer. She began dabbling in haiku in the third grade – this "experimentation" turned out to be a gateway to the harder stuff: book-length verse. She lives and writes in Northern California where she has worked as a child advocate within the juvenile justice system, and as a children's theatre producer. She is a proud volunteer at Project Outlet in Mountain View, CA. Kristin Elizabeth Clark is also the author of Freakboy, which received three starred reviews, was a YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults title, a Project Reading Rainbow List Top Ten title, and a Bank Street Best Book of the Year.
Kara is a bisexual feminist and scientist who believes in Bigfoot, resides in the Twin Ports with her partner and 5 pets, and who wishes she were a librarian or bookstore owner. Kara likes hanging out with the people in her life who inspire her and provoke her to go after what she wants, while supporting, loving, and living life to the fullest. She hopes you'll join in the discussion at the Prism Queer Book Club meetings, times/dates TBA.
Book written by Meredith Russo (About the Author at the end of review)
Goodreads rating: 4.03/5.00
...Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.
So this is a little thing I’m going to start doing with Prism as Ellamae and I (Kara -see my bio below) try to get our Prism Queer Book Club (...that's right) up and going. I like to read, a lot. I’ve never been any sort of book reviewer, so we all thought it would be fun to do a blog post every now and then with any queer books I read.
My Goodreads “To-Read” list is getting long. I’ve had If I Was Your Girl on it for quite some time now, as I try to read as much queer (I use queer in an LGBTQ+ sexuality and gender identity kind of way) fiction as I can. That includes books written by queer authors, books about queer topics, books that have queer characters, etc. I just so happen to be skimming the aisles of the Young Adult section, when I saw If I Was Your Girl on the New shelf (I love YA novels). It looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember from where (again… my GR list is looong…).
I took it home, thinking it was going to be some murder mystery book, since that’s 99% of what I read. I was delighted to find that it was actually about a transgender girl in her senior year of high school. Perfect timing, for my 'queer books to read' list has started to grow. Like usual, I looked up the author. I do this for every author if their first chapter captures my attention. I just really enjoy learning more about them, their experiences, and look up their other work. DON’T LOOK UP THIS AUTHOR BEFORE READING THE BOOK. First, I was thrilled to know it was written by a trans author. But second, I was saddened to read all about how Meredith is apparently not a very kind person to her wife (ex-wife?). There are articles of abuse and a whole big mess of stuff, and it’ll throw you off. Heartbreaking. I had a bad feeling but really wanted to read this book, so I put that part aside and kept on. I’m glad I did.
I also always do this in my head when I read a book I really enjoy… I envision who would be playing them if this were turned into a film (which I totally imagined this book as a movie as I read it):
From top to bottom, left to right:
“I’m not brave,” I said, smiling despite myself. “Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?”
If I Was Your Girl gives readers a rare exploration of a transgender protagonist (at least to me, before I really started to look for those books). It follows a young trans woman who goes to live with her estranged father in a brand new small town because of the relentless bullying at her old school. With this move, Amanda Hardy hopes to start a new life away from the cruelty, danger, and misunderstanding she experience in her old life as Andrew Hardy. This book is about Amanda’s life, the changes she goes through with her transition, her journey, and her new town and school. I don’t want to give anything away because the plot is just really that good, but she’s living with a father she hasn’t seen in years and is finally making friends. She has her first kiss, gets her first boyfriend, and all seems to be going well. But we know with YA novels that nothing ever goes that smoothly. The book takes you through Amanda’s ups and downs, from her varying levels of support – from her new friends, from a dad who can’t really “come to terms” with her transition, and from a mom who realizes she’d rather have an alive daughter than a dead "son."
At the beginning Amanda says about the move, “I would keep my head down and keep quiet. I would graduate. I would go to college as far from the South as I could. I would live.” Soon she realizes that there’s more to life than that, and she wants more options than that. In this new religious town of Lambertville, Amanda finally has the chance at living just a 'normal,' simple life for once as she is met with such popularity. She is well-liked and, for once in her life, she is 'normal.' Amanda becomes close with a handful of new friends and captures the interest from a couple of the popular boys, but can’t escape the constant fear of being 'found out.' She still feels guarded and nervous that she could be outed, but she starts to finally feel like an average teenage girl with a group of friends and a gorgeous football-star boyfriend. It’s all Amanda has ever wanted, but she still can’t help her internal fears that somehow someone might find out her 'secret' and wonders throughout the book if it’s right for her to be in a relationship with a boy without disclosing her past. It takes her some time to feel at ease with a degree of underlying wariness, but she finally gets to do typical teenage girl things. In a world that will tear you apart for being even the slightest bit different from the supposed 'societal norm,' Amanda gives herself the chance to be honest and open about herself. So how would her friends, and especially her boyfriend, react if they found out?
This book is insightful and powerful and beautiful, and I couldn’t put the book down. It instantly stood out. It’s been awhile since I picked a book up that hooked me from the beginning. This story explores important questions, such as disclosing your past to your partner in order to feel like you’re being your authentic self. At the end of the day, you need to be happy and most importantly you need to feel safe. Amanda found that in Grant.
I also enjoyed the author’s letter after the book ends. She points out that this story doesn’t represent the trans community, or a transwoman’s experience, as a whole. She makes note that she is a storyteller, and does not speak for everyone else. This is a fictionalized look at one trans experience, and not a comprehensive story of all types of experiences and identities that folks have. She clearly states that Amanda’s character “passes as a woman with little to no effort” and that trans representation is not a monolith. There are varying identities and stages and different types of trans folks and transwomen, all worthy and beautiful, and very much women. Her letter shows a number of conscious decisions she made on coming up with Amanda’s character in hopes of removing the barriers for a cisgender reader.
I highly suggest reading this book. Since reading it I’ve went to the library and checked out a handful of other queer YA novels and memoirs. Hopefully I’ll find one that hooks me again like this one did. I did try to start the books Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart, neither of which held my interest in the least. It was probably the writing. It was a little too young adult for me.
More reviews to come in the future though, because I know I’ll find more books to read!
About the Author of If I Was Your Girl
MEREDITH RUSSO was born, raised, and lives in Tennessee. She started living as her true self in late 2013 and never looked back. If I Was Your Girl was partially inspired by her experiences as a trans woman. Like Amanda, Meredith is a gigantic nerd who spends a lot of her time obsessing over video games and Star Wars.
My rating: 4.50/5.00
Kara is a bisexual feminist and scientist who believes in Bigfoot, resides in the Twin Ports with her partner and 5 pets, and who wishes she were a librarian or bookstore owner. Kara likes hanging out with the people in her life who inspire her and provoke her to go after what she wants, while supporting, loving, and living life to the fullest. She hopes you'll join in the discussion at the Prism Queer Book Club meetings, times/dates TBA.