Bumbling Into Body Hair
Author: Everett Maroon (no dedicated website found)
Publisher: Libertary Co.
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!
This is a review that is, in some ways, tied in with another book I read during this time. The two are not related except in that they're about gender identification. I thought it would be fun to review them both together (but separately!), so while the reviews cross-reference a bit, they're different (although both books are worthy reads), and I invite you to read both. On my blog, the reviews were both posted next to each other on the same day, but if you're reading this at some other venue you may have to dig around to find the other review.
So this is a book which I decided would be fun to blog along with Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. The two stories, one factual (this one) and one fictional, are like bookends to the entire spectrum of gender identity, which is a lot more complex than most people realize. Unlike the novel, which is middle-grade, this book deals with mature adults (or not so mature in some cases as the author testifies!), and additionally, carries the messy complexity of real life.
While Gracefully Grayson was fictional, it was the opposite of this story in many ways: it was about a young boy who identified more as a female than ever he did as a male whereas this one is of a very real journey from female to male. Indeed, this is almost a guidebook on what to do and not to do to make that journey successful and as painless as possible. For that alone, it's important and well worth the reading.
I have to say up front that I would have liked the author to have said a word or two (okay, Picky-Picky, some paragraphs!) about how this novel came to be - particularly about how it came to be so detailed. No one short of those with eidetic memories (and their attendant problems) can remember exact conversations and sequences of events, especially from several years ago, yet we read them detailed here, so clearly there is some sort of creative writing going on, even though the events and conversations depicted are, I have no doubt, real ones. I would have liked to have learned how this was done - how the author filled in the gaps (and the gaps in memory) since there's no mention of a detailed diary being kept.
Bumbling Into Body Hair is a true story about a man who was born in a woman's body and underwent a painful, amusing, rewarding, and educational transition to 'normalize' himself. The blurb for this book exaggerates the humor somewhat, and sadly underplays the trauma, but both are included in the story and are equally engaging. This story is very well written and very poignant. Sometimes it made me angry (ditch Pat already!), and sometimes it made me laugh, but mostly it made me feel for what Everett had to go through, and the fortitude and good humor with which he girded (yes, girded, I shall have it no other way) his, er loins!
Everett began life as Jenifer (one n), growing-up with a sister in a loving family home, and ending-up in a decent, although perhaps a somewhat monotonous job, but with great co-workers. Some might call it a comfortable rut. That's pretty much when the story begins for us, the readers, although of course it began long before this for Everett, trapped inside Jenifer and not even fully cognizant that there was indeed an escape route that didn't involve lying in a bath of warm water with a sharp knife.
Everett, as Jenifer, had long been identified as a lesbian, and I was intrigued that this author seemed to accept this label. I've read other accounts where a significant distinction is drawn between an XX person who identifies as a heterosexual male, and one who identifies as a gay female. I guess there's some dissent even among those who are more intimately familiar with all of this than am I!
The real hero of this story is the woman who plays a somewhat secondary role to us as readers, but who no doubt fulfilled a very primary role to the author: Susanne, who met Everett when he was very much an overt female, still struggling over what to do about his feelings, and who fell in love with him and stayed with him all the way through surgery and on into a marriage. That takes love, dedication, and courage, and I salute her.
It's actually because of Susanne that I had another - not so much 'issue', as 'bout of sheer curiosity' - over why so much painful detail was relayed about everything in Everett's life - which takes guts and a commendable commitment towards bravely informing others of what's truly involved in a literal life-changing pursuit such as this - and yet we're robbed of a lot of the intimacy of this remarkable relationship between his self and Susanne.
I don't know if this is because of personal privacy concerns, and I certainly wouldn't want an important story like this to spill over into pandering to salacious or prurient interests, but it struck me that a really critical part of this transition was the love and affection between these two, and yet we get not a hint of any joys or problems experienced as the two of them interacted physically, one very much a woman, the other transitioning from a woman to a man.
I would have liked to have read something about how they felt, how they perceived it, how their physical intimacy changed (or didn't) as this transition took place - or at least a word or two as to why Everett (and perhaps Susanne) chose not to share this! Yes, of course it's their life and they're entitled to share as little or as much as they wish, but given that he's already sharing such intimate details, a word or two about the nature of the relationship and how it grew and changed would not have been out of place, and would have been appreciated by me, at least.
In short, I recommend this story. I loved the detail, and the endless parade of things which cropped up - surprising things which might never occur to someone who had not undergone this change no matter how deeply they might have gone into it as a thought exercise. I loved the humor and the endless battle with bureaucracy as Everett gamely began to solidify these changes in terms of endless paperwork. It was all the more funny, I felt, because he worked in government, so in some ways he was getting a taste of his own medicine!
Most of all I loved this for the courage, honesty, and equanimity with which he pursued this dream, this need, and his sharing of this necessary course correction in his life. It's a warming message to us all, no matter what our own circumstances are - a heartening siren song telling us all that we can get there if we're willing to make the journey, no matter what our own personal journey is.
Note that Everett Maroon also has a novel out: The Unintentional Time Traveler. Note also that if you liked this story or Gracefully Grayson you might also like to read The Greatest Boy Ever Made a work of fiction which curiously has a lot in common with both of these books, and which I reviewed back in September.