Showing posts with label transgender. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transgender. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Year Out by Sabrina Symington

Rating: WORTHY!

This is another graphic novel about transitional experiences. It's completely honest about feelings and experiences from start to finish and it pulls no punches.

Presumably based on the author's on experiences at least to an extent, this is a fictional account of a mtf transgender named Lily. As is typical, she always knew she was a female from a very early age, despite being hampered with a male body. She wasn't gay, and she fought against these 'sissy' feelings by body-building and indulging herself in insensitive traditional masculine behaviors, but of course these were doomed to fail because her body notwithstanding, she was a woman through and through.

The color artwork is fairly rudimentary, but what's most important is the story, which discusses her problems: personal and interpersonal, the troubles in finding a decent date - and keeping him, and the support or lack thereof she got, from her parents' changing perspectives to being denied use of the women's restroom in a restaurant, to the friendships she made and the loving relationship she formed, to the unintentional torture of the final step of sex reassignment surgery.

This is educational, painful, humorous, and thoroughly worth reading. I commend it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

If I had known that author was a graduate from a writing program, I would not have requested to read this novel, because whenever I have read such novels in the past, they've universally been sterile, poorly-written, and boring with thoroughly uninteresting characters. The authors of such novels seem to be so tightly focused on the writing that they completely forget that the story is where it's at, not the technical writing of it.

I'd much rather have an indifferently-written, or even poorly-written, novel that tells a really good story than one which is exquisitely written, yet tells a less than mediocre tale. The blurb did its job and made it sound interesting: "...a woman who carves out her share of the American Dream by living as a man." but whereas the blurb was all sound and fury, the actual novel signified nothing. The main character was thoroughly unlikeable and had no saving graces.

How you can make such a story boring is a mystery to me, but this author managed it. I gave up at forty percent in because my mind was going numb. The blurb describes this as "A vivid, brutal, razor-sharp debut..." but none of that is true. Instead, what we get is clinical (have you ever tried to read a doctor's handwriting?!) and unappealing tale which meanders and mumbles and which offered me nothing whatsoever. A lot of it was confusing. To continue the clinical metaphor, I always felt like I was in an operating room after the operation was over. The most interesting part of the process was already long gone, leaving nothing but a messy OR in dire need of sterilization.

It's set in 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey, and Mrs Kunstler kills her husband and assumes his identity. I'd forgotten about this by the time I got around to reading this novel, so it was like coming into it completely blind, and I have to tell you there was nothing in that first forty percent to really clarify exactly what the hell was going on. If I'd wanted a detective story, with me as the detective, I'd have written one myself!

I actually had to go back and read the blurb to figure out why I'd even requested this novel to review in the first place! That's how bad it was. I know authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but when the story is told in the blurb, you gain noting by being all coy about it in the novel itself. I know that's ass-backwards, but it's the way the professional publishing business actually is: you write your story and then the publisher turns it into something else in the blurb and you get a dissatisfied readership as a result.

If "stylized prose" means tedious, then yeah, the blurb got it right. If by "gripping narrative" the blurb-writer meant that you grip the novel ever tighter out of sheer frustration and annoyance, then yeah, they got that right, too. But no, it was not remotely provocative. No, it was nothing like incisive. The hyperbole of the burb was laughable, but there was nothing funny about a novel that promises so much and then utterly fails to deliver even a semblance of a decent story. I cannot recommend this one at all when the same patient in better hands would have survived the surgery handsomely.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Title: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
Author: Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Rating: WARTY!

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 book is often reward aplenty!

This novel, one of several which plays the world 'ugly' against the word 'beautiful' in its title, is very much like The Best Boy Ever Made by Rachel Eliason, which I favorably reviewed last September. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children preceded that one by two years; however, unlike Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Rachel Eliason is actually a transgendered person - and also a bisexual - just to prove that sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity!

Kirstin Cronn-Mills, OTOH does seem to have made a career out of writing about transgender issues, as her website will testify. On balance, though, I have to declare that the later novel is the better novel. There was a lot to like in this novel, but in the end it wasn't enough, and it was spoiled by the frittered-away ending.

Just like in the more recent novel, the main character here, Elizabeth Mary Williams does not in any way identify as female even though he technically is one for all standard societal purposes. Instead, he identifies as Gabriel Joseph Williams, although that's not his legal name. He does insist that everyone call him Gabe, although some people have a much harder time with that than others, including his parents. For eighteen years, he's been Elizabeth and Liz. It's a hard habit to break.

Like in the other novel, he's been best friends with a girl since kindergarten. In this case, her name is Paige, and she's completely on-board and comfortable with his gender change. As in the other novel, Gabe really does feel a major attraction to his BFF. Sometimes she appears to feel the same for him, but he's not sure. What he is sure of is that he's terrified that it will screw-up their friendship if he makes overtures and they're not welcome, or if they are welcome, but things fall apart later.

This feeling of gender error isn't a rarity in nature as Joan Roughgarden reveals in her book Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People, which I highly recommend. But onto the story. Gabe is about to graduate high school - and once he picks up that graduation certificate, it will be, he vows, the last time he will answer to Elizabeth. The problem is that there are problems. The biggest problem turned out to be Gabe himself.

One really annoying thing about this novel was that each chapter had a chapter header and every one of these was in the form: "X is the new Elvis because Y" and after the first one, they were nothing but pointless and irrelevant irritations. And whilst I'm on the topic of irritations, I concluded that the cover was one of the ugly children! Unfortunately, writers have absolutely no control over the cover they're saddled with by their publisher.

I admit that it's possible, but I also I contend that it's highly unlikely in 2012 (when this novel was published) that someone of Gabe's age, especially someone who identifies a male, would be that completely obsessed with Elvis Presley. I submit that it's far more likely that a middle-aged author would have such an obsession and project it onto her character! Thus was further amplifed by the absurd if not outright schizophrenic 'A' side and 'B' side nonsense. Gabe was playing CDs - an already outdated technology. There is no 'A' side and 'B' side. Yes, the old vinyls which John owned had those, but how many radio listeners would even know about that, let alone care about it? if this novel had been set in the sixties or seventies, it would have made more sense.

This, it seemed to me, was how we arrived at Gabe's entire musical make-up, and it really didn't work. There seemed to be no consistency whatsoever to his musical choices, and no explanation for why he made them or even how he got his musical tastes, unless he had simply been brainwashed by John, his aged mentor. A lot of his choices were bog-standard and not the out-of-the-ordinary and off-the-beaten-track selections that we had a right to expect given what we're told in the story, and given that our main character is hardly Mr Everyman.

Gabe's close friend John was, long ago, a DJ who played Elvis Presley's first single on the air before any other DJ (so we're told). Now John is old, he nonetheless finds a mutual interest with Gabe in all kinds of music - from any era. John has a midnight show on public access radio, and Gabe has just begun working with him, starting to run the show and make it his own as the story begins.

He starts to develop a minor following, and a Facebook page is opened, and as Gabe rambles about his thoughts, emotions, and the reasons he's playing a given set of disks (each of his shows has a theme), the group grows and begins responding with public displays. For example, one night they set up a bunch of garden ornaments as though they're heading into the local supermarket for a shopping trip.

Gabe has one fan, Mara, who calls in to his show with requests. Eventually she asks Gabe on a date, but she soon realizes that Gabe is - or was - Elizabeth and is living a lie - so Mara declares, and in some ways she's right. Gabe is a complete wet blanket on this date. He never once tells Mara - not before the date or during it, that he's a transitioning female to male, which seemed thoroughly disingenuous to me. It didn't surprise me that he ran into trouble because he can't seem to own his transition, or to be open and honest about it.

This is actually where the story went seriously downhill for me because it became completely unrealistic. The reaction caused by Mara's outing of Gabe was way in excess of what would have been likely given the story framework which the writer had created to this point. Again I admit it's possible (let's face it anything is possible in fiction!), but two people in particular react in a ridiculously extreme and caricatured fashion and for me, this debased the story and robbed it of all of its appeal because it was too much, and it became completely ludicrous.

Let me note here that violence against the LGBTQ community isn't fiction. It's real and it needs to stop now, but that issue isn't helped by portraying it in a novel in the ridiculously over-the-top fashion which is shown here. Curiously enough, that wasn't even the worst aspect of this novel's fall from grace!

The biggest problem for me was the main character, Gabe. He was cheapened by being presented as the most completely lackluster, uninspired, uninspiring, unmotivated, passive person imaginable, and this never changes. Despite this, I had taken something of a liking to Gabe and felt some empathy with him, but at this point in the story I lost it all because his behavior here was so clueless and static that I actually began to despise him for his paralytic inertia and lack of intelligent thought processes. His two closest friends, Paige and John also seemed equally paralyzed, which didn't speak well of them either, and the story never recovered for me, especially given its completely useless non-ending.

I'm quite sure that the author didn't actually want me to develop negative feelings like that (quite the contrary, I should imagine), but that's how it was! I can't like or commend a person who is as clueless to reality as Gabe was here, nor can I react positively to a story which has at this point dispensed with all grey areas (as well as grey matter!), and given over to a stark and flat black-and-white, and thoroughly amateur view of the world. This isn't a Saturday morning cartoon - at least it wasn't until this point.

I should have guessed this would be such a ham-fisted story when I realized it had won an award! Stories which have won awards are rarely interesting. This particular award was named "Stonewall" and it was a highly appropriate title given that Gabe stonewalled all opportunities to change his life, or to move his lethargic self in the direction he claimed he wanted to go.

Paige was a weird character, and she really wasn't a very good BFF. She seemed far less like a good friend than a stooge, or like the Herald in Shakespeare's Henry V wandering in and out, or like a withering voice of doom calling from off-stage in some Renaissance play.

I'm not sure if I explained that properly, but she felt like she wasn't really a part of the story. She was more like a fan at a concert who keeps throwing herself onto the stage, whom the security guys kick back off, and a bit later she scrambles on again. It was like that: in and out, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing, as Shakespeare's"Scottish Play" would have it. Incidental music was all Paige really was, which is sad, because in another context, with some work, I think she could have been the most interesting character in her own novel.

Gabe was, in the end, just as insignificant. He wasn't honestly or seriously making any moves at all to transition his self to a man or to man-up if I can put it in a rather genderist way. Instead, it seemed that he was simply playing at being a guy, dabbling in it, idolizing it, but not really serious about it. He never - not even at the end - seemed like he was going to own it and take it in both hands.

The biggest issue vis-à-vis Paige was Gabe's inability to come to grips with his feelings for her. This torpor he experiences was a serious problem which he embraces throughout the entire novel and it made him unlikeable in the end. He's also a 'real teen guy', but not in a good way, when it comes to his focus on relationships. On the one hand he's idolizing Paige, convinced that she's the only girl for him, but on the other, he's lusting after and/or going on dates with other girls, meeting Mara and stringing Heather along, but making no moves to try and pursue Paige. He's an idiot at best and a complete jerk at worst!

He was, throughout the story, consistently letting things happen to him instead of making things happen. He wasted his time, wasted his chances, showed no interest in getting serious about his gender change, and in the end, Gabe was no different and no better than he was at the start. I'm not one of those people who insists that a character change. Indeed, some of the best stories feature a character who is unshakable, but in this particular case, where the very essence of the story is change and none happens, it stands out rather starkly. The ending capped it all because it honestly felt like the author ran out of ideas and simply said, "Stick a mango in it, I'm done."

I honestly cannot recommend this novel at all. Read, instead, Rachel Eliason's novel, or better yet, read the real thing: Bumbling into Body Hair: A Transsexual's Memoir by Everett Maroon, which I favorably reviewed last October. This tells the true story of a female to male transsexual in his own words.