BECOMING NICOLE: The Transformation of an American Family

Amy Ellis Nutt

At almost 3 years old, when Nicole was still known as Wyatt, he declared to his father, “I hate my penis.”  She alway knew she was a girl despite having an identical twin brother. Nicole’s mother, Kelly, supported Wyatt as he presented himself — a girl mistakenly incarnated as a boy. His father, Wayne, a man’s man: both hunter and ex-military, had trouble that his son was a girl. Eventually he came around and became a spokesman for transgender rights. “The world where he was a father and husband in an ordinary, hardworking, middle-class family had just blown up. He stood there stunned, unable to hear whatever was going on around him, as if deafened by the psychological explosion.” Nicole was bullied in school and the administration refused to protect her. The family sued the School Division for barring her from using the girls’ bathroom.

The author not only tells Nicole’s and her family’s story but also the medical and legal stories of transgender people. It is well research and well written.

“Lesson number one: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” he told Spack. “Gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

“other words, our genitals and our gender identity are not the same. Sexual anatomy and gender identity are the products of two different processes, occurring at distinctly different times and along different neural pathways before we are even born. Both are functions of genes as well as hormones, and while sexual anatomy and gender identity usually match, there are dozens of biological events that can affect the outcome of the latter”

“When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are.”

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

THE PARCEL

ANOSH IRANI

“I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers.” Madhu is a eunuch, a hijra, a third sex living in a community of hijras. Once she was the crown jewel of the brothel.  Her “arsehole,” she recalls, “was a cash crop.” Now at 40 she begs on the street. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a “parcel” has arrived – a young girl from Nepal, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt -“And the truth was a ten year old girl had been sold into slavery.” And Madhu must prepare her for her future of prostitution. Madhu took pride of opening the parcel gently much differently than the pimps would do, though the parcel was still kept in a cage.

“Born and bred to mortify,” Madhu is a breathtaking figure, admirable despite that fact that the “very things that made one human – love, hope, health – had been ripped from her calmly and precisely, the way a syringe extracted blood.”  The Parcel is not an easy read but it does grip you by the heart and squeeze.

 

DARLING DAYS

imgres-1iO TILLETT WRIGHT

At age 6, Wright declared: “My name is Ricky. And I’m not your daughter anymore. I’m your son.” Days is iO’s exploration of his tumultuous upbringing and struggles with identity and sexuality. Wright grew up in a chaotic downtown Manhattan apartment, a place that “stood out for the refinement of its violence, for its kaleidoscopic intensity.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “Sleep doesn’t happen much in the house, what with the plays and things late at night, plus Ma is in a real bad way. It’s like she has a night personality and a day personality.” As time passes her Mother’s mental illness worsens. The building they live in is crazy too. “Our building repels ‘normal’ people. They’d have to love cockroaches, scalding radiators and thin walls . . . they would have to establish their own niche in the zoo and defend it.”

Darling Days is one wild ride. “I don’t want to wear my tragedies on my skin, in my teeth, in my walk. I want something different than what I’m inheriting, but I’m going to have to make that happen for myself.”

FOR TODAY I AM A BOY

fortodayiamaboyKIM FU

Peter is a Chinese-Canadian boy with a secret: he is truly a girl. He calls his penis the thing. He tells his sisters, “I want to be pretty like you.” All three girls sense their brother’s secret, but it is the eldest Helen who brings reality to it. “You can be handsome, like Father or Bruce Lee.” The father is overjoyed to finally have a son and does all he can to make him into a  true male. He complains that Peter cries more than his sisters.  Mother is not much of a presence in the household, so dominated by her husband she is. When Peter offers to help with supper clean up father stops him, “It’s women’s work.”

When he moves to Montreal as a young adult he is more able to explore who he is. When he meets some young friends he surmises,  “What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves…To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls?”

Fu has written an excellent and challenging first novel. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

le-monocle-via-civilly-unioned

GOLDEN BOY

boyABIGAIL TARTTELIN

Golden Boy is the story of an intersex teen named Max. Raised as a boy, his life is turned on its head when he is sexually assaulted by his former best friend who knew about his condition. Max is a perfect kid. Good student, popular, co-caption of the soccer team, great friend, girls crushed on him. He was golden. Karen, Max’s mother, is a successful criminal lawyer, her husband Steven quits his job to run for the British parliament and her son Daniel adores his big brother Max and hates it when the other family members don’t tell him everything. Stress increases exponentially for Max when he finds out he is pregnant.

This book hooks you in right away.  Golden Boy was an incredibly emotional book. At times it could be hard to read but it was always honest and realistic.

Golden Boy is a must read!

ODDLY NORMAL:One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality

oddly oddly coverJOHN SCHWARTZ

NORMAL is an important book. It tells the story of the difficulties he and his wife faced while trying to help their son, Joe, accept his homosexuality. There were signs that Joe was gay came early: the desire to play with Barbie dolls, the need for a pink feather boa and pink light-up shoes, the love of glitter and costume jewelry and the lack of interest in sports. Joe had other special needs; when he started school, though, behavioral problems developed. Specialist and teachers suggested ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, sensory disorders and autism. The parents had to learn to advocate with the school system for appropriate education and help for their son. I know what that is like trying to get schools to challenge my bright son. It can be extremely frustrating. When he came out at school one spring day in 2009, rode the bus home, shut himself in his bathroom, and downed way too many capsules of Benadryl. What a horrible situation for his parents who were so supportive of their differently normal son. The final chapter, written by Joseph, is the entirety of a children’s book he wrote for class called “Leo, the Oddly Normal Boy,” which is about a boy who likes a boy.

Normal makes me think of the blog Raising My Rainbow.   Adventures in raising a fabulously gender  creative son.  How wonderful that these special children have such understanding parents.

 

IN ONE PERSON

JOHN IRVING

Irving is a great American novelist. In his latest novel he revisits themes of transgender and bisexuality. He follows the narrator, Billy Abbott, through his life as a student in a boys school, Favorite River Academy, in the 50’s when he was 13, through the AIDS crisis in the 80’s to 2010 when he is 60.

Billy is in the town library of First Sister, Vt., hopelessly infatuated with the librarian, Miss Frost. He is clutching a copy of “Great Expectations.”“ ‘There are a lot of books by Charles Dickens,’ Miss Frost told me. ‘You should try a different one, William.’ . . .“Miss Frost’s second reference to me as William had given me an instant erection — though, at 15, I had a small penis. . . . (Suffice it to say, Miss Frost was in no danger of noticing that I had an erection.)” Miss Frost knows nothing of Billy’s sexual anguish as he tries to check out “Great Expectations” for the second time. Billy knows that only two things matter to him at 15 — to be a writer, and to sleep with Miss Frost — “not necessarily in that order.” Billy’s first sexual experience was with this transgendered librarian in the basement of the library. He loved her small breasts and preferred small breasts on his female partners. When Billy slept with Miss Frost for the first time, he believed she was a woman. When he returned for more, he knew she was a woman with a penis.

 His lumberyard baron grandfather express his cross-dressing tendencies by acting in school and local theatre productions in female parts. He actually performed Caliban from the Tempest as a woman. When his wife died he kept her clothes to wear as his own. His father is a gay man living in Europe.
The novel end and begins with: “Don’t make me a category before you get to know me.”  A Great Read!

TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels

JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND

Bond knew that the box labelled boy did not fit him at a remarkably early age. One of his favourite people was his papa, grandpa, who totally accepted him for who he was. He even let Justin read his playboy magazines to see who he wanted to be. He wore lipstick to elementary school until his mother caught him one morning. “I was raised by girls and I loved it. I was like a pet monkey that they dressed up and tease and played with.” He always preferred playing with the girls at school. Bond talks about doing cool things with his father: working on school projects and later refinishing an antique bed frame. His neighbourhood friend Michael became first his lover and later his nemesis at high school calling him faggot and bullying him all the while making arrangement to meet for sex.

Justin Vivian Bond is a successful singer, songwriter, and Tony-nominated performance artist Mx. Justin Vivian Bond is an Obie, Bessie, and Ethyl Eichelberger Award winner. As one half of the performance duo Kiki and Herb, Bond has toured the world, headlining at Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and starring in a Tony nominated run on Broadway, Kiki and Herb Alive on Broadway. His film credits include a role in John Cameron Mitchell’s feature Shortbus. Bond is currently releasing a record, Dendrophile, and is writing a play with Sandra Bernhard.

A very interesting look at a trans-life. I would say a must read.