I recently had someone ask me what genre of books I enjoyed the most. In reality, I enjoy almost everything. As a rule I don’t really like young adult, or science fiction, or romance. But there are probably several books in those genres that I have I read and enjoyed. Variety is the spice of life, and so I will read pretty much anything.
Mostly I enjoy books that will help me learn something. I want to understand things, people, and places that I have no connection to. I will never understand personally what it is like to be a man, to be black, to live in abject poverty, to be gay, to be Muslim. Reading opens doors. It allows people to come together in understanding. If we cannot experience it first-hand, we can read about it and learn from the experience of others. We can empathize with each other, hold each other’s hands and love each other.
If I’m not reading for pleasure, then I will try to find books that will help me learn about things that I really have no clue about. And that’s what this week’s book is about. I do not understand transgenderism. It doesn’t make sense to me and I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I purposely picked this week’s book because I wanted to try to understand this world a little better.
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is the story of a family with a young son who wants to be a girl when he grows up. Ms. Frankel has quite a bit of personal experience with this, as her son wanted to be a girl in first grade, and has since transitioned into a girl. While This is How It Always Is is not based on her family per se, she does know what she’s talking about.
At it’s basest level, it’s the story of a family. Rosie and Penn and their five sons live in a chaotic, but loving house. Penn stays at home with the boys while working on his novel; Rosie is a busy ER doctor. Their youngest son, Claude, begins to wear dresses at home, insists that he wants to be a girl when he grows up, and even wears a girl’s swimsuit. Rosie and Penn, with all they have going on, assume it’s a phase and let it go. Claude can wear whatever he wants privately, but publicly he needs to dress as a boy. However, it soon becomes apparent that Claude wants to be a girl all the time. Rosie and Penn take Claude to a therapist, who diagnosis Claude with gender dysphoria and encourages his parents to let him live as a girl. Claude becomes Poppy, and the family has to come to terms with it. There are hiccups along the way–other parents who find out and aren’t happy, bullies, the loss of friends, jealous siblings, moves, secrecy and Poppy going back to being Claude. The family separates, with Rosie and (now) Claude moving to Thailand to get some distance. There Claude finds himself again as Poppy, they move back to Seattle with the rest of the family and it ends happily ever after.
At it’s deepest, it’s the story of love, family, and how do we do right by ourselves and our children. I don’t think most people would have an issue with a boy who wants to play with Barbies, or a daughter who hates dresses. All children go through phases, and especially in a hectic household with several other children, those things are battles just not worth fighting. But what if what you thought was a phase turns out to be much more?
I don’t have any issues with children who wish to dress or play or act like their opposite gender. Gender-roles and stereotypes are simply that. My issue comes with what happens after they are children. Puberty, sexuality, irreversible changes–these are all things that children do not (and, honestly, should not) think about. We, as the adults, should be the ones thinking about it. It is such a gray area; children simply do not see the future implications of living as the opposite gender. This is the part that is hard for me to grasp. This is the part that is hard for me to understand. And honestly, while I think this is an important book to read, it stops short of answering those questions.
I learned a great deal from Ms. Frankel’s insight. I wouldn’t say that she’s changed my mind or helped me to resolve the many questions I still have about this. But it’s a start. It’s gotten me thinking, and kept me thinking, which is huge. It has taken me a very long time to write this blog post, and I’m still not sure I’ve said what I want to say in the way I want to say it. But it’s a start, a foundation, and a way to learn more.
Next week’s book: Much lighter, and so much fun! Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express.