This is a really fascinating book. It's also a really enjoyable book. Even the relatively negative reviews I've seen of it grant it that. The main chaThis is a really fascinating book. It's also a really enjoyable book. Even the relatively negative reviews I've seen of it grant it that. The main character felt so real to me, so alive, so human, and also unique and distinct from anybody I'd seen on the page before. And the minor characters, the ones who are necessarily more flat, were still interesting and provided very true (in my opinion) points of view.
I'm wrapping the rest of this in a spoiler because the end of the book poses some very interesting questions and I wouldn't want anybody to read this book knowing what is coming. Read on at your own peril if you haven't finished the book.
(view spoiler)[There are, I think, two lenses through which to view the end of the book. The first is not very charitable towards the characters, especially Adam. That view takes the position that Adam is, in essence, a rapist for not telling Gillian that he isn't transgendered and instead having sex with her, repeatedly, under the pretense that he was born female. He operates under false pretenses and deceives her for the expressed reason of getting laid, which makes him a scumbag. Gillian, in turn, appears to be less of a character for not reacting with revulsion and horror upon discovering Adam's secret. Both characters are implicated in events that appear to take the book into a somewhat reactionary place.That's one way to view it. I wouldn't say it's necessarily wrong. I'll admit that I felt this at various points reading the book.
In the end, I viewed it differently, though. The way I saw it, Gillian knew at some point that Adam was cisgendered...and she didn't care. Or at least, she didn't care enough to stop seeing him. Because she liked him. She didn't care not because labels like straight and gay and male and female don't matter at all. On the contrary, those labels do end up forming our identities. In the best of circumstances, they are self-imposed labels and not something forced upon us by others, but regardless, they are ways that we choose to say "This is who I am." And sadly, in the worst of circumstances -- circumstances the novel doesn't shy away from -- people die because of those labels.
That being said, I think this book posits, in a very convincing way, that those labels matter tremendously to a point. They matter, but ultimately, a relationship can transcend them. Because as much as the labels have meaning, they cannot define the breadth of a person. Not every relationship does transcends them, but Adam and Gillian, for a brief period of time, are in love, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. To suggest that this isn't possible is to essentially side with Brad, who thinks that a transgender woman is wrong for deceiving straight guys into having sex with her. Ethan himself doesn't always tell people he's trans before hooking up with them.
The book seems to me to refuse to land on something as neat or tidy as "straight people are this way" or "gay people are like this." It offers trenchant critiques of both straights and gays, without condemning or praising either group. Instead, it attempts to dig deeper into the idea of gender and sexuality and to offer us something more. And I think that makes it a very brave book. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The titular first essay is required reading for humans, especially men. I enjoyed (is that the right word?) the rest of the book as well, though I felThe titular first essay is required reading for humans, especially men. I enjoyed (is that the right word?) the rest of the book as well, though I felt the essays were best when they were most direct. My only quibble with the book is that the essays weren't meant to appear together, which led to some unfortunate repetition, right down to quotes from primary sources that appear in multiple essays. Still well worth the time.
One note: The best part about reading this as a book? No comments section. You forget how great it is to read someone's ideas without a chorus of nutters shouting at them from the comments. ...more