(This review is 1) long, and 2) may contain spoilers, although I have done my best to avoid them.)
I initially liked this book. I did. I liked it a lot...more(This review is 1) long, and 2) may contain spoilers, although I have done my best to avoid them.)
I initially liked this book. I did. I liked it a lot; it's tremendously funny, and the characters are extremely well drawn. But it also gnawed at me, and I spent most of the book trying to justify what struck me as borderline transphobic content -- until I reached the climax of the mystery, and it went from borderline to blatantly transphobic.
I have no problem with portraying anyone, transgender (henceforth "trans*") or not, as an asshole. I have no problem with flawed characters. I have a big problem with making fun of a person's trans* status, and I have a problem when not just one, or two, but all the cisgendered (henceforth "cis") characters regard the trans* person's identity as a "lie", as some sort of trickery or deceit. I have a big problem with the cis characters thinking they have the right to freely discuss the shape of the trans* person's genitals just because they happen to know about that person's trans* status. I have a big problem with using the shape of a person's genitals as a form of mockery. I have a big problem with passages like this:
"Pretending to [redacted to prevent spoilers] was pretty smart."
"Pretending to be a girl was even smarter," Poppy added.
"She fooled me. Shit she fooled everyone." I never questioned Rachel, even when I knew the truth about her... condition. Dr. Bronner had certainly earned his five thousand dollars.
I had to know. I'm sure everyone was wondering the same thing, so I came right out and asked. "Did you... uhm... see her... parts?"
This book isn't just disrespectful to trans* identity. It's extremely hurtful. It reinforces negative stereotypes, reinforces the idea that cis people somehow have the right to know what's between another person's legs or whether their birth certificate matches their current legal identification -- as though cis people somehow have the right to other people's deeply personal information, the right poke and prod and jab at whatever doesn't match up to society's idea of "normal". And it's depressing, because it's yet another example of LGBT and allied discrimination against members of the LGBT community. It's not historical fiction; it's contemporary fiction, set sometime in the past three years (as dated by the reference to Adam Lambert), and it's long past time that such vitriolic mockery of the trans* community should be deemed acceptable by any part of our culture -- not by the mainstream community, and definitely not by the LGBT/allied community.
I don't believe the author is consciously transphobic, or intended to condone transphobic behaviour. I think the author is probably uneducated when it comes to trans* issues, as evidenced by the use of the word "hermaphrodite" (an outdated term for intersex people that is no longer used due to its negative connotation) -- and by the fact that the trans* person actually used this word to describe herself, which struck me as highly unrealistic and raised the first warning flags in my head.
I really, really wanted to like this book. The writing is good, the story is good, the characters are entertaining -- but the portrayal of the trans* character's transition as nothing more than a disgusting sham made me sick. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a book that I believe belittles the lives of so many people. All its merits aside -- and its merits are many -- I feel compelled to give it the lowest rating possible.(less)
**spoiler alert** I was almost at the end of the book, no particularly transphobic bullshit spotted, when I reached this passage:
Gunter flushed to his
...more**spoiler alert** I was almost at the end of the book, no particularly transphobic bullshit spotted, when I reached this passage:
Gunter flushed to his sculpted hairline. "I... he was dressed as a woman. I truly thought he was a she."
"Well, that happens to the best of us," I said.
Dan snorted in agreement.
Now, crossdressing is not the same thing as being trans*. But the narrator is referring to events in the first book in which a trans* character "tricked" him (and Dan) into thinking she was a woman. Which, given that she identified as a woman and was therefore a woman, was perfectly honest. It was definitely not a trick.
This reminder -- not just a reminder, but an explicit attempt at erasing trans* experience -- knocked the book's rating down from four stars to two stars for me. It went from being something I was enjoying enough to read over again at least once to being something I don't even want listed on my Kindle's archived items.(less)