|Book Review— LIFE SONGS: A GENDERQUEER MEMOIR by Audrey MC
||[Jul. 1st, 2016|12:57 pm]
Well, here's a genuine rarity— a genderqueer memoir and coming-out story! Audrey MC, which appears to be the nom de plume of Audrey Michelle Culver, has written about what it means to be genderqueer, what it is like, and how she came to that understanding of herself. And, in doing so, has beaten me to the punch.
Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, Audrey MC (Chicago: Miniminor Media 2014)
Mixed feelings, to be sure. My proposals and pitch letters have often highlighted the utter absence of any such resource:
I'm a girl, that's my gender; I'm male, that's my sex; I'm attracted to females, that's my orientation.
I don't feel as if I were born in the wrong body.
In 1980 there was no book I could find by anyone like that. Still isn't.
On the other hand, to hold in my hands the story of someone else like me... even now, I experience joy and surprise to find I'm not the only one, and it feels powerful to consider our story, OUT THERE, for people to read.
Like me, the author is malebodied and raised as a boy, identifies from early on as one of the girls instead, and at puberty finds sexual attraction to the (other, female) girls. And is very driven throughout the tale by a hunger for passionate being-in-love "movie moments", romantic intensity and give-your-heart relationships.
In a world where "genderqueer" is a multi-hued grab-bag of alternative gender identities, finding so much similarity made the first chapters so compelling that I had to keep reading. There are so many other forms that genderqueer may take. The author could, of course, have been born female and less than comfortable being cast as a girl or woman; or could identify as a demiboy or demigirl, a genderfluid person, or agender -- http://genderqueeries.tumblr.com/identities
Alas, the experience of strong identification was not destined to last. The author is subject to dysphoria, feeling (as many transgender individuals describe) that the strong sense of being a girl implies or necessitates that this male body is wrong; and following up on this, the author chooses sex reassignment surgery in order to live as a female person, a lesbian.
And that, in turns, makes it unusual that the author is self-described as genderqueer. Most people whose lives follow that trajectory self-identify as transgender or transsexual. What makes Audrey genderqueer is her eventual awareness, post-transition, that she was increasingly uncomfortable with excessive femininity; as female hormones did their work, she found herself choosing increasingly androgynous or masculine modes of hair-styling and dress, presenting as a rather boyish person, eventually embracing an identity "beyond the binary" of being either male or female, woman or man.
Oh, well... the perils of overidentification and the complexities of competition betweenst male girlish folks makes for some strange reactions on my part: how is it possible to feel simultaneously disappointed and relieved to find that Audrey's experience and story isn't so closely parallel to mine?
LIFE SONGS begins with a very good first section, the portion of the story taking up roughly the first third of the book, covering childhood adolescence and early adulthood. There are good hooks, a suspenseful setup: where will this go, what's going to happen to this person in this unusual situation?
The remainder of the book is a sometimes-giddy and sometimes-painful account of romantic obsessions and joyous beginnings as Audrey chases love and finds it and loses it and chases it yet again.
The main weaknesses of the book lie with what it omits. Several sequences of long passionate buildups and the sparking of relationships are followed by short choppy detached summaries of the breakups. This is a book with far more hearts and flowers (and love songs) than storm clouds and soul-baring confrontations. Audrey's relationships with Annie, Renee, daughter Penelope, and Becca come to a close with scarcely any dialog and no more than a modicum of internal monologue. Admittedly, the author is somewhat aware of this tendency to avoid the sturm und drang of the darker side of drama, as evidenced by her description of how she broke up with Annie — deliberately leaving a note from next lover Renee where Annie would find it. Audrey describes Annie's irate arrival and confrontational accusations and crying scenes when she does so, along with Audrey's own avoidance and discomfort.
But that avoidance permeates the book itself, not merely confessing to being afraid of such scenes but glossing over losses and pains. For example, the portion of the book that describes Audrey's relationship with Renee starts on page 92; the first hint that not all is well in that particular paradise occurs on page 119, followed by a superbrief summary of the breakup on page 120, then elaborated on briefly on pages 122-123 —
By late 1995, Renee and I have been together for over five years and married for two, but our union began to crumble. We had nightly talks, navigating the potholes that had developed along our previously smooth road... From the conversations, we knew that we were no longer the team we once were...
As 1997 approached, Renee and I continued to have issues. We moved into our own apartment , trying to start fresh on our own, but we had just as many bad days as we had good.
It's not the only area of omission: I would have appreciated far more about being genderqueer specifically. One does not begin to be genderqueer only at the moment that one first realizes it and embraces the term, of course, but the discussion of gender identity above and beyond being a girl or woman originally born male starts on page 232 of a 246 page book, and again suffers from a detached kind of summary and glossing-over:
Prior to meeting Alice and before my queer enlightenment, I thought of myself simply as a lesbian with a birth defect who had it fixed. But after she entered my life and I became more involved in the queer community, I realized how absurd it was for me to identify as a lesbian, for it was a term that was so limiting in its binary construct. My identification as queer became an expression of my recognition that I completely rejected our society's imposed binary system. Nothing is that black and white. We live in greyscale, ebbing and flowing along an infinite number of points on a spectrum.
There's a likelihood here that I am being unfair to an author I overidentified with and for whom I also feel a sense of rivalry. Yet another aspect of the contradictory feelings elicited in me by that was on display when I checked up on the stature of the publisher and found that Miniminor Media does not appear to have any other titles. I looked for reviews of LIFE SONGS and found four short single-paragraph ones on Amazon, where the book is sold.
I realized I was paying far more attention to reception and reviews and whatnot for this book than I've tended to do when I've reviewed transgender and other LGBTQ books and plays and movies — another byproduct of identifying with Audrey and her book. And what I carry away with me is a somewhat ominous self-warning: I must do whatever I need to do to fend off the possibility that my book will be published but quickly sink out of sight, largely unread and unreviewed and unnoticed.