|BOOK REVIEWS: Tea And Transition, Barriers To Love
||[Apr. 30th, 2017|09:49 pm]
Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman, by Nicola Jane Chase (Telemachus Press: 2015)
Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity, by Marina Peralta with Penolope James (Barriers Press: 2013)
These are a pair of memoirs, one from a transgender woman and one from a bisexual woman. Both are effectively self-published (Telemachus is basically a vanity press, and Barriers Press appears to be therapist Marina Peralta's own publication vehicle). I am all too familiar with the difficulty involved in getting a conventional publisher to publish an LGBTQIAetc memoir, and both of these books were recommended to me in response to my searches for such stories.
I began Nicola Jane Chase's book a couple months ago and ended up putting it aside, unfinished, for several weeks because it did not draw me in at the beginning. To be honest, I was expecting a standard narrative story arc and didn't get one. I mean, I opened the book expecting "My childhood was like this, you see, and here is when I first began to realize I was different from other males, that I was one of the girls instead of one of the boys", and then a tale of events and realizations and so on.
Instead, I was immediately plummeted into the current mental world of a trans woman. Chase warns in the prologue that "All true tales should start at the beginning. However, in my case I can't be sure when that beginning was." I flipped the page and she was already writing of her impending sex reassignment surgery appointment. The flow of Tea and Transition is nonlinear, more akin to listening to a very verbose and chatty companion rattle off thoughts from the top of her head than akin to reading someone's meticulously wrought story of what it was like to be her and to go through the experiences she has gone through. There's no objective reason to require a chronologically linear tale, and, indeed, many excellent authors bounce around between years and settings in the process of telling what they wish to tell, but it did not sit well with me.
I found myself formulating a mental image of the author, and it was one I was not comfortable with. To be quite blunt, I discovered myself thinking of her as a scatterbrained airhead, all fluff and trivialities. I felt squirmy about that, because there's a strongly misogynistic strand in that, of thinking of women in that dismissive fashion, and a transphobic / trans-hostile strand also, I think, involved in viewing transgender women that way as well: was I harboring creepy sentiments that I needed to deconstruct and examine before proceeding?
I eventually decided -- somewhat cautiously -- that I was not guaranteed to always like each and every woman, nor each and every transgender woman, that some individual human beings may indeed leave me with the impression of being scatterbrained, and that unless I had a pattern of seeing all folks in a category that way, it wasn't necessarily an illegitimate reaction on my part. So I picked up the book and this time I kept reading. And it got better.
There are many books written by transgender people which are more like the book I was initially expecting, books that detail identity-formulation from some point in childhood. Tea and Transition is entirely focused on adulthood and in large part this is because Nicola Jane Chase did not become conscious of a differently gendered sensibility until well into adulthood. Even at that point, there is not as much mulling over of the relevant issues as I would have wished. I suppose I'm guilty of some degree of projection: why hadn't Nicola been less comfortable considering the prospect that she was, indeed, a she? Instead, the narrative describes considering it, dipping a toe in the water (cross-dressing), liking it, and proceeding blithely onward. Be that as well it may, the journey soon enough required serious commitment, and in this, the author describes an almost agonizing passion to hold on to this despite the threat of high prices to be paid. Will she be able to retain good relationships with her mother, best friend, her place of employment and career? There's nothing trivial or airheaded about her evaluation and acceptance of these risks, which were clearly nontrivial risks. And there is more about this aspect of the trans journey in Tea and Transition than most such narratives provide.
At some point I came to realize where some of my hostility was coming from. It's defensive on my part. I myself identified with girls back when I was 7 or 8 years old. As an adult, presenting to other people as a genderqueer and gender inverted individual, I have encountered an expectation, sometimes explicit but more often hinted at, that I, and any other male who identifies as a girl in some fashion, crave the specific female experience of being a sex object. It's more of a sore point for me that I realized, but there you have it: my sexuality outgrew in complicated ways but it was entwined with gender and had a whole lot more innocence (and perhaps eventually the erotic potential of corruptibility thereof) than it had of either the boys' contempt-flavored delight in the crude or the adult female sex object's confident enjoyment of a status as arousal material for others.
And Nicola Jane Chase was too much exactly what I'd been suspected of: someone whose realized identity as femme was very much grounded in a desire to wear Victoria's Secret and to slink into a bar and be hit on, to be visually desirable precisely as a female, to be the hot chick.
So yeah, my hostility. Yeesh, I'm basically a frowny-faced disapproving censorious puritanically prudish tight-lipped femme person, shaking my head negatively at Ms. Chase. I don't think it's quite slut-shaming (I like and respect sluts), it's more... sex-object-shaming. Calling her shallow in my head and all that.
At a minimum, chalk one up for Nicola Jane Chase for teaching me more about myself. Title available from Amazon.
I picked up the Marina Peralta title specifically because I had not run across many bisexual coming-out / coming-of-age stories and I wanted some for my bookshelf collection. I'd read little articles and online posts on Facebook and whatnot about how bisexuals were not exactly embraced by the lesbian and gay folks within the LGBTQIAetc community but were instead treated as if they'd already been spoken for since gay males and lesbians had had their turn, while at the same time treated as if they were hedging their bets with one foot in the straight world, and regarded as risky partners who would be likely to dump you to be in a straight relationship.
For the second time, I was somewhat disappointed that the book I picked up didn't meet my initial expectations and projected assumptions. Peralta's book does not delve much into participation in the modern lesbian-gay-etc community and this is in part because of the temporal setting: she came of age and had most of her relevant experiences (as recounted in the book) in the 1950s and 1960s before a post-Stonewallian movement existed to contend with or belong to.
What WAS fascinating about Barriers to Love was the author's narrative of trying to understand her sexuality in an era when "bisexual" wasn't really on the map of possibilities to choose from. As a genderqueer person who came of age when there was no identity such as my own available to me, I saw parallels there and could relate to her own slow and gradual trying-on of identities only to find out later "no, that's not really it", and to keep requestioning and searching for a valid answer all pretty much on her own.
Also of relevant interest was the way in which conventional heterosexual appetite, for a girl of that era and in that setting (Mexico), was treated as a perversion instead of being nonchalantly accepted as normative. It was a world in which females with their own sexual interest in boys were told this is bad, this is wrong. I think we forget how this maps onto and against the tapestry of attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality, and this becomes more vivid precisely because of the author's bisexuality: YES, once confronted with the even more scary prospect of her daughter's being a lesbian, the author's mom becomes interested in seeing her paired with an appropriate male, but her first sexual interest was towards a male and the same mom was appalled to see that appetite expressed and condemned it and did what she felt she needed to do to kill it and prevent it from consummation.
From Peralta, too, I would have appreciated more internal / mental life, more about the inside thinking processes that led up to concluding "Hey, I am a bisexual person". (Or the equivalent realization in her own terms if she came to that realization before being exposed to the concept).
It is, however, a moving personal account and although it is rooted in a specific time and culture, it has a lot of universal content about what it can be like to be sexually receptive to both sexes and how the two patterns are similar and how they are different and how others perceive and react.
I have some very fresh news but it isn't ripe yet. Watch this space. I hope to have new things to reveal soon.
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