He never wears skirts or dresses to school because he says they aren't comfortable for dodgeball, which is another thing Birdie likes. Even still, most people do notice that Birdie doesn't dress like most boys. But his pink and purple shirts, rainbow shoes, and leggings covered in pink donuts, and everything else, have never really been a problem.
Birdie is a nine year old child. He is assigned by everyone as a boy, at which point it is often remarked upon that he wears "girl clothes", or at least clothes that other boys won't and don't, purple scarves and items with spangles, not to mention fixing his hair in pigtails and painting his nails with nail polish. And learning to sew, in order to be able to make his own versions of what he sees in fashion magazines.
Jack is Birdie's older sister and the narrator of the story; we see the events, and Birdie, through Jack's eyes. Jack's friend Janet, who aspires to a job in a hairdressing salon and doesn't wish to wait until adulthood, describes Jack's sense of style and presentation as "a disaster". But aside from Janet, very few people comment as much about Jack's own variance from gender expectations the way they remark on Birdie's.
There is a lot that I like about J. M. M. Nuanez's Birdie and Me (New York: Kathy Dawson Books: 2020). You know how lots of people have said they want to see more books featuring gay and lesbian and trans characters that don't make the fact that the character is LGBT the focus of the novel? Well, here's one like that for the rest of us. The book has characters who are gender-atypical in some unspecified, undisclosed type, and yet the book isn't about that.
I try to read several new books featuring folks who are at least somewhat like me every year. A lot of them are sort of polemical and didactic, if you know what I mean: "See, folks, here is a little trans girl; see, some people accept her but other people misgender her and they act all hostile and belligerent. See how the mean ones are evil and horrible and wrong? See why everybody ought to accept people like her?" and so on.
Birdie and Me has some hostility and identity-acceptance elements woven into the plot, don't get me wrong, but it's less a conflict between being phobic versus affirmative than it is a conflict between what is socially safe and what is important for expressing one's true self, and how adult protectiveness and authority gets stirred into that issue. People who are responsible for others are often torn between wanting their children or their charges to keep their head down, to stay out of trouble, or supporting their self-expresson.
This is a tale where any initial tendency (whether on the part of the reader or on the part of the characters themselves) to sort the world into good people and bad people runs into complexities and inconsistencies.
Nuanez has a skill for gradual character development, blocking out whole people from their behaviors and observable nuances as seen from the outside. The pacing is a brisk strolling speed, languid enough to keep questions floating but fast enough to keep you immersed in what's happening. This book is appropriate for middle grades but I'd recommend it for adults, who should find it both thought-stimulating and entertaining.
If you are a person who doesn't easily find your own identity type emblazoned on the title of any message board or Facebook group, if you've hovered around support groups for transgender and nonbinary and genderqueer and genderfluid and gender nonconformist groups and asked yourself and other people "Do you think this label describes me? I was thinking I was more *this label* but lately I've been thinking this *other label* fits me better?", well, here's a book that features one of us.
"So, Birdie," Janet says, breaking the silence. "Do you think you're gay?" I'm too shocked to say anything.
"I don't know," says Birdie in a small voice.
"Do you want to be boyfriends with girls or boys?"
"I don't want to be boyfriends with anybody."
"Janet," I say, "this has nothing to do with being boyfriends with anyone. And I"ve already talked to him about that."
"Okay, okay," she says, waving her hands at me. She turns back to Birdie. "So, do you feel like youre a girl, then? Have you ever heard of the word transgender?" ...
"I don't know," says Birdie, shrugging. "Everyone says I'm a boy."
"But what about on the inside? Do you feel like you're a girl on the inside?"
Birdie shrugs for the millionth time. "I don't know. Sometimes I wish I was a girl because then it would make everything easier. But I don't know what my mind is." He looks down at this shoes again. "Is it bad that I don't know?"
-- pp 185-186
This book, by never handing Birdie or us an identity-conclusion, tells us in a quiet but proud voice that our identity is valid without a label to put on it. That it is valid even if it seems to fall between the cracks and not fit into transgender or genderqueer or anything else we've heard about.
You're secluded in quarantine, and all the performances and events have been cancelled, so it's a good time to read a book!
My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.
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