The title of Laurie Frankel’s This is How It Always Is refers to the uncertainty of parenting in general, although the meat of the story is about parenting a transgender child. I was concerned that our discussion would be either sanitized or contentious, but in the end the group was respectful, concerned, uncertain, emotional, educated. We shared stories from our own experiences, both as children and as parents; stories from neighbors and family members; stories from work and research.
Our first responder shared that she had struggled to read the novel, not because of the writing but because of the topic. She struggled with the permissive parenting style. Parents are supposed to parent. She apologized if she offended anyone. I reiterated that we must be able to share opposing opinions! I too, had been distracted by the parenting style, and disappointed by the writing. I felt like I was reading a paper describing a theory of parenting rather than reality – and an affluent one.
Our next responder wanted to share her opposing view. She loved the writing style. She thought the author used fresh descriptions such as “insomniac mosquitos” and “a moment that stretched on like Wyoming highways.” Several people laughed and nodded. We discussed children born with both female and male genitalia, bi-polar disorder, teenage body image, drugs and surgeries, bullying and suicide. One of us brought the January 2017 “Gender Revolution Issue” of National Geographic magazine. She was obviously moved and emotional, sharing that 40% of transgender teenagers attempt suicide.[i]
What did people do before now? What teenager would choose to be gay? People are made that way. Homosexuality and gender are two different issues. Gender is not binary. Why do people judge others anyway? Why do we care if a transgender person uses the bathroom with us? What if it is a locker room? What if your assigned college roommate is transgender? It is a religious issue. Religion dictates behavior and beliefs. Maybe Jesus was gay. Which lead to a discussion of conversion camps and a recently released film, Boy Erased, starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe.
One of us said that the issues brought up in This Is How It Always Is were eye-opening and she felt enlightened and glad to have read it. Many, if not most of us, felt that way—even as we discussed the flaws in the story. Who could pick up and move to Seattle? What’s the likelihood the mother would have the opportunity of going to Thailand, unprepared, exposing Poppy to the idea of a third gender? Boys are mean, why would anyone want to be a boy? That statement was not a flaw in the story, just another part of a discussion that filled our hour and will no doubt continue to over-flow into our lives. In the end, someone thought that the author wrote the book to help her deal with the journey she is taking as a mother to a transgender child. Perhaps she intended it to be an example of how parenting could or should be.
Not all of our books are so complex or feel so momentous. Like life, the books we read are sometimes just entertaining, sometimes depressing, sometimes boring, and at times awe-inspiring—never the same for all of us. But in reading the books and joining the discussion, we have created a community with shared knowledge and shared experiences, reminding me of a quote from a poem by Edwin Markham, “none goes his way alone.”[ii] If you missed it, join us next time!
- Other works discussed:
- Boy Erased (2018) based on the memoir by Gerrard Conley
- The Danish Girl (2000) by David Ebershoff
- Gender Revolution: a journey with Katie Couric (2017) National Geographic DVD
- “Gender Revolution” January 2017 National Geographic Magazine
- Transparent (2014) Amazon studios television show
[i] Toomey, R. B., Syvertsen, A. K., & Shramko, M. (2018, October 01). Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/4/e20174218?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR: No local token. Pediatrics October 2018, VOLUME 142 / ISSUE 4
- [ii] “There is a destiny that makes a brothers:
- None goes his way alone;
- All that we send into the lives of others
- Comes back into our own.”
Johnson, C. (1982). To see a world in a grain of sand. Norwalk, CT: C. R. Gibson. Edwin Markham poem, page 39.