Tuesday, December 23, 2014

LGBT Tuesday REVIEW! Letters for My Sisters

Letters are most definitely a lost art. In a world of texts and tweets and Instagrams, very rarely does anyone sit down to spend the time writing a letter.
So when they do write, it means that the letter is important and that the letter writer has something to say, something to stop and think about.
Letters for My Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect is a gesture of hope and support from trans women, showing how their own experiences with transitioning shaped their lives for the better or worse. It is the goal of this book and its authors (and I think they succeeded wonderfully!) to guide future generations of trans women through the process by giving fun (or scary) anecdotal advice and reassurances about the future.
The first letter, Deanne Thornton’s “The Tao of Transition,” was particularly meaningful to me. While not trans-identified, I do identify with the feeling of being different, being something your friends and family might be ashamed of,  and I well remember that sucker-punch to the gut when you first realize that you are different.
I also remember the denial, the…”No, that’s not me…I’m not different, I’ll get over this, maybe…”...It is a feeling that many struggle with as they first make an attempt to understand their complicated web of emotions when coming out (even to themselves). One of the things that kept coming up for me as I read each story was a moment of “Yeah, that’s right!” and “Wow, me too,” which really vibed well with me.
This experience resonated with what co-editors Andrea James and Deanne Thornton say in the introduction: “For too long now, we have let others define and describe us … No matter how well-meaning, they do not understand us, and frame us in their own misunderstandings.”
But it was so much more meaningful, personal, and REAL to get an understanding of these ideas through the source, someone who has actually experienced it, and not just someone who has studied and analyzed it.

At the same time, some of the ideas had never occurred to me before.
Consider “Exhibit Closed Until Further Notice” by Devon, in which she tells a story about receiving too much attention after transitioning. I never thought about how one’s social grapevine can contribute in a pseudo- or not-so-positive way by bringing people out of the woodwork who either want a token trans friend, or are using a transition as their own personal TLC show — for entertainment or a way to prove just how “accepting” and “gender-blind” they are.
And although I know about some of the bad that the grapevine can bring, it’s always fascinating — in a sort of twisted way, I admit — to hear about all the weirdoes and strange people that can glom onto you or search you out because they think that you can fill some of their odd sexual kinks or desires just because you are trans…um…No you can’t!
One of the more fascinating ideas (brought up by the lovely Kay in “Mid-20’s Observations”) was the different ways society treats you as a woman versus a man. (Relevant sidenote: I’m a feminist and huge equal rights activist [on all levels: sex, gender, and race, among others…]). When Kay began presenting as a woman, she seems to have gotten smacked in the face with some of the odder (yet very common) forms of sexism or chivalry…depending on the context.
Men offering women rides home is common, and can be very scary, as Kay found out. But while, in our society, women tend to be looked at, men tend to be listened to — and losing that sense of being heard and valued when speaking was one of the losses that came with being a woman for her. It shouldn’t, but sadly it is.

Themes of each narrative were varied, yet similar. Choice is a biggie and having the ability to make informed decisions about your body and life is a luxury not everyone will have from an early age. I enjoyed the introspective nature of Brenda’s story “Reasons,” in which she talked about the importance of choosing to transition only at the appropriate time and for the appropriate reasons.
While some people may know they are in the wrong body from a very young age,Brenda cautions others not to transition just because you are feeling depressed, or conflicted. This is a life-altering decision, for the most part it’s for the very best benefit of the individual involved-just ensure that the transition isyour choice and that you are going to be 100% happier with the woman you will become.
Altogether, Letters to My Sisters is a great, personal, and illuminating read. I recommend it not only for trans (and other LGBQ’s) people, but for anyone looking to really gain an understanding of the process of transitioning from a trans female’s point of view.
Most of the stories are a page or two, all ringing with the same clarity of purpose, the same confusion instilled in the authors at an early age that had to be worked through, and the same revelation and path towards the future. Yet each piece is unique in its own way and special for the individual within the story.
There’s a certain level of humanity, of courage and bravery, fear and anguish, as well as just a hope for the future that sticks in your mind and will stay with you long after you have finished reading each piece.

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