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Is Rachel Gold's "Being Emily" the first young adult novel to tell the story of a transgender girl from her own perspective?
About a month ago I spent a couple of hours tabling for The Loft Literary Center at the annual conference of the Golden Crown Literary Society, a literary and educational organization for the enjoyment, discussion, and enhancement of lesbian literature. Based in Georgia, the GCLS convention took to the roads this year for the first time ever, settling on our lovely state (specifically, Bloomington) to be their inaugural national host.
I managed to leave with two books, Identity by Nat Burns and Being Emily by Rachel Gold, both of which are courtesy of Bella Books, “the premier publisher of vibrant and irresistible fiction for and about lesbians,” according to their website. Although I did a YA book review last week, ever since I picked it up from Rachel Gold at the GCLS conference I haven’t been able to get Being Emily out of my mind, so I thought I’d read it and review it before my brain exploded.
The book tells the story of Emily, or rather, allows Emily tell her own story of being born and growing up in rural Minnesota with the body of a boy, but knowing all the while that inside she was a girl. Things, as expected, are complicated for Emily on almost all fronts. At the start of the story absolutely no one, except Emily, knows that she is hiding this huge secret from the world, internally tormented every time someone refers to her as “him,” “he,” “son,” or “sir.” With a lot of courage, Emily is able to come out to her girlfriend, a Bible-reading Goth girl named Claire, who is able, through close study of the scripture and an understanding of God’s love, to fully accept Emily for who she truly is and what she wants. Eventually, Emily must come out to her parents, but the road is long and painful.
Being Emily is being marketed as “a groundbreaking new novel” that is “the first young adult novel to tell the story of a transgender girl from her perspective,” although maybe those two quotes should be reversed. Rachel Gold, while not trans herself, has said that her years as a journalist for a local GLBT news outlet lead to some important friendships with transwomen that helped to inform this book. As a cisgendered person—my body matches with my gender identity—I can’t speak to the accuracy of Gold’s interpretation of the transgendered teen’s experience of coming out while still growing up, although there are other reviews online that mention how spot-on Gold’s depiction actually is.
Certainly, this book is going to be a fantastic resource for teens and youth who find themselves in Emily’s shoes. However, a book like Being Emily is also an excellent place to start for cisgenered adults who want to be allies to the trans community, or even people who are uncomfortable with the subject. Because it’s a young adult book, it puts some difficult discussions on the table with a kind of frankness that we forget to appreciate as we get older, and allows readers multiple opportunities to take in various types of explanations, in terms as clear as possible, about what exactly it means to grow up transgendered.