Friday, April 29, 2011

REVIEW: I Rise - The Transformation of Toni Newman

I Rise is a fresh (and refreshing) addition to the growing realm of transgender memoirs, being the story of someone who is proudly black, proudly gay, and proudly transsexual. What immediately strikes you when reading her story is that it is neither the story of a victim, nor that of a life fashioned out of the need to escape something or someone in her past. Instead, it’s a story of simply becoming herself, of realizing who she always was inside.

Although she knew from an early age who she was meant to be, Toni worked very hard at being who everyone else expected her to be – and, by all measures, succeeded very well. Before deciding to transition, she was an attractive, fit, desirable, young, gay man. She was popular, smart, well-educated, and a very successful entrepreneur. For most people, looking in from the outside, hers was a life to be envied. For her, looking out through the fa├žade she’d created, it simply wasn’t the life she was meant to live. In the first of many difficult choices to come, Toni gave it all up, sacrificing everything she had achieved for the most noble of all causes – being true to herself.

Faced with such difficult choices along the way, she never took the easy way out, never cheated herself, and never let herself be the victim. More than that, she befriended and mentored those around her, always working to improve their lives alongside her own. When faced with social injustices, an absence of community, and a lack of legal recognition, she found a renewed sense of purpose and passion. Instead of laying blame and hiding behind society’s failings, she took it upon herself to begin making things better for her transgendered sisters.

Toni’s story is exciting, full of drama, celebrity encounters, and a career that could just as easily have sprung from the pages of an erotic novel. It’s also a story that is deeply moving, sometimes sorrowful, but always inspiring. Whether or not you agree with the choices she’s made, you cannot help but admire her perseverance and her sense of purpose.

“I feel victorious that I have endured, and have come into my true essence. I am a black transsexual. I am happy and healthy and free.”

Ultimately, I think what I love most about Toni’s story is that she is has taken control of her body, just as she took control of her life and her identity. She has decided that sexual-reassignment surgery is not the answer for her, and doesn’t make any attempt to disguise who she is. While many of her sisters ultimately reject the transsexual label, looking to be recognized solely as female, she is comfortable with herself as a transsexual – not because it’s exotic or erotic, but because it’s who she was meant to be.

If you’re at all interested in the transgender experience, or simply interested in the story of a life that inspires, I cannot recommend this highly enough.

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