Being Emily by Rachel Gold is a wonderful and sensitive novel by a writer who obviously has a good deal of knowledge and experience in the area of gender identity and gender transition. Like a few of the other fine books written about transitioning teens such as Luna and What Happened to Lani Garver, Being Emily hits the mark in terms of both character development and emotional impact. Upon Googling the author I learned that Rachel Gold obtained her familiarity with this subject matter via her multi-year personal relationship with a transwoman. So, in terms of realism and accuracy, it appears that she certainly has hit the mark with Being Emily.
It’s a story about a youth of 16 who has been keeping her female gender identity under wraps since at least the first grade. To this solitary end, over the years it has become increasingly more frustrating for “Chris,” in his male persona, to conceal his true self. Finally, Chris can no longer bear keeping the secret. His relationships with his parents and girlfriend, Clare, have begun to suffer and crumble. When Chris finally opens up to Clare, it creates yet another set of problems but, fortunately, Clare has the unusual and glorious ability to be able to see and accept our protagonist for the person she really is and continue to love her, support her transition, and, in a sense, eventually become the hero that saves Chris, now relating to the world as “Emily.” Clare not only becomes Emily’s salvation many times over, she assists her to move through the transition process. It's not a one-way street though and Clare also learns quite a bit about herself from Emily.
Of course, there are some major obstacles for the transitioning Emily to overcome and the story describes some harrowing experiences she faces as she clandestinely begins to feminize herself and emerge into the world. Fortunately for Emily, she hooks up, via the Internet, with another young person who has been there and has walked the walk. There are hormones and androgen blockers to obtain and without first coming out to parents, Emily initially goes the shadowy route that is certainly not the recommended path, but unfortunately the way of some because of the social stigma attached to "coming out" as transgender. Lots of valid social commentary abounds in
The author presents some great scenes involving two different psychotherapists, one of whom feels he can “cure” gender dysphoria by creating new neural pathways of experience and re-wiring the brain. Fortunately, through some serendipity, Emily randomly meets another therapist who really “gets” it and understands her problem. But when Emily eventually “comes out” to her parents, there is hell to pay, particularly because they cannot understand what she must be going through. Her mom soon becomes the major impediment to her transition, forcefully demanding, “You don’t think like a woman, you don’t look like a woman and you don’t act like a woman. Why would you want to be a woman?” To this Emily replies quite simply and eloquently, “Because I am a woman.”
Fortunately, another hero emerges to save the day, although this time a rather reluctant and unlikely one in the form of Emily’s father, who finally paves the way for her to be the girl that she always was. I highly recommend this novel as a really great read for both teens and adults.
[Reviewed by Samuel]