This weeks book review sparked quite an interesting and lively conversation at work! For everyone that’s been playing along at home for awhile, you’re aware that I have the type of job where I’m mostly on the phone during my shift (inbound call center). During low call volume times, there’s not much I’m allowed to do but I can read and, believe me, I do.
My coworkers are all fascinated that I actually review many of the books that I read. They’re always asking me what a given book that I’m reading is about, if they can read it, what I think of it and so on. Usually, the gay and lesbian interest topics are of little to interest to most of them for a variety of reasons but primarily because most of them are straight males. With this book, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, I realized a whole new level of interest among “the guys” at work. There were many, many questions!
First off, let me start by saying the book really is a work of fiction. That aside, should it reach a fairly wide audience, I feel it would be safe to say that Jamie’s (the main character’s) story will advance the understanding of hermaphroditism, or more currently, what it means to be intersex, by light years, in our present culture. To be intersex, in the most basic sense, means to be born with genitals that present as one sex but to also have the internal sexual organs of the opposite sex. An intersex person can identify with either the outward appearance or the internal one, bits of both or with neither. There are other more complex scenarios and constructs but that’s the general gist of what is commonly referred to as a Disorder of Sexual Development or DSD.
In our story, Jameson (Jamie) is born presenting with one male testes and one female ovary. Until the age of 9, when his brother dies in Vietnam, Jamie is raised primarily as female. After that age, Jamie’s father in his depression over the loss of his son and his determination to have one, desires to put the young Jamie on testosterone (but can’t until he would naturally reach puberty). He and Jamie’s mother try to raise him as a boy. There’s only one problem; Jamie is small and dainty like a girl and, quite frankly, very much prefers to be a girl.
Throughout the book, Jamie, in strict deference to the wishes of her father, tries to be a boy, even by attempting to follow the politically incorrect list of “things boys do” that dear old dad composes. Disastrous effects, and some pretty comical, ensue. Jamie has to get through to her family that she’s female and her family has to accept it. Will they? Read the book and see!
I admit, this moved a bit slow for me for the first 20 pages or so but then it picked up quickly and had me turning pages late into my shift when I usually give up on books and just stand around and chat between calls. I do admit to some exasperation with Jamie’s father’s actions and I found myself just wishing she would stand up to him rather than constantly deferring to him to his face and then plotting behind his back. Of course, she was living in the body of a girl that was never allowed to experience puberty as such, so she was timid and afraid. I get that. Still, my dominating personality was wishing she would just throttle him and say, “listen bud, I’m a woman! Deal with it!” She doesn’t so be prepared to deal with that.
You’ll enjoy this book and, at the same time, you’ll learn a great deal about these marginalized members of our society and even of our LGBT community who struggle with their sex, their gender identity and their sexual orientation . “Queer” so often only seems to include those of us who are gay and lesbian. We get exhasperated when we talk about those that are transgender and we fail to understand why we now add things like “Q” for queer, another “Q” for questioning and “I” for intersex to the acronym that envelopes us. Read this book and finally get a feel for what it means to be queer in a larger sense and intersex in particular.