Morning all; before I write my review of this book I am going to get all technical and give you some terms which are frequently used. This would have helped me out a lot when I was reading so…. you’re welcome.
Genderqueer: A person who does not identify with either gender but with both or neither or a combination.
Transgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the opposite gender to what they were assigned to at birth.
Cisgender: A person who is ‘presenting’ themselves as the same gender as they were assigned at birth.
We first meet Toni at her high school dance. She has arrived with her girlfriend Renee and is dressed as a man, the whole place is clapping and shouting her name. We then learn that she goes to an all girls school and has been battling away against the school for some time to be allowed the right to wear trousers instead of a skirt as she feels more comfortable that way. She claps eyes on a new girl, Gretchen, and bam… it’s love at first sight. The book is written as a split narrative so we get both of their perspectives on this, and it really is love at first sight for both of them.
Fast forward two years and they are preparing to go to college. Toni is determined to go to Harvard and has been accepted. She thinks that Gretchen is going to Boston University so that they can meet up every weekend and still stay together. Gretchen isn’t sure she wants to go to BU and applies to NYU (New York) as well (without telling Toni). This will give you an inkling of what their relationship is like. Toni is a wee bit selfish.
Toni throws a wobbly but they still vow to stay together. Off they both go with plans to meet up the first weekend of term. Toni really wants to join the LGBTQA+ group at Harvard and meets Derek. Derek used to be a woman but is in the middle of transitioning. Toni is immediately drawn in to a group of people who are all at various stages of this process and makes friends. Gretchen meanwhile, makes friends with a gay guy called Caroll and they hit it off. Then it all starts to get a bit annoying. even though Carroll is gay he makes some fairly derogatory remarks about lesbians and gay people and admits that he has never had a boyfriend or even kissed a man. He is almost like a caricature of a gay man and this is a little annoying. That’s ok though because by the end you won’t care anyway!
Toni is genderqueer and does not identify with either sex. Toni does not use male or female personal pronouns so instead of using he or she Toni uses peoples names or ‘they’ or ‘them’. This gets a bit annoying and confusing. Gretchen struggles to describe this to her new friends so she doesn’t bother – I know how Gretchen feels.
Toni gets more and more involved with her trans group and just becomes more and more irritating. She is obviously in some turmoil and doesn’t think that this is appropriate to speak to her girlfriend about it, instead she leans on Derek and ‘the guys’ and immerses in their world. Gretchen is lovely and just wants to get on with things – Toni is selfish and doesn’t give her any leeway. Toni refuses to see Gretchen for weeks because she is too busy (she is punishing her for going to NYU) and they don’t meet again until Halloween. Toni wants to ‘show her beautiful girlfriend off’ to all her new mates. You couldn’t get more rugby club machismo then that.
Gretchen just wants to be with Toni but struggles with all the changes that Toni wants to make. Toni thinks Gretchen is a bit thick and can’t understand what’s going on, so just doesn’t tell her. Unfortunately, Gretchen starts to believe she is a bit thick too. Her biggest problem is that because Toni isn’t telling her what’s going on, she is totally in the dark about what to do. If Toni transitions and becomes a man, will she still find her attractive? Does she want a boyfriend even though she’s a lesbian because it’s Toni and she loves Toni. See why she’s confused?
The blurb says that these two are made for each other. I disagree. It makes me angry when people are prejudiced, and Toni is a prejudice of the worst kind. Toni (you see even I’m not using personal pronouns!) thinks that people who aren’t trans won’t understand what she’s going through. Well, maybe that is the case to a certain extent but give us straight people (or cisgender) some credit!
I love Lies we Tell Ourselves. I thought it was an outstanding book, the sexuality in the book was almost incidental to the racial tension but it was so well written I identified with them all in many different ways. I liked Gretchen. I’d want to be friends with Gretchen. She’d have to dump Toni though!
The book does highlight the problems of going to university with a partner in tow. Will you stay together even though you meet new people and your horizons broaden? Are they holding you back or holding you together? This is an age old problem and not confined to LGBTQA+ people. It also highlighted the problem of trans people when they are mid change, what bathroom do they use when out in public? If they are identifying with a particular gender but don’t look like it then it must be hard – there is a scene when Toni’s gang go out for dinner and are having a lovely time until the waitress says “anything else ladies?”: half the group are mid trans and identify as men. That must be hard and I felt that. But don’t think that because we aren’t the same as you we can’t sympathise and understand, because that’s labelling us as idiots and that’s not true. Nance, one of Toni’s friends, says that Toni labels everyone as soon as Toni meets them, can you get more prejudiced then that?
Well written and thoughtful book but sometimes I think that the LGBTQA+ community are so desperate to be heard that forget that most people are tolerant and kind and just want to get on with life. It’s not a fight for most us, it’s just a confusion that needs explaining. I did some research on it though and am much more clued up so, I guess that’s good for me!
PS> Count how many times Toni says ‘the guys’ but doesn’t like using male and female pronouns to describe people – oh the irony!