Sunday 14 November 2010

f2m: the boy within

f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $20 print; also e-book format on Amazon
Reviewed by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall 

f2m: the boy within is a sensitive, compelling fictional account of an 18 year old female-to-male transgender teenager and the emotional, social and physical challenges he faces in confronting transition. The writing style, which is extremely engaging, makes you inclined to keep reading once you start. I was especially impressed by the way it balances both the inner dialogue and lingo of turbulent late adolescence.

What I liked best about the novel was the authors' skill in portraying the subject as a multifaceted human being - a talented poet, composer and musician with clear political ideals and a distinct identity that is totally separate from social expectations that he identify with a specific gender role. In fact, it's almost as if he's caught in a time warp: he feels the normal drive of a late adolescent to pursue creative and career goals - yet owing to social stigma, he is unable to fully engage in either until he can physically conform to his self-identified gender. The main character is also quite unique in the closeness he feels towards his family and his extreme conscientiousness regarding family responsibilities.

I can see how this could be a very comforting guide for both teenagers and adults confronting a variety of gender identity issues - as well as their families. The authors cover all the bases involved in early transition - working through both positive and negative reactions of friends, family and employers; dealing with stigma and bullying; finding on-line and real-life support from other FTMs; making appropriate use of counselling; the medical and psychiatric assessments required to start hormone replacement and to get a surgery referral; and the physical and emotional side effects of starting hormones.

Most important of all, however, is the emphasis that there isn't just one acceptable way to transition from female to male. That the process involves a number of choice points, which is one reason why counseling is so helpful. Some FTMs opt not to take hormones. Some opt for breast removal surgery only and forgo genital reconstruction.

I sense the realistic, multifaceted characters - as well as the dramatic tension leading to the subject's decision to come out to various family members and their individual struggles to accept his decision - will also be quite appealing to mainstream readers. As a well-told story exploring one particular dimension of the human condition.

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