Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”, where I talk about books that I like but refuse to summarize for you. Summarizing is for squares and I’m not a square. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.
A fellow librarian recommended this book to me. As you might imagine, people recommend titles to me all the time. If I read every book everyone ever gushed about, I’d have less of a life than the one I have now. But this woman spoke so passionately about Being Emily that I really had to give it a go. I was not disappointed.
I am constantly amazed about how quickly Young Adult literature is evolving. The diversity of experiences represented in YA literature is so much more abundant than it was just five years ago. It makes me proud to be a Youth Services librarian. I live in a world where I’m surrounded by books like Freak Show and Drama and Debbie Harry Sings in French and Radiant Days and Wildthorn and I feel so lucky to be able to watch YA novels change and grow. It’s not just the subject matter of these aforementioned books and Being Emily, it’s the treatment of LGBTQ characters in an authentic and non-token-y manner.
As a cissexual individual, I will never know what it feels like to be like Emily (who is known to everyone in her life as he/him/Chris). Gold, however, is incredibly adept at making the reader understand what life is like for Emily,who is navigating the world in a body that just doesn’t feel like it’s hers. She’s got some allies, like her girlfriend, but has so many more obstacles preventing her from being comfortable, let alone happy and fulfilled.
Here’s one of my favorite passages in Being Emily. Emily is stuck with a class assignment in which she’s supposed to talk about what it would be like if she were a girl. The thing is, Emily already identifies as female, but her teachers and classmates know her as a boy named Chris:
After the evening at Claire’s house playing with makeup, I figured it was time to tackle the psych assignment. I sat down at the computer, opened a new file and stared at it. I couldn’t say any of the things that came to mind.
What would I do if I work up tomorrow as a girl? I’d cry for joy, to start. Then I’d run around and show myself off to everyone. I’d make Mom take me shopping for all new clothes, and I’d grow my hair long. I’d probably still swim; it makes me feel good and it would keep me in shape. The girls who swim have really nice bodies. I wonder if I’d still be this tall. If I could pick it, I’d be a few inches shorter with B-cup breasts, nothing too outrageous, and hips like Mom’s, kind of solid-looking…
“If I woke up as a girl, I’d stay home and play video games. If it didn’t go away, I’d call the doctor. If I had to go out, I’d go to another city where no one would recognize me.”
That was so stupid I had to stop writing. I went down a few lines and tried again, reversing it:
“If I woke up as a boy I’d pretend everything was normal and go to school as usual. No one would know what happened and they’d be afraid to ask me about it, so I could pretty much go through my life as usual. They would wonder what had happened and if I was okay, but they wouldn’t know how to talk about it with me and I’d use that to my advantage. I would pretend it didn’t really matter to me what they thought, even if it did.
“Over time I’d start to get good at pretending, and people would forget that I’d been different. They’d just go by what they saw and treat me like a boy and after a while I’d wonder if I’d really been a girl at all. I’d start to think I was supposed to be a boy, even if I felt like a girl on the inside.”
Slightly better. I went back and changed “boy” to “girl” and vice versa. Then I went to bed.
I dreamed that it was Sunday morning again and I woke up with a girl’s body. In the dream, I got up and showered for the longest time. No one treated me any differently, except Claire who said I looked really cute.
~~Being Emily, by Rachel Gold, 85-87
Every time I have a big problem, I have these dreams where everything is magically and seamlessly suddenly OK. In the dream, life is easy and I wonder how things could have ever become so difficult. Then, I wake up and have to face the horrible fact that my problem is still part of my reality and day-to-day life. Dreams like these are so cruel and frustrating. Emily has them all the time.
I highly recommend the Being Emily blog for teens, librarians, and educators. At the top of the page, you’ll read sobering statistics like: “Many transgender students had been physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (28%) and their gender expression (26%).” You’ll also find helpful posts like this one on using the T-word (don’t). The Being Emily blog is a great resource. While gays, lesbians, and (sometimes) bisexuals are very visible in the media and popular culture, this is not the case for trans individuals. Everyone (including myself) needs some education on the subject. (You know what? I take that back about bisexuals. I can’t think of one damn sitcom with a bisexual character).
I think Being Emily should be assigned in classrooms. It’s a great teen book club selection, as well. I’m glad this book is on our shelves and I can’t wait to see more like it.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid