I am continually left in awe of the deeply personal life stories people choose to share with the world, and Janet’s story is certainly no exception. Janet tells of her childhood in Honolulu (nicely timed that I just visited there so I was able to visualize the places she mentions throughout the book) where she was born to a Hawaiian mother and African-American father. From very early in her childhood she knew that something about her body wasn’t right; not being able to find the right terminology to explain that she was a girl in a boy’s body, she initially came out to her mother as gay. Janet struggled with her parents’ addictions and poverty when she was young, being shuffled from home to home and between her mother and father, but was (in my humble opinion) very lucky to have found support from her mother and siblings during her transition, and to have a very close friend who was also experiencing the same gender dysphoria she was. She excelled at her schooling and landed a scholarship, making her the first person in her family to attend college which is obviously a great achievement.
Not everything about Janet’s situation was positive; sexual abuse at the hands of teenage boy living in her home, and her eventual sex work were clearly very traumatizing and trying years for her along her path to transition. She strove hard to pay for reassignment surgery completely on her own, and through her work in the sex industry was able to achieve this in her very early 20’s.
I bow down to her openness and bravery in exposing her past so honestly to the critics, because let’s face it there are always critics ready and waiting to pounce when someone shares their story. The majority of reviews on Goodreads are positive but there are a few peppered in there that decry Janet as bourgeois and privileged. To be honest, this really pisses me off. Who are we, people who have never met or conversed with Janet, to judge her and her choices? She is telling HER story, and there is no need for her to dress anything up or change things to make her look like someone she is not. There is no need for her to act radical if that’s not who she is. I find it incredibly frustrating when people feel the need to criticize the politics of other people, like there’s a point system and if you have more politico-points than other people you have the right to shame them for lack of effort. It’s not a contest, and everyone has the right to live how they want without being put down by others. She opens the story by describing her first dates with a man she is interested in and the anxiety she experienced in telling him about her past – in no way does that make it our job to police her desires to be in a monogamous relationship with a man, or for her gender presentation being feminine. There is no need to be hostile because she “passes” for female and therefore has an “easier” experience of being trans. She is still young and has already built a great career for herself in journalism and media, and has also made numerous contributions to the trans community. She has published a highly personal book about her journey that has brought many important issues into the light and gotten people talking which is essential at this time. I am not trans so I can’t speak to the effect this book will have on trans and/or queer youth struggling in the world today, but I can’t really see how this books impact will be anything short of powerful.