Through the use of flashbacks, If You Were My Girl gets the balance right between a story of acceptance and highlighting the risks of being a young trans woman in America. It is absolutely lovely seeing Amanda make friends in her new school and she gets to experience the normal firsts of an average teenage girl. Including love.
Yet, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be believable (sadly) if everything was perfect and rosy. The first thing we learn is that Amanda is being sent to live with her dad because she was violently attacked for using a women’s restroom. What is it with America’s obsession with toilet use anyway? I think toilets should be segregated by whether you can manage not to wee on the floor.
So the story bounces between hopeful future and the trauma of Amanda’s past. Her road to transition started when she attempted suicide, not being able to bear living as a boy any longer, or the abuse she gets for being who she is. This is a massive reality for trans people, faced with a bigoted society, especially when you’re a teen. High school is tough enough if you fit in, any deviation is an opportunity for bullies to enact their insecurities on someone.
“Would that be a brave thing to do, or would it be stupid?” “Both? But that’s what being young is, really. I think I’ve been so afraid for you all this time that I forgot that.”
The tension grows the more that Amanda fits in. Will people find out? How will they react? Will she end up just where she started, scared to trust anyone not like her? It raises the difficult question of when or if to tell someone when there’s a romantic involvement. Honesty is important but if rejection comes with exposure or violence, that choice becomes harder.
I liked the character of Amanda’s father. He wanted his son to grow up like him, to want to share sports and hunting with him, and ultimately fit in, in his macho world. He becomes angry when Andrew doesn’t comply, when Andrew does things that would be embarrassing if his circle of friends found out. It would be easy to write him off as transphobic, but as he learns to love his new daughter it becomes clear that he is scared for her.
The highly conservative Southern states are hardly welcoming places for LGBT+ people and it has got to be tough for a parent seeing their child put themselves through so much. The potential of social stigma and violence is high even if we would like to pretend people are good at heart. So, I’m happy to see this book explore what a parent goes through too.
For as long as I could remember, I had been apologizing for existing, for trying to be who I was, to live the life I was meant to lead.
There is a lot of focus in the flashbacks of Andrew liking “girl things”. It does fleetingly touch on the horror at the thought of going through male puberty and so I hope that people who don’t know any better don’t read into it that liking traditionally feminine things is a key indicator for being trans. Boys get the raw end of the deal when it comes to gender stereotyping of toys and pastimes. Whilst we do regularly battle against pink things for girls, at least no one makes assumptions of a girl’s sexuality if she plays with tanks or likes sports.
In her author note Meredith does state she tried to make Amanda as easy to accept as possible. So yes, she is feminine, loves dresses, hates sports and, most importantly, has genes on her side when it comes to passing. She is accepted, and loved, as a girl before anyone knows her as transgender. She also points out that is just one story about being transgender and doesn’t represent the whole trans experience, because that is always a risk when there is so little representation about. It’s a very moving and enjoyable book so I would really recommend it, whatever your view on the subject matter. You never know, you might change your mind.
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