Friday, October 7, 2011

REVIEW: Not Your Average American Girl by Christine Beatty

Truly a woman who has seen, done, and survived it all, Christine Beatty is a writer, musician, and a transgender activist. She was one of the first transsexual women to openly perform as a heavy metal musician (which is what originally brought her to my attention), and the founder of Glamazon Press, an independent publisher dedicated to TS/TG authors.

Not Your Average American Girl is a story that opens from a rather tenuous state, beginning with a rehab diary, and looking back at the events that ultimately pushed her to the brink one time too many. We meet her at her most vulnerable, and that really sets our expectations for the story to follow – no matter the ups and downs, we know that it’s going to be the downs that define it.

It sounds strange to describe the act of reading a book as physically and emotionally exhausting, but that is precisely the case here. As we follow Christine through the first few decades of her life, we bear witness to one painful challenge after another, to one crippling setback after another, and to the ways in which she escapes (rather than surmounts) each one. In reality, there’s only one challenge at the heart of it all, but her inability to successfully cope with being transgendered continually places her in situations where bad decisions almost seem inevitable.

Whether it’s attempting to hide her femininity behind a military uniform, avoiding it with the pretence of a 'normal' heterosexual marriage, or flaunting it with a prostitute’s fetish attire, there’s a common theme to Christine’s pre-rehab life of looking for solace in all the wrong places. Given the obstacles in her life, it’s no mystery that she would so often look for a means of escape, even if her steady decline into a life of drugs does make for a frustrating journey. What makes that journey so much harder to follow is the fact that she’s such a charming, captivating personality – the kind of woman who encourages feelings of friendship, even in her darkest moments.

By the time she has her (literal) sword-swinging break with reality, we realise that being condemned to the forced detoxification of a prison cell is probably the best end to which she could have come. By the time we, and the story, catch up with the diary-writing Christine, out of prison and on the eve of graduation from rehab, the story begins the process of redeeming itself (and her). Despite family rejection, a failed marriage, the alienation of friends, lost jobs, and the looming spectre of HIV, Christine seizes the opportunity forced upon her and begins dealing with (rather than escaping) her gender issues.

The challenges never stop – more than once she’s forced to abandon her hormone treatments and postpone surgery because of her HIV status – but she learns to deal with them without escaping into the oblivion of drugs. That's not to say every decision is the right one, or that she doesn't continue to struggle with the harsh reality of integrating her true, feminine self with society, but we see her rapidly maturing before our eyes. In many ways, the latter part of her story is even more exhausting than the first, but only because we know how hard she’s trying, and we know that, outside of a few lapses, it's all without the safety net of chemical oblivion. We can see a glimmer of feminine hope on the horizon, and even if it seems to keep teasing her by moving further away, we can’t help but share Christine’s determination to pursue it.

What's more, we can't escape the absolutely certainty that she absolutely deserves to achieve it.

In the end, Christine’s story is one of hope . . . of triumph . . . of a spirit that refuses to be broken. It’s not the easiest journey in the world, but the challenges makes the destination that much more important. A large part of what makes the book work so well is that she has such an engaging voice, and writes with such honesty and candor. There is a wide range of emotion captured here, but every one is both deep and sincere. In the end, Christine is most definitely not your average American girl but, then again, neither are we.

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