Monday, November 16, 2015

Pride and Prettiness: A "Reluctant Transgen" Tale from Arcadia Island by Kit Scarbrough

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is probably one of the most frequently retold novels of the 19th century, with countless spin-offs, sequels, and retellings on both page and screen. It is a timeless story, and one with a dual appeal. Yes, there is the romantic aspect of it, but there is also the story of manners behind it, which looks at how proper young women are made, not born.

It is from that idea that Kit Scarbrough's Pride and Prettiness - A "Reluctant Transgen" Tale from Arcadia Island - springs forth. Taking place in the year 2021, the story deals with the Gender Shift movement, which has propelled the island nation of Arcadia to a position of power as the world's first Female Led Nation . . . a world in which the feminization of young men is not just accepted and encouraged. Here, proper young women truly are made, in a physical sense as well as an intellectual one.

In Part 1 of the story, Scarbrough introduces us to the family of Cleo Sherwood - Mayor, Vice Presidential Candidate, and Househead of a Female Led household. She is happily married to her pregnant wifeboy Jennifer (thanks to a uterus implant), and a proud mother to her four sheboy children, Victory, Alex, Candy, and Erin (who are kept young and soft through a combination of puberty blockers and chastity tubes). Erin, the youngest, is a bookworm obsessed with fairy tales and princesses; Candy is little princess, enthusiastic about his transition and in love with everything frilly and feminine; while Victory and Alex are the most reluctant of the children, rebelling against their impending transitions.

For the two oldest sheboys, it is less a rebellion against anything physical and more sociological. Part of the appeal in Arcadia is that it is a gender-swapped version of 1950s America. Sheboys are expected to become polite, docile house wifeboys, completely dependent and legally owned by their Househead. If they want to have a career, it will be as a secretary, a grade school teacher, or a waitress - and only until their implanted uterus is artificially impregnated. With strong memories of their lives as boys back on the mainland, Victory dreams of being a scientist, while Alex longs to become a doctor, careers which are denied to them by their newfound gender.

Scarbrough does a remarkable job of building an entire society in which we can both believe and even envy. It is not a perfect society, but it is a progressive one with some very open-minded ideals. Professional women across the world have flocked to Arcadia, embracing the opportunity to escape glass ceilings and sexual harassment, while transgender individuals have done the same, accepting the restraints upon their future in exchange for being openly accepted and appreciated. While there are some rumors of forced feminizations, Arcadia is not a world of sinister science-fiction conspiracies. Sheboys are accepted, but are still in the minority, and less than 10% of all marriages are Female Led marriages.

In addition to introducing us to the world and the Sherwood family, this opening chapter also sets up the budding romance of Alex, who fills the role of Mary in the story (while Victory serves as the gender-swapped version of Elizabeth). Where the first chapter was a lot of introduction and scene setting, Part 2 is very much about that budding romance.

It all begins when Alex is rescued by a couple of violent bullies by Barry Beaumont, son of TV personality Tom Beaumont. What began as a confusing sort of crush soon grows into young love, with Alex embracing his femininity through his relationship with a masculine young man. It is a very sweet story, never going any further than passionate kisses (and a little tentative groping), that explores the butterfly-like transformation of Alex. We get to see how the petite young sheboy interacts with boys and girls his own age, how he deals with Barry's family, and how he copes with being in the public eye.

It is in this second chapter that we also learn how much Arcadia is still evolving, and what kind of vision Cleo Sherwood has for the future. She loves her wifeboy and sheboys dearly, and understands how difficult it can be for them to adjust. As much as she dreams of seeing her children married into Female Led marriages of their own, she has no problem with Alex dating a boy, and is genuinely happy to see him come out of his shell. In addition, with his dreams in mind, she is also looking to create a nursing program for young sheboys, partly to deal with the island's nursing shortage, but more to bring Alex a little closer to his dream.

I do not know if Kit Scarbrough has any further Reluctant Transgen tales planned, but I would dearly love to spend more time on Arcadia Island. It is such a lovely world she has created, and I really did fall in love with the entire Sherwood family. More than that, though, Scarbrough manages to tell a story that works because of the Gender Shift society behind it, but which is not defined by the concept. She has a wonderful writing style, a flair for characters, and a fantastic ear for dialogue that comes across as natural, even when talking about unusual ideas. Despite blathering on, I know I have barely scratched the surface here, but please take my word for it and give the first book a read - you will not regret it!

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