Alex As Well - Alyssa Brugman
Alex was born a girl… or maybe a boy… or… well, her parents ended up choosing boy. When Alex informs mum and dad that he is, in fact, a girl, all hell breaks loose at home. She stops taking her medication—hormones—her father disappears for a few days, and her mother begins rolling around on the floor, calling Alex a pervert, saying that Alex is killing her with this announcement. Melodramatic? Indeed!
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by Alex As Well, a novel that dares to ask larger questions about family that other trans and intersex novels seem to ignore. Brugman examines mental illness, friendship (or lack thereof), becoming an adult, intersexuality, and even emancipation. Alex takes the reigns of her life, befriending a lawyer named Crockett, who aids in Alex’s new life, particularly her attempts to get a new birth certificate so she can properly enroll in her new school, and later help her work on the emancipation process.
I said earlier that the book feels somewhat melodramatic at times, and it’s true, but it works! Brugman’s treatment of intersexuality is sensitive and nuanced, not relying on didactic textbook-style explanations of medical treatments and diagnoses (unlike Golden Boy, a novel whose popularity I have a hard time understanding….) I also love Alex’s insights throughout the novel, which are, again, complex, but without being too on-the-nose:
Why does it matter whether I am a boy or a girl?
But it does. It really, really matters. People want to know which one you are. They want to be able to decide what you are, even when they are just walking past on the street and will never see you again. It’s crazy. Most people don’t see it as a grey area. They are physically affected when there is confusion.
They are repulsed.
Another aspect of the book that I love, is the development of Alex’s mother. Her story is told through Alex’s perspective from living with her at home, where she throws tantrums, misuses pronouns, and even goes so far as to try and sneak hormone medications into Alex’s food. Alternatively, we also get the chance to see how Alex’s mother views herself, in a shockingly polar fashion, as understanding and caring—a woman who just can’t understand why her son… er, daughter, is being so silly and rebellious.
The comments on these online posts, from Alex’s mother as the other commenters, also offer insight into North American social misunderstandings of trans and intersex issues, especially where young people are concerned. Vic’s insights in these comments are particularly poignant and insightful.
I want to have a Christmas where I don’t go around the shops looking non-gender specific toys (which are totally impossible to find) and watching his face as his [sic] opens the presents for clues as to whether his hormone balance is right. That’s not the spirit of Christmas, that’s hell.
These moments bring so much current social discomfort into play, including arguments and discussions surrounding the benefit, or lack thereof, of non-gender specific toys, moving away from blue and pink as indicators of gender. I applaud Brugman’s use of these current discussions within the narrative without making it sound bland or academic.