Adam - Ariel Schrag

When Adam Freedman -- a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California -- goes to stay with his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. 

It is the Summer of 2006. Gay marriage and transgender rights are in the air, and Casey has thrust herself into a wild lesbian subculture. Soon Adam is tagging along to underground clubs, where there are hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans -- a boy who was born a girl. Why else would this baby-faced guy always be around?

Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams -- but she couldn't possibly be interested in him. Unless passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor...


This is a novel I had a hard time with. While I thought the subject might actually be pretty funny and, as the back cover says, "scathing," I was left feeling unsure and uncomfortable. Moments that could be seen as satire ended up feeling as though they simply reinforced misuses of privilege and encouraged the use of deception to get the girl. The idea of Adam pretending to be trans in order to get together with Gillian left so many possibilities open for critical discussion, but instead fell flat as he actually got away with it, and in the end, Gillian was actually okay with it. In fact, when he ended up sleeping with Gillian using his own biological penis instead of a dildo, and suddenly revealed it afterward, her only reaction was, "I know." Aside from this and many other discomforting scenes, the book also serves as an overly didactic "Trans 101" textbook, complete with entire scenes in which Adam discovers different methods of surgery, testosterone dosages, and other medical jargon via online research and Youtube videos.

Of course, this makes it seem as though I find the book to be entirely disappointing. This is not the case. I did actually enjoy the writing style, the moments of sarcasm, and some of the humour (though there were some moments that made me cringe in discomfort when it came to uses of the word "retarded" and other jokes at the expense of people with disabilities.) Schrag is a talented individual, without a doubt, but the content is more what gave me issue. Her style is quick and well-paced, and the dialogue itself is something to behold (her work on Arin Andrews' memoir, Some Assembly Required, is really wonderful.) There was also some interesting commentary on the institution of marriage when Adam and his sister attend a rally for Gay Marriage and they run into some friends who are running a "Queer Against Gay Marriage" booth, which brings up some important discussions around mistreatment of trans people, people of color, and other intersectional issues within the queer community.

As one colleague pointed out to me, perhaps it isn't so much that the book is pointing out deceptiveness in trans individuals, but is rather just pointing out the normal fucked-up-edness of being in one's teenage years, where pretty much everything is messed up and nothing seems to go right. Lies are often the refuge of the sexually confused or extremely horny. And that is definitely one way of looking at things. I didn't see that, myself, but that could really just be my own overly academic way of looking at things. Judging from other reviews and discussions with colleagues, this book is very polarizing. People are either uncomfortable with it or they really enjoy it because they feel it will be useful to cisgender readers who might be able to identify with Adam. 

I'm not entirely sure that using the book as an educational resource, however, really justifies some of the more didactic passages, or the ableist jokes, or even the whole idea of privilege that pervades the overall narrative. I do not think the book is a failure, but those who read it should, I feel, already have some education about trans issues and the concept of privilege, otherwise it is likely that many of the possible learning opportunities will be passed off as "the author just mirroring society." And while this mirroring isn't bad in itself, without some critical engagement, the text really does reinforce transphobic and ableist mindsets within a larger context of white male privilege.

Recommended with Reservations


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