Only recently did I learn about “Trans-Sister Radio,” a 2000 novel focused on a woman – Allie — who stayed with her boyfriend – Dana — after he transitioned to female. They eventually broke up, but, well, I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end, because you really should read it if you’re at all interested in these topics or in an all-around good read. I finished it in a few days. The author is Chris Bohjalian, a ridiculously prolific novelist living in Vermont. (How do you do it, Mr. B?)
(The book was recommended to me by my pal Jessica after my Globe article came out. She was a person I’d known in Boston as a man and wrote to tell me she was transitioning, and also, sadly, that her marriage was ending.)
I especially connected with Allie’s conflicting feelings about Dana. How could she love him so much as a man and then feel differently only because of a gender change – while Dana was in most ways still Dana. How could I overcome this obstacle and not Allie? Is it because I’m more OK with being with a woman, even though it’s not what I would have chosen?
Also pitch perfect was Dana’s post-transition elation juxtaposed with Allie’s grief. That was by far the hardest time for Lina and me. Though we were not on the verge of breaking up, I wasn’t sure we’d make it through intact. It was rough.
The story was about community, too. Allie was an elementary school teacher in small-town Vermont and she and Dana were harassed by villagers and parents. Of course this happens, but I think Allie and Dana could have lessened this by being proactive and understanding – by sharing their news with locals and asking for understanding. Instead they were defiant. I’m not saying transpeople should ask for forgiveness or apologize, but I do think we in the trenches should be compassionate about people who have had no experience with gender variance. Allie was shocked and initially disgusted with Dana’s admission, so why shouldn’t she expect others to be as well. In my experience, if we open our hearts to people, they respond in kind, or usually try their best.
And now, a few beefs. Dana’s sexual reassignment surgery (genitals) happened within a few months of her living as a woman, which goes against the medical practice of waiting one year. Dana is gorgeous without a trace of manliness beyond big feet and height. This is so not the norm, especially without facial surgery. My other complaint is a professional one, so most people probably won’t notice or care. But the plot includes two public radio shows about the couple – both produced or involving radio journalists with very close ties to them. Seems implausible. But most important was I could suspend disbelief on all these points, and I’m sure you can too. Enjoy!