Self-described gender-jammer S. Bear Bergman is an very courageous individual, though I suspect ze would react to that by turning red and looking down at hir shoes while muttering something self-deprecating. But The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, a collection of essays on being trans, negates any argument you might have about Bear’s intestinal fortitude.
Courage fairly drips off these pieces, but it’s not the stern John Wayne type. It’s a common sense, do-what-you-have-to-do type ballsiness leavened with humor. Oh yes. Bear is a very funny writer indeed. So funny you almost forget there’s a point to be made. Almost.
My favorite example – both of Bear’s writing and hir attitude – is in “New Year,” where ze and a friend are having dinner at an Indian restaurant and find themselves the object of impolite conversation from a nearby table. I would have gotten pissed off and confronted them, but Bear just bought their dinner, a stunningly simple act that not only disarmed the louts but made them think. Beautiful. I can’t think of a better reaction.
But beyond balls, Bergman’s also has incredible writing chops. Consider this passage from “Rule of Two,” about walking with hir husband, two obviously gender-fucking beings, down the streets of their adopted hometown:
“And how do I dress myself to go out with him? In love, in a cloak of the stupid, hopeful optimism of fresh love, which I imagine will protect me from both the wind and the weather like every other idiot in love has ever imagined.”
If you can read that without a tear in your eye and a catch in your throat, you’ve never been in love, my friend.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few instances where Bergman loses focus or belabors a point, but ze compensates with the sheer sassiness of pieces like “The Velveteen Tranny” or “When Will You Be Having the Surgery?” or the exploration of manners and masculine expectation “Not Getting Killed, with Kindness.” At Bergman’s best, ze brings a smile to your lips, a lump to your throat and a thought to your frontal lobe – a tough hat trick at best.
So if you’re in the mood for a read that makes you laugh at the same time it pokes at the tender areas of what it’s like to be an outlaw in a land of outlaws, spend some time with S. Bear Bergman’s The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You.
And if you ever get to Denver, Bear, please let me buy you a drink. I’d love to meet you.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler