Nothing is more difficult than critiquing memoir, except perhaps writing it. It doesn’t matter that it’s called a nonfiction novel, it’s the messy, detailed particulars of someone’s life as well as the lives that intersect with it. How can you say the characters are thin or their actions aren’t properly motivated when the prose is more reportage than invention? Luckily, Elliott DeLine’s Show Trans is good enough that the decision can be avoided.
One of my good friends, the late trans activist Matt Kailey used to tell me that transitioning, like coming out, doesn’t fix everything wrong with you. It may help reconcile many issues and feelings, but it may also raise others that have been previously hidden. And, I think, this comes across quite clearly in Show Trans. In addition, transitioning brings up new wrinkles, such as fetishization (if it’s not a word, it should be). Although DeLine’s sexual exploits are on display here, the focus is on his compulsions and his boredom as well as his restless search for a way to make it all fit together.
Is this, then, a bleak book? Well, yes. But it’s bleak in the most universal of terms. I don’t think anyone reading this blog hasn’t been down this path. DeLine shines a light on that dark place we have all found ourselves in just after coming out/transitioning. The relief is over. The weight has been lifted. Most of our fears of acceptance or rejection by our friends and families have either been proven or not. What, then, takes the place of those things? What rushes in to fill that vacuum? Being human, doubt. Have we done the right thing? Why aren’t we happier–or in today’s parlance, why hasn’t it gotten better? Can we go back? Should we? In one of the most affecting parts of the book, DeLine does just that. He dresses up as a girl, fake boobs and all:
In the mirror, I saw what perhaps, once, had been my worst fear: I was a sexually attractive girl. In fact, I was a little taken aback. I’d never tried to look sexy, except as a boy and a man, and those were very different matters. The hairstyle complimented my features much like I had suspected. I was impressed with my figure. I actually had an ass. My stomach was quite toned. I was getting aroused. Was I a transvestite? The urge to do this had come on rather suddenly and had been urgent. Why now? Why was this so gratifying? Did I need an answer? Why over-think it? I took off the shorts once more. Slowly, the rest of it came off and naked, I was a boy again. Female-to-male crossdresser. Why not? I put all of it back in a cardboard box that I hid in my closet. I got back into my jeans and sweatshirt and curled up in my bed, making the split complete: sexual female, asexual male. My sexual self was a persona. It had nothing to do with Elliott. It was a game to play and nothing more. Temporarily comforted by these thoughts, I took a nap.
Yet, Show Trans is not without its humor. DeLine’s text exchanges in “Adventures in Online Dating” are hilarious, both in the moronic questions and comments made by his suitors and his common sense responses. Even the title has its tongue in its cheek, as DeLine refers to himself as a “show trans” as in “show dog.” And as difficult as DeLine’s experiences get, he never wallows or pities himself. His prose is plain and matter-of-fact and has all the more power for that.
Show Trans, then, is an excellent, honest read–true to its author and his experiences and well worth your time. My friend, Matt, would have loved it.
© 2015 Jerry L. Wheeler