Sunday, March 29, 2009

Poor Southern Trans Boy

In The Sweet In-Between, Oprah Book Club author, Sheri Reynolds, offers us Kenny Lugo, a person who is Kendra to her father, Ken to his schoolmates, and Kenny, at home. The tri-spirited hero is struggling to maintain identity, after many years of exploitative experiences with the whisky faced men of Lugo’s life, Kenny is trying to figure out if she is a boy or a girl.

“I hate my body, I hate.” Kenny says, taking great measure to control her water consumption so he won’t be forced to use the girl’s room at school, where Ken is a freak, a lesbian, a T-country boy who only wants to please.

Oh, and Kenny is haunted.

Not in the literal sense, but metaphorically, for Kenny’s drunken neighbor, Jarvis Stanley, shoots a college girl dead when she and her friend accidently break into the house, mistaking it for the rental across the street. The dead girl’s life haunts Kenny. She can’t help but identify with the dead girl. For her life is slowing dying, and like the dead girl, Kenny will soon belong to no one, for when she turns 18, her father’s girlfriend, Glo, won’t have to be responsible for her anymore. Kenny will be alone.

Everyday Kenny goes to school he pines for the dead girl’s car. Imagines crawling around in her blood, wonders, wonders, wonders. What if?

Kenny must survive because the dead girl didn’t, because Aunt Glo’s oldest is a drug addled walking poster for death, and because who will take care of Daphne, the half retarded sister of the aforementioned drug addled walking poster for death? Kenny exists for Daphne who gives Kenny dimension, and balance. Daphne loves Kenny for who she is, for who he is, for everyone.

Add to the fact Kenny lives in a restrictive, run down rural town in Virginia, and her chances for acceptance are slim. Everyone is trying to define Kenny for her, for him. I'm not a lesbian, I'm not, Kenny thinks as her young adopted brother points out. Others are quick to say she has a lifestyle, which befuddles Ken further.

I don’t know any fiction books about trans men, and the Sweet In-Between sidesteps the issue if Kenny is trans, or just a lesbian cross dresser, not that it matters anyway. Kenny’s self hatred is identifiable for all T-persons regardless of spectrum and depth of gender dysphoria. Ken, and Kenny may be freaks, but when Kenny is forced to play Kendra we become flies on the wall for ego crushing humiliation when Kendra must visit her father up state in prison. Just who really are the freaks? Those who have courage to be who they really are, or the ones who judge and punish anyone who steps out of the gender box?

Kenny’s just finding herself, which is part of the appeal, like a hero on a quest, he must deal with his “titties” and how to bind them, “blood” and how to conceal it in case Ken bleeds through his jeans; rituals created to save the self, to bolster the defenses against a world that isn’t very tolerant of variant behavior. Too bad, too, because Kenny has a lot to offer, as well as Reynolds’ whose luminous prose burns through the paper. A nice companion piece to Luna.

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