16 June 2011

I Am J

"Hola, Jeni."

J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he'd been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn't muster a hello back, not now; he didn't care that she'd tell his mom he'd been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.

In I Am J by Cris Beam, we meet J. From his earliest days, J knows he is a boy. It is an cruel twist of fate that he has been born with a body that betrays him with its feminimity and that his parents named him "Jeni."

J is a transgendered Latino teen photographer who is struggling with the world around him. How to define and explain himself to a world when his parents are worried (or maybe hopeful?) he's a lesbian and his best friend (herself a cutter) angrily rejects his love because she, too, sees him as a girl and is afraid of what that would mean about her.

J is sick of wearing tight bandages to bind the breasts he hates and layers of baggy clothing to disguise the body that betrays the person he knows he truly is. He despairs of ever being accepted and finally runs away from home, determned to make his own way. Finally, after years of hating himself, J discovers that taking testosterone will help him to sound and appear more masculine. This joy of this revelation is marred only by the fact that J is 17 years old. As a minor, he will need parental consent to receive testosterone. Now what will he do?

I Am J is a remarkable novel, one that shares a voice that has been too long silent. Growing up and discovering who we are is difficult for almost any teen; to have to make this same journey on a road that is often hostile to the person we are discovering we are is even more excruciating.

For trans teens (and adults), I Am J offers proof that they are not alone. For those who are not trans, it offers a glimpse into another world, a glimpse that will hopefully inspire empathy and compassion and will help eradicate prejudices and fears.

By the end of this remarkable book, readers should find themselves agreeing with J:
“Being trans wasn't special, and yet it was. It was just good and bad and interesting and fucked-up and very human, like anything else.”

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