I received a copy of Once A Girl, Always A Boy book from Readers’ Favorite in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are, of course, my own.
Once A Girl, Always A Boy Book Review
Once A Girl, Always A Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey
Jo Ivester was raised in a politically active family. In 1967, when she was ten years old, her father moved their family from Boston, MA to an all-black town in the Mississippi Delta, where they were drawn into the heart of the civil rights movement. Because of this experience, Jo is committed to advocating for equal rights for all. Her best-selling, award-winning memoir about her family’s time in Mississippi, The Outskirts of Hope (She Writes Press, April 2015), has led to numerous speaking engagements about racial relations. In the last few years, she has broadened her focus to raise awareness about the transgender community and now serves on the board of Equality Texas, a non-profit LGBTQ rights organization. When not focused on family, writing, and advocacy work, Jo enjoys skiing, walking on the beach, and swing dancing with her husband. She lives in Austin, Texas.
April 21, 2020
Why I Picked It Up
I was invited to read this book by Readers’ Favorite, but ultimately it was the description that caught my attention and caused me to read it.
Famous First Words
“My transgender son, Jeremy, was identified as female at birth.”
Book Description from Goodreads
Jeremy Ivester is a transgender man. Thirty years ago, his parents welcomed him into the world as what they thought was their daughter. As a child, he preferred the toys and games our society views as masculine. He kept his hair short and wore boys’ clothing. They called him a tomboy. That’s what he called himself.
By high school, when he showed no interest in flirting, his parents thought he might be lesbian. At twenty, he wondered if he was asexual. At twenty-three, he surgically removed his breasts. A year later, he began taking the hormones that would lower his voice and give him a beard―and he announced his new name and pronouns.
Once a Girl, Always a Boy is Jeremy’s journey from childhood through coming out as transgender and eventually emerging as an advocate for the transgender community. This is not only Jeremy’s story but also that of his family, told from multiple perspectives―those of the siblings who struggled to understand the brother they once saw as a sister, and of the parents who ultimately joined him in the battle against discrimination. This is a story of acceptance in a world not quite ready to accept.
My Thoughts & Takeaways
Jeremy was assigned female at birth and was known as Emily for a majority of his life (at the time of publication).
He and his family referred to himself as a tomboy in childhood and early adulthood as he had no interest in “girly” things, only wanted to wear boys’ clothing, was excellent at sports (often better than the boys), and more.
The book is written from very different viewpoints.
Jo (Jeremy’s mother), Jon (Jeremy’s father), Ben & Sammy (Jeremy’s brothers), and Jeremy himself (utilizing video diaries Jeremy created during his transition).
I was really concerned about this book at first. I didn’t understand why it was written by the mother and not Jeremy. Upon immediate reaction, I felt like she was trying to ride on his story. Also, without researching their story ahead of time, I worried that Jeremy was no longer alive and that’s why it was written by her.
However, I gave the book a chance despite these concerns. And, I realized, for the most part, I was wrong. While the book is clearly about the entire family, they still do Jeremy justice in the book.
While I’m typically of the “too bad if it makes you uncomfortable” variety and couldn’t care less if family and friends are put in a “weird” position, I also really appreciated the family’s willingness to be honest about their feelings.
I don’t have any immediate and close ties to a trans person, but I still felt very invested in this story. Some may say that this book is for the parents of trans kids or anyone confused by the concept.
However, I didn’t realize see this as “how to” book so if you’re reading this for advice and guidance, I’m not sure it will give practical, tangible advice. It will, however, possibly give inspiration.
I can’t speak from someone with gender or body dysphoria and I don’t want to assume, but if you are trans and struggle with these things, then a trigger warning is perhaps needed.
Jeremy’s family ends up being extremely supportive, but they definitely had their bouts of not grasping the situation or Jeremy’s feelings.
While the book was written by the mother, supposedly Jeremy had final okay over what was included in the book. Assuming that’s true, it is my belief that Jeremy always had a pretty good relationship with his family despite the hiccups along the way. He even mentions how lucky he is both for the support system and the financial support something many trans people do not have.
What I Liked
Brutal honesty. I’ve always been the type to see things from all different sides. There are a few things I won’t even entertain though – basically anything racist or xenophobic.
While there were definitely a few instances of me thinking “they probably could have handled that better,” I do feel, overall, that the family was much more supportive than I’ve heard of other trans families.
I do commend their bravery for being honest about their feelings and thoughts knowing that it’s possible they would receive backlash.
What I Didn’t Like
More of Jeremy’s viewpoint. I’d love to one day read a book completely from Jeremy’s side. I understand he may not be a writer or have the desire and I can appreciate that.
For now, I’ll have to believe that he had full veto control over anything that went into the book.
“Why is this so hard? It’s not like I don’t know I’m a girl. I get that. But somehow I never thought that meant I’d grow up to be a woman. I’m facing this very real thing of my body changing, and I’m not okay with it. I twas bad enough being a girl, but I really, really don’t want to become a woman.”
“I hadn’t put it into words before, but when it came down to it, I’ve known for a long time that I’m different from other teenagers. Calling myself a tomboy no longer captures it. And it never really did. Tomboys dress like boys and play with boys, but it is so much more than that for me. I really want to be one of the bodys, not just be like them.”
“I can’t focus on the future when I’m still trying to figure out who I am.”
“It isn’t fair that I suddenly have all this power; it;s just ingrained in our society. I’ve ended up with something I never asked for. White male privilege.”
“The suicide attempt rate for trans teens remains at over 40 percent, more than four times that of the general high school population.”