Sunday, October 11, 2015

So many times, people are not as they appear...

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
In honor of Banned Books Week 2015: September 27-October 3, I offer my review of this very informative and masterful work! (Yes, I realize that was last week! A bit late...but just as heartfelt!) I don't feel anyone has the right to deny any of us access to reading materials. While there are certain publications I don't choose to read, we should all have the right to select from everythng published! I admit to being glad I had read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides two years ago since it had given me an introduction to some of the issues associated with 'intersex' physical features, especially medical considerations, and the extreme social isolation due to lack of acceptance for all...regardless of 'gender'/sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, SES, whatever... The Socratic Salon posted a book breakdown September 21st. (Though it looks as if there weren't many others who had read it, since there were few comments posted...) I loved this book in so many ways, but honestly, by page 50 I was wondering if I really wanted to continue reading. The initial event was so horrific to me, I was afraid the whole book would be nothing more than one such event after another, but I had nothing to fear, for it was from that initial trauma that the rest of the story played out... I like the cover image, two bicycles representing the two main genders considered 'normal'/definitive by society.

So, my husband and I were at A Music Festival the last weekend in September (as I was about 3/4 through this book) and being the extremely shy and reticent person I am (hmmmm...okay, maybe NOT!) I struck up a conversation with a couple and their two daughters in line directly ahead of me. My motivation? Mom had multiple tattoos, facial piercings, creatively multi-colored hair, and her oldest (14-year-old) daughter was READING a book!!! Right there, standing in line!! I love this girl!! She's an even harder-core book nerd than I am!! YAY!! It was Paper Towns by John Green, so she and I started discussing his books, the movie adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars as well as the book, and then to her favorite book ever, and the one she has reread most, The Diary of Anne Frank. Then her parents got in on the conversation and asked what I was reading...oh, my, was that ever an interesting conversation that transpired as I explained about Golden Boy and its various themes related to intersex, etc., and these parents were so very cool--rather than squelching any talk of such issues around their children, they openly involved them in the conversation--and that, my friends, in my humble opinion, is exactly how it should be! Why is it that so many parents are petrified to openly discuss sexuality/gender with their own children?!? Who the f&%# do you think will do that, if you don't? Besides, if you never work to get outside your own comfort zone, it's a sure bet your children won't! At least not until they're older and hopefully realize for themselves... Ah...but I digress. End of rant. (At least for now...) 
I don't know who couldn't help but love Max! I was immediately struck by his seemingly androgynous personality and emotional outlook. Max's brother Daniel (almost 10 years old) wants to be a robotic engineer with plans to create robotic parts to make humans 'perfect.'
  I told my brother what I wanted to be, and he said that it was cool but unfortunately, he wouldn't let me add extensions to him, because he wanted to be who he was and see how that played out. I said that was stupid. Who wouldn't want to be perfect? Or a robot?
  And this is why I have chosen to write my class essay about my brother. Sincerely, Daniel Alexander Walker, age nine and four-fifths. (5)
I had to chuckle at the "nine and four-fifths"! Definitely a scientist in the making, eh? :) No rough estimates for this child! 

Steve and Karen, Max and Daniel's parents, are best friends with Hunter's parents. In fact, Hunter's mom Leah and Karen are closer than Karen is to her own sister, Cheryl. Karen relies on Leah and vice versa. At one point Karen thinks to herself:
I know if anything happened to me, Leah would be there for my children, and I would be there, if anything happened to Leah, for her son, Hunter, who, like many children without siblings, can be moody and controlling. I don't share that thought with Leah obviously, because we all like to believe that our children are perfect, and personally, I wouldn't want to be disabused of that notion. (7)
Little did Karen or Leah realize what was in their future, especially regarding their children's relationships. And, being an 'only child' myself, I must take offense at the idea we're all "moody and controlling"! Hmph! ;)

And I can't remember when I have despised a character as much as I do Hunter! I was happy that he did not escape unscathed, though I did feel for his oblivious parents. (I hope he was prosecuted and successfully rehabbed.) Although the physical act was heinous, I believe it was the emotional betrayal and lack of interpersonal loyalty and, most of all, the exploitation that most hurt Max. 
...and it's just me, lying, legs apart, like a dead bug, flattened to the mattress by pain and blinking rapidly with my mouth open. Like I can't believe what just happened happened. Like I don't know where I am. Like I am in some alternate reality where there is a possibility that Hunter is a bad person, my average little bedroom is the scene of a crime, I could be quietly forced into something so abhorrent I can't even think the word in my mind and that it could all be over in five minutes. (21)
Such confusion and inability to take it all in for what it was felt very real to me. 
This is much as I pictured Max...
Max is so brave to get help for himself, without telling anyone else, not even his parents. And...that is when he meets Sylvie, and that was a blessing for him in his life! Without her would the truth have ever been revealed? I seriously doubt it. 

Another person who truly helped make Max's life better is Archie. Every doctor should be like Archie! She thinks to herself:
...medical approaches to trans, intersex and asexual people can vary greatly between jurisdictions.
  I know that our practice is ahead of most in our approach to these teenagers, but there are some areas where I know I do not know enough and we need improvement. Like most clinics, like the curriculum, like the policy makers, we are struggling to keep up with scientific advancements, and also with our patients. (46)
I venture to say that paragraph is much more than the majority of medical providers would ever think about such issues...ever! Unfortunately, most people, including the majority of healthcare professionals, only consider the possibility of two genders/sexes, when the reality is so much more diverse, with many variations between these two seemingly absolute opposites. 
  He's oddly despondent, actually. I study him carefully. Something just doesn't fit in this scene, an uncaring mood, a lack of eye contact, blankness. As I watch him avoid my eyes, shuffling in his chair uncomfortably and worriedly chewing a nail, I remember seeing him before. (55)
She had seen him at the local movie theater holding hands with and kissing a girl. If not for Archie noticing Max's nonverbal communication, she would have never caught on to the idea of this sexual act not having been consensual for him. And without her hint about this to Karen much later and Sylvie's intervention, this predator would have probably never been identifed. No one might have even believed Max had he made accusations without anyone else to support him. 

Tarttelin's prose is succinct and yet poetic at Max writes...
I prefer summer to the other seasons, for the heat. You can be out all day playing football and not even have to worry about bringing a T-shirt. But autumn is loveable. It's summer's dying cousin. It's somehow vulnerable, for the world to die so publicly. You feel tender about autumn. (40)
I love this passage for the symbolism and the poignancy and emotional content that Max depicts! He is empathetic, kind, and caring. He is so very sensitive to and communicative with his little brother, Daniel! I love that about Max so much! Is 'he' a typical 16-year-old male who is the beloved football player, 'pretty boy' etc., in his school? 

Again, Max is so very courageous as to purchase a pregnancy test kit himself without involving anyone else. Unfortunately, one of the girls who sometimes deigns to speak to Sylvie is the person working at the register when he pays for it. Of course, she spreads the word that Max got a girl pregnant and everyone begins guessing who it might be. His father, Steven, is running for political office, forcing both Max and Daniel to attend many events, and Karen to worry about anyone discovering Max's secret after they've worked hard to allow Max to grow up without any more attention to the matter of his mixed genitalia than he already endured as a child for the sake of medical professionals' curiosity. 
I might envision this as a younger
Max/Maxine--many times infants and
toddlers appear very androgynous!
As a parent and grandparent I was a bit bothered by Max's parents' lack of follow-up/communication with and attention to his sexuality/gender as he matured into the teen years. I understand the reticence to do so, and it was disheartening (though not unbelievable) to learn that they disagreed on how best to handle the matter and Max's future, even as a newborn infant! Most of the doctors Karen and Steve dealt with believed they should decide upon and complete "infant genital reconfiguration surgery" on Max, making him biologically/physically a boy or girl as an infant. His father wanted nothing to do with this, allowing Max to decide as he grew and developed, especially if s/he could have children, he didn't want to deny his child that opportunity. They chose a gender-neutral name, Max/Maxine to allow for flexibility and gender choice. Though Karen disagreed to a great degree, she acquiesced to Steve's wishes and they allowed Max to develop 'naturally' with only a bit of surgery to remove some testicular tissue and some hormone therapy at age 14--the hormones altered Max's personality to a great degree and he finally refused to continue... For the past two years neither parent has evidently really talked to Max, nor has he been seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. (Wouldn't therapy just make sense?) And, unfortunately, our society basically demands that each individual be strictly classified as male OR female. I couldn't help thinking so many times as I read this book--it is difficult enough to raise children, especially throughout the teen years, but to have these additional issues would make it so much more challenging, particularly since his mother and father disagreed on how to handle the various intersex issues and, in my opinion, did not adequately follow-up or provide him/her with healthy emotional outlets. 

It was heartrending to watch Karen deal with her belief that Max has been having unprotected sex with males, and is therefore, gay. I was rather amazed at her inability to accept this. The decisions regarding medical procedures virtually drove this family apart in so many ways. And then Sylvie must digest this knowledge as well and it is...well, at the very least difficult for her, as his 'friend':
  How is this even possible? He always looked totally boyish before, but now I'm looking him over and thinking, This is a girl, and trying it on for size, and I'm noticing, yes, there are some major similarities between being seductive in a pretty-boy way and in a girl way, I knew the guys I had dated before were more...guyish, but I thought that was because they were in uni and older and more mature. Max has no facial hair at all. Didn't I think that was weird? Why didn't I? What does this say about me? 
  Well, I just thought he was blond and blond people don't have much excess hair, and he was younger than all my other boyfriends. I just thought he was sexy, supersexy, and I didn't stop to think, like I am now, that if you brushed his hair over to one side, and those amazing green eyes with their Bambi-long lashes, and those pouty lips, and that big, sweet smile, and the soft, soft, skin, and the kind of thin-ish neck and not-massive chest and delicate, long fingers and cute, round arse... (244)
Really, this isn't all that unusual. There are many 'females' who have many 'male' features, and vice-versa if you openly consider individuals prior to classifying them as strictly male/female. I have wondered about people I've met and dealt with before...but truly it is none of my business and it is immaterial to me. I evaluate/judge people based upon their personalities once I get to know them, not upon their looks, gender, etc. It really is a much easier and nicer way to approach life overall. :)

Have you read this one or Middlesex? I'm sure there are others... What are your reactions? I would heartily recommend this one! 


  1. I still have this on on my list of books to read, It sounds good! If you liked this one and Middlesex, you might like Annabel by Kethleen Winters.

    1. I would highly recommend it, Naomi! Especially given the impact this makes upon a married couple/parents! I think you would enjoy it. Will definitely add Annabel to my TBR list, 'cause, as you know, I definitely need another!! :) Thanks for stopping by!