Laurie Frankel writes, from personal experience, this tale of a child born in the wrong body. She says in her author’s notes that This Is How It Always Is is a work of fiction but I appreciate her personal ‘research’ into the subject matter and am grateful that there are so many parents of transgendered kids out there that are easing the way for their children, most of whom will face great challenges in the years ahead.
Frankel’s book helped me to understand how, at such an early age, a person can know that something is not right for them. Born into a family of four boys, “Claude” realizes that the things her brothers loved were not the things she loved; that she was “out of her body” when conforming as Claude. There is nothing intellectual about this knowing… it’s innate and it’s pure and correct. She was only “right” when she was able to express herself in her femininity.
Having been allowed by her forward-thinking parents to present as “Poppy” in elementary school in a new city, Poppy gets 4 happy years before her “secret” is discovered and the resulting trauma and ridicule devastates both her and her family. Her Mother, Rosie, convinces Poppy to join her on a trip to Thailand where Rosie is going to be volunteering in a village hospital.
I love the Buddhists view of “transgender” or “middle” people. It’s like on this long road to a state of pure evolution, the people in the far east are much further along in their journey than we “enlightened” people are in the west. I believe that we are on a journey to non-sexualization of the species, that the patriarchal system where women were diminished and reduced to the value of their bodies is being torn asunder, and that the resulting increase in gender/sexuality questioning is a marker of our progress to this enlightened state. If you read science fiction, many of the “aliens” appear as asexual or non-binary. We look at these aliens as an example of an advanced society and so I believe that this is all part of our growth as a species. The western world is a teenager compared to the “grandfatherly” far east especially as those that follow the Buddhist teachings.
As for the literary quality of the book, I wonder about the “perfect family” at the heart of the story. Mom is an ER doctor and Dad is a writer who has taken on the household duties. They were the perfect parents for this journey in spite of the fact that they had missteps along the way. It felt a little “happily ever after” at the end and that is in no way an indication of what the reality is likely to be. I almost walked away at one point because there was so much internal dialogue that it became tedious but I am glad I stayed through until the end as it gave me much to ponder.
— Nancy C.