I Am J is a novel that deep dives into the hard truths of being transgender and how it impacts not only the individual person but also their entire family. Cris Beam’s character J struggles with how to tell his close friends and family that his personal identity matches how he outwardly expresses his gender, which in turn is not the same gender they perceive him as. He’s not just a tomboy; he’s actually a transgender male.
It is a story of hope and heartache, redemption, and reunion. Beam illustrates how difficult it is for some parents to accept that their children are not living into the expectations held for them since birth, and how harmful that can be for the child. We are brought into the conflict between J and his parents, and learn that eventually love wins, and even the most stubborn hearts can come around.
“How can I explain myself to you if I can’t explain myself to me?” (p.72)
I Am J is the perfect novel to read together with your middle-school age transgender child or to use as a catalyst for discussion with a teen or young adult. It opens the door to how difficult it can be both for the person coming out, as well as for the family and friends. While many books are written from one point of view or the other, Beam successfully portrays how transition reaches far beyond just the person transitioning.
In the Author’s Notes of the book, Beam writes:
“Definitions of masculinity and femininity are expanding every day, and adolescent transboys are finding more creative ways to discover, and be, themselves. As their ranks grow, I imagine, they’ll look for even more reflections of who they are and are becoming. And their teenage friends, who know them ore wonder about them, need and often crave a way to understand their experience. That is why I’m so excited and hopeful about I Am J and about the many books that others are writing about themselves and their friends right now. There are still so many kinds of transgender stories to be told and cherished – and so much room on the shelves.”
It is so important for transgender people to see themselves and their stories represented in media: on TV, on radio, in print, in ads, and on the big screen. Now more than ever, we have these stories to be able to understand experiences that are not similar to our own and to begin conversations we wouldn’t otherwise know how to start.
At 259 pages and thirteen chapters, I Am J is an easy novel to read in a few sittings or throughout a weekend. At a chapter a day, you could have it read in less than two weeks. You might want to pick up two copies; one for yourself and one to share with others. I’m betting you’re going to find yourself recommending it to family and friends once you’ve finished reading, and you’ll want to hold onto to a copy for yourself.
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