Friday, March 18, 2016

Trans: A Memoir, by Juliet Jacques

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Juliet Jacques describes her transition from male to trans woman. Trans: A Memoir proves to be an original mix of sexual politics and personal story that is hard to put down.

Trans: A Memoir chronicles the transition of British journalist and writer Juliet Jacques from man to trans woman. In 2010 she wrote a regular blog for the Guardian about her experiences which was later longlisted for The Orwell Prize.

It is difficult to pigeonhole Trans into any one particular category. In part that’s due to Jacques herself, an intellectually and emotionally complex person. The book mixes a confessional style -  personal disclosures of depression and alienation - with radical left politics. It’s almost like reading an earnest 1970s Marxist treatise, written by someone suffering gender dysphoria. This may make the book sound a little stodgy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Jacques gets the balance right between the personal and the political, ensuring every page is interesting and insightful.   

What makes Trans so compelling is how the author analyses her experiences through the prism of music, film, literature, history and the fractured reflection that popular culture mirrors back. Jacques’ critiques of the depiction of transgendered people in film is an especial eye opener.

There are plenty of other intriguing discussions of how gender is portrayed in music and film, from The Smiths to the films of Andy Warhol. Seeing the world through the eyes of a transgender woman is an eye-opening experience. Most disturbing is the constant barrage of verbal male abuse and men thinking they can rudely proposition you if you’re trans. There’s a horrible simmering violence that is directed towards the body of the trans woman.

Even though Jacques is a young writer, in her early thirties, her style is accomplished and mature. She has clearly spent many years immersing herself in a broad range of challenging literature (her first book, published in her twenties, was on the writer and Orwell contemporary, Rayner Heppenstall). While Trans may deal with the agonies of gender dysphoria, intellectually it is very assured.

A revelatory and original memoir that lets you see life from a trans woman’s perspective. It’s hard to believe that a book this unique will come along again any time soon.

Trans: A Memoir, by Juliet Jacques. Published by Verso. ISBN: 9781784784171  RRP: $29.99

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, featuring new releases, book reviews and favourite articles from around the web, click here.