Book Review: F2M: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, Ford Street Publishing, RRP AUD$19.95, ISBN 978-1-876462-90-1, Available now.
F2M is Finn’s story. Finn has finished school, plays in a punk band and happens to be transgender. Finn feels like a fella on the inside, but outside, she’s a girl and everyone knows her as Skye. The story revolves around the transition of Skye to Finn, from Female 2 Male. From page one, there’s a lot of proud and brave moments – from taking a stand on names and pronouns to major surgery.
I picked up F2M last night to read the first couple of pages, or maybe a chapter, just to see what it was about. I didn’t turn off the light until I had finished the book.
F2M read lightly and easily – it’s written for young adults and the text would be accessible to the younger end of the scale, without talking down to them. Edwards and Kennedy nicely capture the horrors of the mean girl at high school, and I liked that some traditionally touchy subjects were just casually woven into the text (for example: the lesbian best friend has a one night stand, I held my breath for ensuing drama, but nobody cares and nothing happened).
I did find it a little odd that all the teens had blogs and zines, but none of them had Facebook or Twitter. And that they were all into punk rock. I started F2M thinking punk rock went out with the ark, but it bought back memories of seeing a local band perform when I was a teen myself and of being invited to a lesbian-anarchist-feminist-punk festival in someone’s backyard one afternoon (good times were had by all). There is punk, I have just been ignoring it.
As I said, F2M is revolves around the punk scene – gigs and band practice and making demos. All of the punk characters identify as feminist when they’re not moshing. Which is great to see in a book for younger readers, but I found the coloration of feminism with punk (and lesbians and transgender for that matter) will confuse the heck out of the more vanilla kids I think F2M is largely aimed at. At first, I didn’t have a problem with it because it’s not unrealistic and lesbian/feminist/punks are fun to read about if nothing else, even if their numbers are overwhelmed by white bread ladies who want minor changes like, oh, equal pay . However, towards the end of the book. Finn:
arrived home from a hospital check up one day to find Marla had scissored my old frilly bra and burnt the sensible ones.
‘Reckon you’re still a feminist? Then burn your bra.’ She swivelled in my computer chair. I glared at her as I lay down on the bed.
‘That’s a stereotype, and now I have to buy more. I have to wear them for a few weeks yet. The outer skin has to fuse to the flesh below it -’
‘Ew, too much information!’
Without a little foreknowledge and irony, it’s too easy to walk away from that scene thinking feminists = no supportive undergarments. However, no book can deal with everyone’s prejudices in one hit and careful parents and librarians can prescribe a plethora of other books to fill any gaps. It’s been a while since I was in my high school library, and while there were plenty of books about Being A Lesbian Is Totally Okay If That’s Who You Are, and So It Turns Out That Most Feminists Wear Supportive Undergarments After All, F2M is the first book of its kind for teens I’ve seen.
Most adults would get a lot out of F2M as well. I’ve been following Juliet Jacques’ most excellent series in The Guardian, but F2M is careful to lay out a very clear path for cisgender (I think that’s the correct term for “normal folk”) to follow. Watch your pronouns. Don’t assume they’re abandoning the sisterhood. Transgender people need jobs and respect in the workplace too. I found myself taking mental notes. Having said that, I would have appreciated a glossary (is Finn transsexual or transgender?). F2M was also lacking a ‘more resources’ section, though anyone with an internet connection could find some fairly quickly. Co-author Ryan Kennedy went through a female-to-male transition himself, so probably everything that needs to be covered, is.
I’ve made Skye (or rather, Finn) out to be extreme with a capital X, but he’s really just a lovely and confused kid. He lives at home, as do all his friends. He has just got his driving licence, loves his family, worries that his brother won’t accept him even after his parents do and hangs out with his grandma.
There’s a lovely subplot about grandma and the search through family history for the intersex great aunt who was really a great uncle.
We learn that because there’s nothing new under the sun, older folks can be much more accepting that you might think.
F2M should be mandatory reading, not just for teenagers, but for everyone. Highly recommended.