Words

Gender Bending

This is how it always is

Get It

More:

HOW: To place a hold on a library copy of the book or eBook version of This Is How It Always Is, visit http://www.wcls.org (or www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org if you live within Bellingham city limits).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Parenting these days is a challenge, with friendships and homework assignments, soccer carpools, birthday parties, social media, college applications and more clamoring for families’ attention. Even loving, well-adjusted, income-stable parents struggle.

So imagine what it would be like to have a child, from an early age, identify as transgendered.

Assuming no religious objections or fundamental inability to accept the child’s perception of their gender identity, what is the best way to support the child? In This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, herself the mother of a daughter who was born a son, crafts a sensitive, realistic (yet fictional) take on one family’s approach. 

At its heart: do parents’ attempts to shield their children from all negative experiences actually do their children a disservice? Is the real lesson that life is hard, and wonderful, and confusing, and that being honest about being one’s authentic self is the path to real happiness?

Rosie and Penn Walsh-Adams love being parents to a boisterous family of boys. Rosie’s an ER doc and Penn’s a writer, forever laboring over his “DN” (short for Damn Novel) while tending to his five children. When their youngest, Claude, declares at age three that he wants to be a girl, Rosie and Penn are at first confused, then supportive. 

They agree to let him wear dresses to kindergarten, even when a nervous teacher attempts to restrict him from wearing jewelry and carrying a purse. That first school year, Rosie and Penn’s primary concern is “What would make Claude happy?” But, as Frankel points out, “Happy is harder than it sounds.”

Amazingly, Claude’s classmates hardly skip a beat when he shows up at school as a night fairy, dressed in a skirt and fairy wings made out of gauze. It’s the school district that has issues, particularly with restroom assignment, insisting that Claude must choose one gender and stick to it. Over time, these issues resolve, and Claude becomes Poppy, a joyful, bright student with budding friendships.

Then a disastrous playdate pops their little bubble: a bigoted father accuses Poppy of being gay and threatens him with a gun. Suddenly, the Walsh-Adams’ liberal Madison, Wisconsin hometown does not seem safe. Rosie accepts a job in Seattle, and the family restarts, only this time they have four sons and one daughter, Poppy. 

What at first seems helpful and protective for Poppy and the rest of the family grows in time to be a terrible secret that each in his own way struggles to defend. When a mean-spirited classmate “outs” Poppy, Rosie again tries to shield her child, bringing a desperately unhappy Poppy along with her to Thailand when she volunteers in a medical clinic in a remote village.

Scenes from their experience in Thailand are some of the most interesting of the novel—not only the sights, smells and sounds of the exotic country, but the Thai people’s acceptance of gender fluidity and their Buddhist philosophy of “middle way.” It’s in Thailand that Rosie and Poppy come to perceive a path forward, one that husband Penn also arrives at on his own back at home.

Fairytales figure prominently in this novel, and the hopeful ending has a storybook quality to it.  The result is a discussion of gender identify that is refreshing and positive. Mostly, it’s a gentle, relatable way for readers to think about gender identity in a nonthreatening manner.

Christine Perkins is the Executive Director of the Whatcom County Library System.

BoS
More Words...
Full Deck
Books that suit you

It can be challenging to find your next great read, but the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS) has stacked the deck in your favor. To celebrate our 75th anniversary and our love of sharing stories, we’ve created a full deck of reading recommendations, one for each week of 2019. 

These…

more »
Deep Creek
A love letter to home

Pam Houston was 31 years old when her first book, a collection of short stories titled Cowboys are My Weakness (1992), was published to some acclaim, earning her a check for $21,000—a lot of money for someone who was living in a tent and could fit all her belongings in her Toyota…

more »
Fiction 101
Our readers write

“Flash fiction has to bring a whole story into a moment,” creative writing instructor and author Kathryn Trueblood says.

This statement was solidified for her last week, when we culled approximately 20 selections from the more than 100 wildly creative submissions of 101 words that came…

more »
Events
Today
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Dig Into Spring

6:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Avian Research

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Poetry Trio

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books and Brews

7:00pm|Village Books

Bos2
Tomorrow
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

12:00pm

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Nonprofit Brown Bag

11:30am|St. Luke's Health Education Center

Hidden in Plain Sight

4:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

Dahlias Discussion

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Fellowship of Fire

6:30pm|Everson Library

Art Talk with Wade Marlow

7:00pm|Dakota Gallery

Jared Hall Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Foghorn Stringband

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

The Hunts Village Books
Thursday
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Smart Business Summit

12:00pm|Pioneer Park Pavilion

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Exploring Equity

2:00pm|Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Walk on the Wild Side Series

5:30pm|Firehouse Arts & Events Center

Monthly Wine Tasting

5:30pm|Old World Deli

Time Capsule Reception

6:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Incognito

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Check out WA Discover Pass Backpack Program

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

House Concert with Carolyn Cruso

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Dyo Festival Finale

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books The Hunts Bos2