Between The Covers

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, May 2019 Issue.

Nobody can tell you what to do.

To think otherwise is

tantamount to telling you what not to

do. No, you have your own mind, and you’ll make it up just fine by yourself. In

the new memoirSissy: A Coming-of-Gender

Story by Jacob Tobia, they can’t tell you who you are, either.

Many people who are

non-binary, says Tobia, equate coming to terms with gender as “a journey.”

Tobia considers theirs “more like an onion,” with layers of discovery “veiled

beneath a thin skin.”

Jacob Tobia; photo by Oriana Koren.

It started with Tobia’s

parents, both role models: their mother, who was a tomboy at heart; and their

father, who ignored stereotypical women’s work and instead, pitched in around

the house. The next layer consists of Tobia’s brother and kids in the

neighborhood who didn’t think twice about a child who play-fought in the mud

one minute and loved pink tutus and Barbies the next.

But then Tobia started

school, and the teasing began. They “went from being a person to being a sissy”

and shame accompanied the label. When it became apparent that the taunts would

be flung at them no matter what, Tobia considered suicide. Church was the only

place they “felt unequivocally and unconditionally loved.”

Things changed for the

better when puberty hit Tobia and their peers. Cis boys wanted desperately to

be with cis girls, which was something Tobia did effortlessly and it made them

“cool” even as it highlighted their differences from other adolescents. By the

end of high school, Tobia had chosen the word “gay” to describe themselves,

even though it wasn’t quite right.

They came out to a

church counselor. They came out to their gay best friend. Years later, they

came out to their parents as “gay.” It wasn’t until college, the acquisition of

several pairs of high heels, lipstick, and a sheltered sense of security that

Tobia realized that their work toward understanding had only

started. Maybe they were boy and girl

and

neither and both,

and not having to question that would be a battle they’d “have to do … all over

again.”

Sissy is a one-hundred-percent solid, smack-in-the-middle, okay kind of

book. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever read; it’s far, far from the worst.

After a considerable,

two-chapter throat-clearing, author Jacob Tobia promises hilarity then gets

down to business, about their life, their experiences as a gender nonconforming

person making their way through, and the gender-acceptance work to be done.

Yes, that may seem like

a familiar story, but there is uniqueness to be had here: Tobia’s memories of

their later adolescence and attendance at a prestigious Eastern college offer

something different in this genre, in freshness of voice. Also uncommon — their

willingness to admit regret for advice not taken.

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia c.2019, Putnam   
 $26.00 / $35.00 Canada   336 pages

Finally, yes, this book is amusing but outright

hilarity? Not so much: you’ll enjoy Sissy, but your gut is in no danger

of busting. Still, if memoirs are your thing and your TBR pile is short, you

know what to do.


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