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.”
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
neither and both,
and not having to question that would be a battle they’d “have to do … all over
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.
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.