Book review: Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey, by Jo Ivester

Ivester, Jo. Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey. She Writes Press. 2020. $16.95. 352 pgs. PB. 9781631528866

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey is the chronicle of one family’s experience with having a family member transition, written primarily from Jeremy Ivester’s video logs of his transition journey, with exposition and reflections given by his mother, father, and siblings, throughout the course of his life. It should be noted that the introduction explains the decision to use Jeremy’s dead name to refer to those periods of his life before he identified as male, which includes Jeremy’s consent to do so.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy is almost exactly what it purports to be, and also not quite. Most of the book is told from Jeremy’s perspective, with large sections written by his mother, the author, Jo Ivester. While she is articulate about her own perceptions, biases, and feelings throughout the process, we don’t get the same introspection or self-interrogation from Jeremy’s father or siblings, who have significant opportunities to give their points of view. It can be argued that the transition of one transgender person is absolutely their story to tell, and who cares what other people think? Absolutely. Except that this isn’t Jeremy’s memoir. It is purposefully described as a family memoir, and to that end, there isn’t as much family input as you might expect.

Jeremy’s journey is an important one, and one which is not as visible in the public conscious, because we have been exposed to stories of the trans experience which center on a narrative of always having known. This is not that story. This is not a child who insisted as soon as they were able that they belonged to another gender. This is a slow becoming, filled with uncertainty and compromise and self-reflection, with language and labels that evolve with identity, from tomboy to trans, and various iterations in between. Jeremy discovers who he is over time, with starts and stops along the way. He is neither dismissive of his own process, nor of the relationships he has had throughout his life, and that rawness and honesty is evident through the active voice narration taken from his video logs. The family also showcases the good work they are doing in and for the queer community, which they highlight without sounding like they’re making a pitch or that they’re exploiting their families’ experience, or Jeremy’s experience, for personal gain.

Although this book is an excellent journey for those who identify as queer, or have lived with uncertainty about their gender or sexuality, this book will land well with non-queer readers as well. I would recommend it to families who are living similar experiences, as this may validate their feelings and concerns while being informative and reassuring, with an ultimate focus on the experience of the trans, or questioning, person.

Nadia M Sahi


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