After completing undergrad, getting a master’s degree and falling explicitly out of love with academia, I never really wanted to write anything about a book ever again. Then, I found Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story. Jacob Tobia has become one of the more visible non-binary folks on the scene these days, and after their appearance on The Daily Show, a couple of memes, and one random video from Them, I was happy to hit the follow button and order the book.
I expected to feel some sense of camaraderie, but what I got is a big fat scoop of my own internalized femme-phobia. I saw myself in literally every chapter. Yes, literally. I expected to share childhood awkwardness and experiences of bullying. I grinned that we both are southerners that went to fancy universities, but somewhere between sharing a love of mint chocolate-chip ice cream, governor’s school, straight A’s, theater, buying heels in high school, and that they too had a power queer best friend that lived across the hall named Patrick, it stopped being cute, and I started hating this bitch for stealing my life and publishing it first. Kidding. Kind of.
Tobia talks regularly about their own journey of self-discovery, away from self-hatred, but the thing is: I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself reflected so clearly in a book. I was driven to write about Sissy not because I was so happy to see myself reflected in print but because looking at that glossy, pink, glittery book jacket, I can still find the jaded, angry, self-hating part of myself that cringes at the sight of myself reflected in another femme.
I pay plenty of lip service to the importance of queer representation, but it took the visceral, bitchy reaction to someone reflecting many of my own experiences for me to realize that unlearning patriarchal self-hatred is a constant effort.
I’m a cis-passing, white, privileged person with a stable salary and an altogether pleasant life. I constantly tell myself that I never really struggled. I push myself to be a care-giver because I feel obliged to share the benefits my stability and privilege afford me.
It wasn’t until I read Sissy that I ever really reflected on any part of my youth as traumatic. Seeing the word trauma attached to experiences Tobia and I shared, I heard the surprising voice saying “Oh, that’s not so bad,” “Why are you complaining about that?” “Is that really trauma?” Telling myself to be kinder to someone else forced me to realize how unkind and unfair I have been to myself.
There were plenty of times I put this book down, when I had to walk away from it, but I always came back. I opened my computer and wrote my first 500 words about a book since 2016 because I need to. Everyone needs to know about this book. My parents need to read this book, so I can take another shot at the pronoun talk.
Still, I don’t often use this word because I know it has real meaning for people with serious trauma. Sissy triggered me.
I haven’t ever reckoned with my relationship to church. My family has some aggressive Christians. As soon as I had the choice, I kept as far away as I could from Christianity. When Tobia discusses their faith in the early chapters, I freaked. I popped the book shut and promptly left my apartment to the quickest sex date I could arrange. It was clear that God was speaking through this book, that “the Lord” was giving me an opportunity to finally join “the Church” and “get saved.” This book could be the final push to lead me to religion. Or it could be that I was sort of traumatized by religion when I was young, and I never had to face that history surrounded by my queer-community bubble.
That’s the thing about having representation I’m only just now realizing. Until you actually get it, you never realize how much you were denying yourself, how much serious trauma you accept as mundane.
I want to say I love this book because I feel like that’s what you say about books that strongly affect you. “It’s so good. I love it.” If I’ve learned anything living outside the US, it’s that Americans “love” too much.
I needed this book. Jacob (I hope it’s cool I use your first name. Mx. Tobia ‘cause I’m nasty?), if you ever read this review, thank you. From the core of my thick-skinned, well-managed heart, thank you.
PS: If you’re ever in Berlin, drop me a line.
Peach Blaus is a sex positive performer and creative that loves long walks, intimate kink, body odor, poetry, open communication, camp, flamboyance, and fisting. She is from Atlanta, but currently lives in Berlin, Germany.