Well, I have never, until now, taken up pen (metaphorically) to comment on a bad review (even when they were extra venomous and got half the facts in the books wrong or sounded like they were written by orcs more than trolls) but I will have to make an exception in this case, because I feel these two are an appalling factual misrepresentation of Woman as a Foreign Language, and also an attack to my own identity and beliefs, as an author and a person.
I hardly know where to start. The style, I will not comment upon. It’s a matter of taste. If lyrical prose does not do it for you, you won’t like my books. Any of my books. Fair enough. POV changes, ditto. I had my reasons for my choices, but if it does not work for you, that’s ok. I knew I was risking a rebuke there when I chose to switch both tense and person, and took my chance. That's all ok.
But… almost everything else in this reviews is ... perplexing. Skip to the Epilogue, if it is all too much!
1) “Julia/n.” And, “S/he.” Yes. That is how Julia is referred to.” And “I’ll say, though, that the way Nina talked about Julia as if she were half male, half female, didn’t sit well with me at all.”
No! No, no, no. Julia is referred to as she and as a woman. Consistently. And Julian as he and as a man. There are exactly two small paragraphs in the whole book where s/he is used, when Julian’s female presentation is either incomplete or coming apart. And I do believe it would be truly difficult for an observer to decide which identity to address in that moment. S/he and Julia/n is also used once in the blurb to refer to both Julia and Julian (Julia/n) collectively. I could have used more PC pronouns perhaps. But the simple fact is that to most readers they convey nothing at all.
As for the half/male half/female comment, I find the attitude behind this comment righteous and disingenuous. Moving away from the binary stereotype means accepting that people may incorporate both female and male traits, both physically and psychologically. Julia is not a transsexual, as is obvious from the narrative, but rather more of a “TWO SPIRITS”.
2) Labels. Ditto. Yes I steered clear of labels, within the story. I didn’t say if Julia was transsexual or bigender or gender-fluid or non binary or… whatever. Why? Because to the average reader these labels mean nothing at all. The Trans-jargon has exploded totally out of sense or control (and I say that as a gender queer person myself) and I didn’t set out to write a documentary but a love story, large parts of which are autobiographical.
And I hate labels. People are not boxes. You don’t NEED labels in this story. It is obvious from the story itself that Julian is pretty comfortable both as a man and a woman and that he/she (yes, you do need a double pronoun, duh!) presents habitually as one or the other, and quite openly. Julian is simply a crossdresser that does not give a damn who knows any more.
Another reason why I didn’t pick labels is that the characters themselves would not use them. Julian does not need to define himself. He is himself (and herself too), period. Nina would not even know these labels exist. Get real: for most people (including not a few transgender people) these “labels” are a waste of language.
3) Racism in the book? Julia thinks (doesn’t say out loud) of Nina one or twice as Gipsy-ish and exotic. For Julia, both descriptors are obviously aesthetically positive. What sort or political correctness gone crazy is this? I am sorry if Romani people would take this as an insult, but neither Julian nor Nina are Romani and I’m sorry, I am probably ignorant, but I never thought of it as insult either. I am liberal and left-wing, but this is really a case where PC talk is overreaching common sense.
The Italian stereotype? ***I AM Italian***. I have lived and experience Italy, its close mindedness, its suffocating family dynamics on my own skin. Part of why I wrote this story was to vent all that (it was cathartic). Don’t tell me that these are stereotypes. This is unfortunately the reality. Of all families? No. Of many, and of mine in particular? Yes, certainly. As an author, I believe I have the right to describe my own experience, even if, gasp, it confirms what some perceive as stereotypes. Perhaps there’s a reason why the stereotype arose in the first place?
4) ““We’re Italian, the only man in a dress we’ve ever seen is the Pope.” She’s not joking to lighten the mood, guys. That is her genuine thought process.”
Which is humorous. Sorry you missed the irony. It is also a rather true fact. I am Italian and I have lived in Italy for more than 30 years. I had a large number of gay, lesbian and otherwise un-cis friends. Yet, I only consciously saw one crossdresser in all the time I lived there. I was utterly astounded by how more open and vibrant things were when I visited London and Toronto. It truly made me feel how backward and Catholic Italy still is (I have now lived abroad for almost a decade… I can’t say if things changed in the meantime).
5) “She gets mad that her idol for womanhood is a man—yes, also the way the book puts it.”
No! No!! I have absolutely no idea where the reviewer takes this from. Is Nina thrown and flabbergasted when Julia turns out to be … Julian? You bet. You would be too! Is she mad? Certainly not. Except perhaps at herself for being so impercipient. Minutes after this revelation she hands over to Julian the present she brought for Julia, with no fuss whatsoever.
***This particular point is an actual misrepresentation of the book’s plot, and I do resent it.***
6) “(Julia) split up with her ex, Linda, after Linda caught her in a dress. And immediately, we run into the first problem. Julia takes this all as her fault. She should have ‘warned’ Linda. She should have been more careful. It was her fault. Later, when she comes out to Nina, she does exactly the same thing. She apologises for coming out in the manner that she chose. No! No! This is not negotiable! However a trans person wants to come out, you respect that! Nobody needs to be warned that someone is transgender!”
This whole part of the book is based on many, many heartbreaking stories of crossdressers coming out to their spouses and partners I have read, and discussed, with real persons living in real relationships.
Do I believe you need to apologize for being transgender? Absolutely not. Do I think you must feel guilty about it? Absolutely not. But the reality of many crossdressers is that the sense of guild exists anyway. Not for being transgender, but for having kept a partner in the dark about some large part of their identity. Or for being unable to fulfill the gender roles they subscribed to (by convention, if not by explicit promise!) within an ordinary heterosexual relationship. Or for having handled the coming out in a way that was shocking and hurtful for the person they loved. This is a very real situation for many people. High flown rhetoric about what a people should feel like or do, does not change that. I’d love to live in a world where no crossdresser has any need to feel uneasy about their role in a relationship (or its failure). But that is simply not the real world, for now, sorry.
And, I am sorry, but any transgender person who believes they don’t owe any respect to the feelings and sensitivity of those around them is every bit as selfish as a cis person doing the same! Being transgender does not absolve your from treating your partner with care and respect, from trying your best not to hurt them. Many married crossdressers I know are profoundly aware of this and considerably cut up by the pain they inflict on their partners if their partners are not fully onboard with their trans indentity. I am not saying if this situation is bad or good, right or wrong. I just described it as it is.
“This (need to apologize) should have been negated. Hard. Repeatedly. And it wasn’t.”
No, I chose not to embark into this rhetoric. I simply left it to Nina to say, “Whatever you chose to be it’s perfect for me.” And “I like you just the way you are.”
I don’t think the story needs anything else. ***This is not a social manifesto***. It’ a love story between two people.
“Can we please start getting some trans characters who don’t feel the need to apologise every ten seconds for who they are?”
We can. Write them yourself! But please, note that Julia is never made to apologize for what she is. She just feels she might have been more considerate in the way she communicated it. Which is a legitimate (and realistic) feeling.
7) “(Julia) takes one look at Nina and immediately ‘girlfriend projects’ her. This is when you start a relationship with someone with the aim of changing them. In this case, making Nina more feminine. Grow her hair out. Use make-up. Dress better. None of it is fuelled by Nina asking for it or saying she’d like to try it, all of it comes—without prompt—from Julia deciding she’d be better pretty.” And “We also see Julia thinking, more than a few times, how pretty Nina would be dressed up and wearing make-up. Because of course girls are only pretty if they’re wearing dresses and eye shadow – cue to me rolling my eyes in the background.”
This is the other point where I wonder what the reviewers are on about… Nina’s whole being is blatantly yearning to express her feminine side. Or at least try it out. She just doesn’t know how to do it (something I experienced on my own skin), and also she needs a safe space where to do this (something I wish someone had given to me). Julia provides that. How is that “shitty”?. Nina starts out being stuck into a sort of accidental gender limbo. And ends up as a complete tomboy, a tomboy by choice rather than accident, and a tomboy that Julia finds profoundly beautiful. Julia is not changing Nina. She’s helping Nina to come out of a shell.
Again, I am sorry, but this review is completely falsifying the plot of the story.
“To the extreme of saying a man’s job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, why hasn’t she pushed herself to do something better than welding, and she’d look much better with a bit of make-up and a blouse instead of her working overalls. Julia is a sexist, classist, intellectual snob, never changes, and thoroughly gets her own way about it.” And “Can we do away with the idea that there are jobs for men and jobs for women once and for all? Oh, and about the job, we get Julia thinking that manual labor is not a great career achievement”,
Julia never changes? Excuse me? Julia thoroughly reevaluates Nina’s choice of profession and simply tries to encourage her to express her creative side… And yes, for a man that often prefers to be a woman, it is quite natural to think that “a man’s job is not all that is cracked up to be.”
Nina is a completely autobiographical character, and I can assure you, being a welder, is not a great career achievement, despite being a beautiful job at times. I was a metal worker for 10 years. I loved my job. But the reality of it is that I was grossly underpaid, that I was often treated quite badly, and that the sheer physical fatigue and unhealthy working conditions almost killed me. The reality is that 80% of the time I was too tired to do anything. To live. To create and to think clearly. I am happy to have moved on to a more healthy and creative life! As someone who actually always did manual jobs (still do) I actually know both the attractions of them and their flip side.
And how often have you been in steel manufacturing and processing factories and workshops? Try it, and let me know how many women you see. Again, it may not be PC to say man-job, woman-job. But it’s how the real world is, in large parts.
8) “And the way Nina outs Julia to her family when they accuse her of being a lesbian made me see red.” And “but outing Julia in the process—to Julia’s neighbours, so people very, very capable of causing harm with that knowledge!—was disgusting.”
Once again, I think something went lost here. One, that Julia herself said, tell your mom the truth. It might or might not have been in jest, but it hardly matters because... Two, Julian is at this point of his life, quite openly crossdressing. He comes and goes from her flat both in drab and en femme all the time. As is obvious if you actually do read the story. Only somebody as blind and house-bound as Nina’s mother and her accomplice could have missed it (and Nina, herself, of course, who, because of her working hours had never physically seen Julian before). Other neighbors are already aware of it!
And even ***if*** Nina made a mistake, in the state of turmoil she is? Fictional character are supposed to be perfect now? Again this book is not a manifesto. It's not a manual on how to handle a relationship with a transgender person. It’s a love story between imperefect, fallible people, who might occasionally do stupid things.
9) “And finally, if this was supposed to be a romance, I just didn’t buy it. They exchange “I love you-s” after three dates”
Yes. That’s why it’s called Romance.
“And please, for the love of whatever it is you believe in: condoms are a thing!”
Yes. I never said Julian didn’t wear one. I just didn’t mention it. The same way I choose not to mention in erotic scenes when someone farts or when a mess comes out of your ass when you extract a butt-plug (yeah, it happens!). It’s just unsexy to describe it. This is listed as erotic-romance. All my readers are 18 ys plus, and I don’t feel the need to educate them about safe sex. I have more respect for them than that.
“And someone that has never given a blowjob in her life swallows a cock in one go, and then swallows and doesn’t gag – not even a little?” Never said she swallowed a cock. Just that she sucked it deep. As for the swallowing, jeez, I didn’t gag the first time. Or ever. Although once I kinda breathed it up my nose (no idea how that happened) and sneezed and coughed for 15 minutes straight. It was very embarrassing and my partner thought I might die! If you'd like to read about it a will put it in a book.
“Basically this book is a mess of sexism, transphobia and ignorance.”
Ignorance? Very possible. There’s tons of stuff I don’t understand at all. I try to learn, and sometimes fail.
Transphobia? Certainly not. As I said elsewhere at length Nina is a fully autobiographical character, and her brand of gender queerness (which is extremely hard to label, don’t I know) is something I know first-hand. Julia/n is the most profoundly beloved character I ever wrote. I am immensely sorry if I failed to convey that love to you. I wrote this book as a genuine love-song to gender-fluid people (rather than outright transsexuals, whom I deeply respect, but simply interest me less, narratively, as a storyteller).
I do not believe in gilding lilies. I don’t think trans people (me included) are special snowflakes absolved by political correctness from all evils. Neither do I believe in righteous purism and poses (the hissy fits about pronouns for examples). I believe, profoundly, that this kind of high flown discourse is more damaging to the trans cause that anything else. I do believe also, that a more quiet, sympathetic form of address (on both sides of the left-right, trans-cis, call it what you like) would improve the dialogue immensely, and cause less of a backlash (a sometimes—dare I say it—understandable, if regrettable, backlash) from conservative circles. Less political posturing, more empathy.
Sexism? Certainly not. A disenchanted perspective on what are still, in a very real way the accepted gender roles in which many people are still stuck (or comfortably ensconced, why not, because being cis-gender--what a stupid word--is not a crime, any more than being transgender), that yes.