Friday, December 27, 2013

FINGERLESS is about a surprisingly normal transgender protagonist

FINGERLESS, a novel by Ian Donnell Arbuckle (Pelekinesis Press, January 12). is unlike many stories about transgender protagonists in that Lita’s life, in the small town in which she grew up, is surprisingly normal. Some distance from Spokane, where family values do count, along with civic virtues, Lita has a steady job transcribing medical reports. In fact, when she takes vacation time to officially come out as a female, her boss and co-workers are mostly supportive. At the worst, there's raised eyebrows that first week she’s back but people don’t want to be obvious. Lita’s highschool sweetheart, Shasta, comes to lunch with their 3-year old daughter, Jilly, and she could not be more supportive. Still, Lita’s introduced as Aunt Lita, as per their agreement to give her a normal life. Most amazing is that Lita’s father, who’s missing some fingers, obviously loves and respects her no matter what her gender! 

Lita’s world is in tumult over this normalcy, which is in contrast to the reality she’s facing as a transgender person—the emotional swings of the drugs, guilt and pain over letting down Shasta and Lita’s religious mother. But Lita is an admirable character. Like her father, whose job is to deal with emergencies, Lita steps up to crisis and there a few in this book. When Jilly goes missing in a snow storm, she looks funtil the girl is found, and takes Shasta’s anger at Lita’s acting like a father but not being one. Shasta and Lita had been a couple and though she knows she’s always been female in her identity, Jilly changes everything.

Curiously, when a guy who always had a crush on Lita, declares he came out, she rebuffs him that she’s a “lesbian” into women.  Yet being a transgender woman dooms her relationship with Shasta. And, as much as Lita identifies with women, she deals with a melt-down with Jilly on a car trip, as a man would, taking soiled clothes off, hosing her down, diapering and putting her back in her seat. It is a very funny trip, as he reverts to male mode, dealing with his wild toddler. At the same time, he’s traveling to Spokane, where his brother had been badly burned in a gang incident. Later, when a black-out caused by snowstorms imperils her town, she again steps up to help. Though upset her drugs won’t make it because of the interrupted mail, she lives without heat and light in her own place, but works with his father.

Despite emergencies and the pull of family, Lita is compelled to continue her painful course of changing her body to fit her sexual identity. And in that conundrum, lies the novel’s emotional core. Her mother has a hard time accepting that Lita cannot be a father and husband. And this reality is painful to Lita, who loves Shasta and Jilly. His pain is also because he’s in process, the change in gender is not a reality. In the surprising resolution of Lita’s conflict, initiated by her mother, you believe Lita will finally have an identity she can live with, inside and out. And, I wanted that for this person. A satisfying read.