Book review: First Year Out

Maggie Hulbert is a medical student in the Class of 2020 at Queen's University

 


(Singing Dragon, 2017)

Earlier this fall, over the course of a tense dinner table discussion, it came to light that a dear relative of mine held some blatantly transphobic beliefs. I was greatly distressed by this — not only because these beliefs were at complete odds with my own, but because I had no idea what to do. I felt that it was my responsibility to educate them and keep communication channels open... but having had little success with blunt confrontation, I was at a loss.

Then I read First Year Out: A Transition Story, the second graphic novel by Vancouver-based author . First Year Out describes the story of Lily in her first year as an openly trans woman, and covers everything in Lily’s life from the basics (such as how she gets dressed and her first experience with online dating) to the harder conversations (like confronting her mother about her TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminism] attitude and telling her boyfriend that she wants sexual reassignment surgery). Through the incredible medium of graphic story-telling, we get to literally see how Lily grows into herself. She begins the book with an elaborate makeup contouring routine that she tells her mother she needs to not see a “beard-stubbly, angular, man-face” in the mirror, and by the end she’s wearing her natural hair and a plain face. It is a story that is radical in its simplicity and serves the fundamental purpose of humanizing transgender folks. As a bonus, it’s an altogether quick read with fun illustrations.

It is precisely for these reasons that I plan to give this book to my relative for Christmas, and why I think it is a great introduction to the transgender experience for medical students. It is impossible to read First Year Out without feeling Lily’s bewilderment, confusion, and bravery with every step she takes towards womanhood. As well, it is impossible not to understand how important this must be for her. At every turn, she has to affirm her gender to a standard that many cis people would not be able to meet, and she risks her safety and her life for it. I believe that First Year Out will be able to reach my relative better than I would by showing, instead of telling, that trans lives are simply human lives.

First Year Out falls firmly into the “trans 101” category of books. Some would argue that now is the time for books pushing beyond the daily ins and outs of being trans, and they would not be wrong. However, it entirely meets its goal of providing an intimate and objective account of Lily’s life, and there are still far too few of those stories for transgendered women. For medical students, First Year Out can be the first step towards understanding what their trans patients have experienced. For my relative this Christmas, I sincerely hope it will be the beginning of a fruitful and thought-provoking discussion.

Time will tell.