Being by Zach Ellis (Instant Future, 2015) is transformative. It’s a memoir about change and identity. There’s a loose structure, layers that aren’t so much chronological as they are thematic, revolving around lines describing being transgender. They are heart-breaking, candid, and revelatory:
Being transgender is always wondering if your daughter will keep loving you once she understands you’re not like other dads.
Normalcy seems unimportant (putting aside the question, what is normal?), especially when I read Ellis’s guidelines for his daughter, part of a loving guidebook that acts as a compass for existence:
“There is no rush to be an adult. You only have one childhood. There will be plenty of time for schedules and anxiety. This is the time to be play with your toys. To be fascinated instead of embarrassed.”
“Love your body despite what the world might say. Your value has nothing to do with the shape or size of it. Value has to do with the heart and the mind, and kindness and love.”
It’s all the more poignant when we realize this is what he “desperately needed” his “mom and dad to tell” him when he “was growing up.” A truth anyone could empathize with.
Ellis’ descriptions are both psychological and hormonal, intertwined in a surgical fusing of the mind and body. Details on the physical level are also steps to a spiritual discovery. The rituals of change are painful, scarring, but at the same time liberating:
“it’s been six years since that first injection of testosterone and i feel pretty damn male. i talk with a lower voice. i’ve learned a bunch of different ways to grow facial hair. i’ve got a beer belly and i say ‘dude’ more than i mean to… these days, i find myself wondering about the penis i never had. even though i have come so far in my life and in my transition, i still feel not done.”
It’s an incredibly fast read (I finished in one sitting). My one gripe is that the PDF I received had 102 pages and the last 40 or so pages are blank. I had believed the memoir would be a lot longer, but it abruptly ended at the 65 page mark, shocking me, in large part, because of the final memory it finishes on. At the same time, it was oddly symbolic for me. The blank pages still need to be written. The memoir isn’t finished. The metamorphosis is still ongoing. We should salute Zach Ellis for this captivating memoir that is fearless, vulnerable, and bold. It’s a stark reminder; being is not been.
Special thanks to Entropy Book Reviews Editor Alex Kalamaroff for bringing this beautiful and powerful memoir to my attention.