If I Was Your Girl

IMG_0136Today, she’s reading Miss Maple’s Seeds but one day she’ll pick up If I Was Your Girl. And she’ll feel more choice and empathy for having done so.

Forthcoming from Macmillan in May, Meredith Russo‘s debut novel follows a heroine who must leave home to find a home, and who must discover her own strength because there’s really no one else who can save her. Russo’s right on target: because this is the stuff of young adulthood, this is the stuff of young adult literature.

But Russo aims beyond the usual fare in that her heroine transitions from Andrew to Amanda. Russo’s book boasts several firsts: it’s the first young adult novel from a major publisher that features a transgender heroine, and the first young adult novel from a major publisher that’s written by a transgender woman. Even the book cover’s model is a first: Kira Conley is Women/360 Management’s first transgender model.

Because YA lit is wildly popular amongst teens and adults alike, and the trans community is relatively small, it’s unlikely that most of Russo’s readers will identify with Amanda’s gender identity and expression. But if cisgender or “straight” – or gay or lesbian or genderqueer – readers find Amanda or her story in any way familiar, then this book might help us all better understand each other and ourselves, too.

In a cultural moment that too often encourages us to focus on ourselves and compete with one another – for grades, jobs, possessions, physique, status – it’s important to pause to look to others and listen to their stories. Because the straight and narrow can be just that: limiting. Without detours, a trajectory is just a line, one that often lends itself to narrow mindedness well before its end.

Who aims for the life of a line segment? If we’ve learned anything from Socrates, it’s that the good life is to be found in distractions.

Without an iconic philosopher wandering about with us in truth-seeking conversation, we’re left to ourselves to seek out ideas and each other. This means enjoying our friendships and familiarities, but also opening ourselves to others and others’ choices, and to the philosophic Other.

Because a little informed empathy goes a long way, y’all.

Or perhaps Rilke puts it better: “once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other against the whole sky.”

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