Being Emily

The first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective!Being Emily cover

Winner 2013 Golden Crown Literary Award in Dramatic / General Fiction.
Winner 2013 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award in Young Adult Fiction – Mature Issues.
Finalist 2013 Lambda Literary Award

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From the back jacket:

They say that whoever you are it’s okay, you were born that way. Those words don’t comfort Emily, because she was born Christopher and her insides know that her outsides are all wrong.

They say that it gets better, be who are you and it’ll be fine. For Emily, telling her parents who she really is means a therapist who insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick. Telling her girlfriend means lectures about how God doesn’t make that kind of mistake.

Emily desperately wants high school in her small Minnesota town to get better. She wants to be the woman she knows is inside, but it’s not until a substitute therapist and a girl named Natalie come into her life that she believes she has a chance of actually Being Emily.

A story for anyone who has ever felt that the inside and outside don’t match and no one else will understand…

Praise for Being Emily:

“Being Emily is a wonderful, valuable and very contemporary book that I believe will change minds and save lives. I was very much affected by the story, which feels piercingly real in all its details.” – Katherine V. Forrest, author, editor-at-large for Bella Books and supervising editor at Spinsters Ink.

Powerful and empowering, with an optimistic message that we all need more of in our lives. I’m thrilled to see this book is out in the world.” – Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw and A Queer and Pleasant Danger

“… it’s a wonderful read for any teen (or anyone else) dealing with gender issues or the question of non-conformity … [Gold] does a fabulous job of explaining what it means to know in your heart that something’s not right, that the body you were born with doesn’t match the true person inside.” — Ellen Krug, Lavender Magazine

“It’s rare to read a novel that’s involving, tender, thought-provoking and informative. Rachel Gold does all this in ‘Being Emily.'” – Twin Cities Pioneer Press

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Read Being Emily – Chapter One:

The noise of the alarm cut through the peaceful darkness of sleep like wind heralding a winter storm. I reached over to smack the snooze button and hit the bedside table. I’d been up half the night so I had moved the alarm to my dresser to prevent snooze abuse. Once I lurched across the room to stop the grating sound, I was upright and might as well shower and get it over with.

I refused to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. During the first foggy minutes of morning I could pretend I was still the person I’d seen blurrily during the late, dark hours when I was alone and safe. I wanted to be myself for a little while longer.

Under the hot stream of water I kept my eyes closed. It felt like I was washing someone else’s body. Even after sixteen years I still had moments where I couldn’t understand how I got here or how such a mistake could be made. I knew what I was, and this tall, angular body was not that.

As I scrubbed, I flip-flopped on my decision to talk to my best friend and sort of girlfriend. “Sort of ” because Claire was dating the version of me that didn’t really exist. I would spend the whole day going back and forth with that in my head, I could already tell that much. I liked her enough that I felt bad about deceiving her, maybe more than anyone else, and I guess that’s one reason why I decided to tell her first. I had tried to tell two other friends in earlier years, but that hadn’t gone so well. One stopped talking to me and the other laughed so hard I confirmed to him I’d been kidding. Maybe I should have stopped trying to tell anyone, but the truth welled up in me so thickly I knew I couldn’t hold it back much longer.

Like every other morning that winter, it was still dark outside when I woke up and the window was just turning light when I got out of the shower. I had to confront the dozens of outfits that I could wear but didn’t want to. Worn down by years of dressing up as a boy, I’d pared my clothing options down to one of three basic outfits: jeans and T-shirt, jeans and sweater, jeans and button-down shirt (for days when I was supposed to look dressy).

That morning I stood in front of my closet wondering what you wear to tell your girlfriend that the boy she’s dating is really a girl inside. Grandma Emhad sent me a cashmere sweater two Christmases ago that I hoped would give me some measure of courage. It was so soft and I loved the feel of it, even if the olive color wasn’t one I’d pick for myself; it made my skin look gray. I put it on, ran my fingers through my hair and went down to get some cereal.

Dad was on his way out the door and he leaned against the wall to pull on his massive, thickly-lined boots. “Lookin’ good, Chris,” he said. “Swim meet?”

“Last of the season,” I told him. “Claire’s coming.”

His eyes were unreadable. He wasn’t sure if he liked her or not, but I think he was glad I had a girlfriend this year. He nodded, waved and slipped out into the snow.

In our house, the kitchen is to the left of the front door when you’re coming in, and to the right is the living room, which turns into a den at the back of the house. The kitchen opens into an eating nook, just big enough for a table of four. The house used to be a three-bedroom until dad and his buddies built the addition over the garage that’s my bedroom so he and Mom could have one bedroom for paperwork and crafts. On my way to the kitchen table I grabbed milk and cereal and mumbled a “good morning” to Mom, who was busy assembling sandwiches.

At the table, I poured milk into a bowl and then dumped a few cups of Cheerios on top. I don’t know why people pour milk over cereal, it makes it get soggy so much more quickly than if you put the milk on the bottom first. Mom finished making our lunches and set the two bags on the table just as my nine-year-old brother, Mikey, blew into the room. His hair was going all sorts of directions, which he seemed oblivious to as he grabbed a bowl, snatched the milk from in front of me, and poured it over his heap of cereal until the whole mass threatened to spill over the side.

Mom tried to fix his hair while he was eating and managed to get the worst bits to lie down. “I’ll probably be working late today,” she told us. “But your dad will be home.”

“I’m going to Claire’s after the meet,” I said.

“Dad’s not cooking…is he?” Mikey asked.

Mom smiled. “No, there’s lasagna in the fridge. Chris, what time are you coming home?”

“Eightish,” I said.

“You make sure you get your homework done, okay? I don’t want you playing computer games all night or whatever it is that takes up all your time.”


“Is Claire’s mother going to be there?” she asked.

Claire is the only child of a divorced mother, which worries my parents for reasons I could not begin to imagine. I think they assume that Claire and I spend every spare moment we’re alone at her house having sex and smoking pot while selling illegal weapons to Middle Eastern terrorists via the Internet.

“Yeah,” I told her, though it was a lie. Claire’s mom usually got home around six or seven at night. “She gets home around five.” When I said it, my stomach tightened. So much of my life was a lie, I hated to add to that pile of deception.

I looked pointedly at the clock on the microwave. “Gotta run.” I grabbed the lunch bag and stuffed it in my backpack, kissed Mom’s cheek, and made for the front entryway.

Winter in Minnesota is its own creature. Like a wild animal, you have to treat it with respect, which includes wearing a down coat and huge boots from November through March. I toed the line on those items because I refused to wear a hat if the temperature was above zero Fahrenheit. With a little bit of gel, my hair naturally curled into loose brown waves, which I loved. Thanks to the popularity of Orlando Bloom and all of the long hairstyles in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I’d persuaded Dad that it was okay for me to keep it a couple inches long and for it to touch my collar in the back. A hat inevitably crushed the cute little curls, and so the hat spent most of winter on the closet shelf.

I looped a scarf around my neck twice and tucked the ends down into my jacket. Then I threw my backpack over my right shoulder and pushed out into the wind.

February is bleak the whole month. The days are short and cold, the nights are long and frigid, the snow is feet deep and the wind has a razor’s edge. I’d turned sixteen last spring and Dad insisted on getting me a car. His passion in life is restoring classic cars. He offered me a Mustang, which I managed to dodge by pointing out a ’56 Chrysler 300B in bad shape that we could restore together. Granted I had to spend the summer working on a car with my dad while he called me “son” every five minutes, but on the bright side, I got to drive a tri-toned, candy apple red, chromed-out car that looked classy, rather than the dirt-ball Mustang I-watch-pro-wrestling-mobile.

The car definitely helped my reputation around school as a cool kid, and Claire reminded me weekly how lucky I was. I was a good-sized kid for my age, a little above average for the guys in my class and much too above average for the girls, while Claire described herself as “a runt.” She’s 5’4” and skinny. I tried to tell her that if she’d just stop dyeing her hair goth-black, she might have better social standing, but she just accused me of not understanding girls. Girls, she explained, are mean. If it wasn’t her hair that stood out, the rest of the girls would find another reason to pick on her.

“I’m just an outcast,” she said. “They’re like wolves; they can smell it on me.”

My car was an ice block when I started it, and I sat in the driveway for about five minutes, freezing my butt off while it warmed up. I could have gone back in the house, but Mom would try to have a conversation with me about school or Claire. She and Mikey would be out in a few minutes so she could drop him at the elementary school on her way to work; she’s the secretary for a financial planning office. Most days she works from nine to three, but once or twice a week they keep her later.

When the car was warm enough, I pulled out of the driveway and pointed it toward school. Like a well-trained horse, it knew the way and drove itself while I listened to the radio. In Liberty we get four stations, two from the Cities and two Christian stations. That meant my choices were “Top 50” and “Hip Hop/Dance.” I chose the latter.

Liberty-Mayer High School served parts of three counties west of the Twin Cities and had about five hundred students in a long, low, tan brick building. Being in Minnesota we had about twelve students of color and the classes were, for the most part, equally colorless. I pulled into the student lot and slogged across three hundred feet of trampled snow to get to the front doors. A blast of hot air hit and made me peel off the scarf as I headed for my locker.

A couple of the guys on the swim team shouted greetings and I yelled back with the automated voice program that takes over as soon as I get to school. I hardly have to think about it anymore. My larynx is programmed with all the appropriate responses, and I don’t even pay attention. It’s like I wrote all the code years ago and now my brain just reads it:

/run: greet teammate

  1. speak: “Hey man, how’s it going?”
  2. jokeabout: a) sports, b) cars, c) weather, d) class
  3. makeinarticulate sound of agreement
  4. runline 2 again
  5. makegesture: a) grin, b) shrug, c) playful hit
  6. repeat3–5 until bell rings

My mornings are drab. I start with science, a scheduling glitch that is an offense against all night owls, and then go to American history. Between history and study hall, I usually pass Claire in the hall and she tucks a note into my pocket.

That day the note said: “Hey boo, are we on after the meet? Mom’s working late. I’ll see you after school.” It was just a small piece of notebook paper, but my heart started racing again.

Sitting in the library for my study hall, I tried to concentrate on schoolwork, but I really wanted to figure out how the hell I was going to talk to Claire. I had plenty of “friends” from the guys on swim team to various kids I had class with, but Claire was the only person I felt excited to see on a regular basis. With the other kids it was just too hard to keep up the pretense of being Chris all the time. My life could be worse, and if I lost my relationship with Claire, it would be. I didn’t know how much worse I could handle, but if I didn’t talk to someone soon there wouldn’t be any of me left at all.

Claire breezily described herself as bisexual and she was the weirdest person other than me that I knew, but at times I thought the bi thing was just her attempt to be unique. She’d never had a relationship with a girl…well, other than me, but I didn’t really count because I looked like a boy to everyone.

I stared at the distant sky outside the gray library window. What was the worst that could happen? She could dump me and tell everyone at school and my parents. Then I’d either have to lie and say I made it all up as a joke, or run away. Or I could kill myself. I know that’s a really morbid thought to have, but somehow it always comforted me. If it didn’t work out, I could just opt out. Knowing there was a way out of even the worst situation made it possible for me to have a lot more courage. I didn’t want to die, but I certainly didn’t want to go around pretending all the time for the rest of my life either.

There was no way I could use the library computers to look up anything to help me come out. I’m sure the school monitored our computer use, and some other kid would probably walk by. All I needed was for one of the swim team guys to see COMING OUT AS TRANSSEXUAL in huge letters over my shoulder.

I opened my math book and made my eyes focus on the hardest problems I could find. That distracted me until the bell, and then math class itself kept me occupied until lunch. Unfortunately, Claire pulled fourth period lunch this year, so I usually sat with the swim guys or did homework at the table.

After lunch I felt pretty tired and I was trying to figure out if I could sleep through my sixth-period psych elective. The teacher was cool, but we’d been talking about schizophrenia for most of the week and I was over it. I leaned back in my chair and was preparing for an eyes-open doze when Mr. Cooper wrote two alarming words on the board: “Sex” and “Gender.”

“Can anyone tell me the difference between these two?” he asked.

Mr. Cooper was a tall man with messy red-brown hair that my Dad would call much too long, even though it only covered his ears and the back of his neck. He had that super pale Irish coloring and a case of ruddy windburn on his cheeks, so I couldn’t tell if this subject was making him blush as much as it made me. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, which made his small gut stand out, and he shifted his weight from left to right and back again, but his eyes swept over the class calmly.

I could answer his question, but no way was I opening my mouth. A football kid in the front row volunteered, “Sex is what you do, gender is who you’re doing it with.”

Laughter all around.

Jessica, the blond girl who sat next to me and I think had a crush on me, rolled her eyes. “What a jerk,” she whispered.

“For the next two weeks we’re going to look at different aspects of sex and gender,” Mr. Cooper said. “I’m going to hand out permission slips you need to fill out in case any of your parents don’t want you to hear about sex, as if that will stop you. We will be talking about normal and abnormal sexuality, and we’ll have someone coming from the Gay and Lesbian Action Center.”

I thought about putting my head down on my desk and crying, but then that would probably give me away as being the wrong gender. I pushed the permission slip into the front of my psych book. I’d forge the signature in study hall tomorrow. That was one conversation I didn’t want to encourage with my folks.

Mr. Cooper spent the rest of the hour explaining how sex often referred to a person’s physiological characteristics, while gender pointed to the psychological, cultural and learned aspects. I could have taught the class. Instead I sat very still and felt like someone wrapped one hand around my heart and with the other hand crushed my throat.

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