August 21st, 2016 by Karen
Have you ever felt out of place? Like no one understands you? Like you can never truly be yourself? Hopefully, you only feel this way every once in a while. Imagine if you felt like this all the time — at school, at home, even going to the bathroom. Imagine hiding your true self from everyone, including your family and your best friend, because you’re afraid they won’t love and accept the real you. Well, that’s George’s life.
In George by Alex Gino, the main character is transgender. She knows in her heart, without question, that she is a girl — even though she was born with a boy’s body. But she hides it from everyone else. (In case you were wondering, in the book George is always referred to as a “she,” not a “he,” so that’s what I am doing here too.)
The main action in the book revolves around the school play: a production of Charlotte’s Web. The boys can try out to play Wilbur, and the girls can try out to play Charlotte — but George desperately wants to be Charlotte. She identifies with the character so much that she ends up crying in class as they read the book, which unfortunately doesn’t help the bullying she already endures every day from two of her classmates. Luckily, George has her best friend, Kelly, who always sticks up for her and in this case, encourages her to try out for the role of Charlotte even though it’s against the rules. Could this act of bravery, this glimmer of hope, be the start of a new life where George can finally be herself?
As you can imagine, going through life this way is really tough for George. But here’s the thing: When you read this book, you don’t have to imagine. You’re inside George’s head. You can read about her deepest thoughts, you experience her anxieties and fears, you’re with her for every moment of panic and doubt. George has some good times, of course, but they are few and far between compared to her general unhappiness. And that, for me, was the biggest impact of this book:
I would definitely expect the life of a transgender person to be difficult. I wish it weren’t the case, but this world we live in today makes it hard for them; I would never say otherwise. But now I realize that until reading George, I didn’t think about how a transgender person’s pain could seep into every part of their life, filling even tiny moments. I guess I thought transgender people face one big challenge, but now I realize they face a series of challenges, or maybe an interconnected web. Fortunately, George can always count on Kelly for support—plus the beginnings of an unexpected network of allies. Hopefully it won’t be long before every transgender person gets that kind of support from everyone.
If you read George, I think you’ll find it as insightful and moving as I did. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.