Friday, March 7, 2014

For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

For Today I Am a Boy is Kim Fu's tender coming-of-age story about a transgender Chinese Canadian.

Growing up with three sisters in small town Ontario, Peter Huang must play the role of honoured son. There is no way for Peter to express what Peter knows: that Peter is a girl inside. Their immigrant parents had high expectations for all of them. The girls would become doctors and lawyers. Peter would get rich and marry and have children to carry on the family name. 

Peter's voice is honest and compelling. Moving to Montreal after graduation, working at low-paying restaurant jobs, there is at least the freedom of anonymity. Yet adulthood is no easier than childhood or adolescence for a trans person in the 1980s. Disgusted by the physical appendage marking Peter's body as male, Peter avoids intimacy. 

"There was a deep-down, physical ache. The opposite of a phantom limb: pain because that thing, that thing I loathed, was always there. I had to use it and look at it every day. But more than that, pain because I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be noticed, in a way that both men and cooks were not. The hostesses at the Japanese restaurant wore makeup that made their eyes cartoonishly large and dresses in oriental prints that were slit to the upper thigh. They were required to wear their hair in high, old-fashioned buns. They were art. They were there to be looked at and admired and worshipped. I was there to serve a purpose, to make things. A workhorse. A man."

Fu does not neglect Peter's sisters. They are fully-realized individuals with their own challenges. It is with their support that Peter finds a way forward. For Today I Am a Boy is delicately heartbreaking and beautifully redemptive.

Readalikes: Annabel (Kathleen Winter); Money Boy (Paul Yee); First Spring Grass Fire  (Rae Spoon); Confessions of an Empty Purse (S. McDonald) and Wandering Son (Shimura Takako).

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