This is a repost from my Tumblr Account. I’ll be moving most of my original posts from there to here.
Warning: Mild Spoilers about the first part of the book
I recently finished a book called The Butterfly and the Flame by Dana De Young. This book is about a teenage trans girl named Emily who is engaged to the son of the owner of her family’s farm.
The story starts out talking about Emily and her everyday life. The struggles her and her family deal with as the time for her wedding draws near. It’s only after a few chapters that we finally are told that Emily is hiding something from the people in her town. Something that would result in her death if anyone in the town found out.
Emily was considered a boy when she was born. Her family called her Erik and she was treated like a boy for the first six years of her life. Despite this, Emily always knew she was a girl and knew that things weren’t right. She had a dream one night about wearing her older sister’s dress and finally felt right. When she woke up, she knew what was wrong and she was going to tell her sister. Unfortunately for Emily and the rest of the family, Emily’s sister Sarah died.
This event caused a great deal of strife in the family. Everyone was heartbroken. One day Emily decided to put on her sister’s dress while her family was out and it felt so right she didn’t want to take it off. She fought her parents for days on end. Her mother caved first, realizing that Emily was just happier being a girl and was no less her child for being a girl. The father took a great deal longer to come around. And even when he did finally agree to allow Emily to dress and be a girl, he still misgendered her a lot and was constantly doing all he could to avoid her.
The family moved to a new town in order to hide the fact that Emily had been considered a boy. The problem with them moving was that the area they moved to was hit by a drought and they were struggling to survive with out help from their families. A wealthy, high class man swoops in to save them, but for a price. Emily must marry his son once she is of age.
Thus begins the story of a trans* teenager dealing with a world that does not accept her and a family that struggles to stay together while being torn apart by the rules enforced by society. Over and over the people Emily encounters blame her for her “choice” to be a woman instead of blaming the society that makes her “choice” wrong. And what’s even worse, her brother Aaron blames her for a long time for ruining his life, which hurts her more than anything else since he ends up being the only one she can count on later in the book.
For Emily, being a girl is all that she can be. It pains her to have a body that doesn’t fit what her mind tells her she is. She is a girl, a woman, and every day that her body grows, it moves toward a shape that she finds harder and harder to deal with.
This book, more than anything I’ve read before or since, really struck home to me, a cis woman, what it’s like to be a trans* woman. I’ll never know personally. But the way that De Young describes Emily’s struggles and how she tries to explain what she feels, it really was quite striking.
I cried more than a few times while reading what Emily dealt with and how the controlling society she lived in treated her and her family.
The other part that I loved about this book was that it is set in a dystopian society several hundred years in the future from current day United States. The aftermath of asteroids demolishing most of the Earth made room for the evangelical Christians to take over and create new laws along with the laws of the bible in order to force people into rigid gender roles once again. Only men can own property and vote and be counted as true citizens. Only men can work, earn legal wages and hold positions of power. No “sodomy”, no sex outside of marriage, no drinking or gambling or swearing. The Dominion, as it is called in the book, rules everything. Though it is unraveling around the edges as people fight back against this oppression.
My only regret, as an atheist, is that the book is written with a slant toward a kinder Christianity. I don’t agree with that, but it was only a small annoyance to me because the rest of the book was so well written. And I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their faith as long as they don’t use it to hurt other people.
If you love fiction and you’d like to read one author’s take on what it’s like for a trans* woman to navigate the world, this is an excellent book to read.