“Being Emily” by Rachel Gold— “You Weren’t Born That Way”


Gold, Rachel. “Being Emily”, Bella Books, 2012, rerelease, 2018.

“You Weren’t Born That Way”

Amos Lassen

Rachel Gold ‘s “Being Emily” is the first young adult novel about a transgender girl told from her own perspective. It was first published in 2012 and since that time, the trans community has made significant strides forward but has also been attacked by the current presidential administration. Both the author and the publishing house feel that this is such an important and crucial time that they have decided to rerelease “Being Emily”. It has also been updated. The novel was originally set in 2008 so this new edition has an epilogue that is set in 2018, ten years later. The new edition is also 25% longer than the original and the language has been updated as has been science; there is a new introduction by Harvard professor Stephanie Burt; there are new scenes and along with the new epilogue is a note from Rachel Gold.

Emily is a sixteen-year-old trans girl coming out in rural Minnesota and we are with her through her conflicts with her parents and her therapist (who thinks he can cure her) and as she tries to keep her friendship with her Christian girlfriend. Emily was

born Christopher “and her insides know that her outsides are all wrong.” The “It Gets Better” campaign does not work for Emily and telling her parents who she really feels she is gets her sent into therapy with a doctor who insists Christopher is normal and Emily is sick. Telling her girlfriend means lectures about how God doesn’t make mistakes like this. Emily wants it all to get better; she simply wants to be who she is. But nothing good happens until a substitute therapist and a girl named Natalie come into her life and she finally is able to think that she can really be Emily.

Wow… this story really spoke to me. For years I have been trying to understand my trans nephew who I had only known as my niece since I had been away for most of his life and hadn’t seen him for years before his transition. Most of the family was fine except for the gay uncle who slowly has come to understand.

“Being Emily” is a “story for anyone who has ever felt that the inside and outside don’t match and no one else will understand”. It is a beautifully written story with very real and deep characters that holds the readers’ interest with every carefully chosen word in its text. Emily is so likeable and even when she is still Chris, she wins us over. Chris is an athlete on the swimming team who really wants to tell his girlfriend that he is really a girl inside but is afraid to do so because his girlfriend is so Christian. As Emily, Chris realizes that his whole life is fake and phony and the only time that she is real is before everyone wakes up and Emily dresses as a girl while exploring a trans website. (Imagine how it was before computers).

Claire, the girlfriend, is a very complex, interesting, and likeable character. She is a Goth girl with a secret and that is that she is a religious Christian. She uses Christianity to better understand and to be more understanding of people but she does not influence belief.

The story became very touching for me when Emily went to her first session with a new therapist, who gets her to say that she is transgender, and then asks her what name she calls herself. We see Emily put down her guard and open up and as she does, the tears from my eyes flowed. (I’m a sensitive guy).

From this point non we see that the more that Emily gets to live as her real self, the happier she is. Her parents were not supportive and certainly not accepting but they gave Emily what she needed and I found this to be very moving.

We see multiple trans girl characters supporting each other and this is heartwarming. It is also heart wrenching to read about the reality of the scenes and emotions but we must be aware of these. I believe the real beauty of “Being Emily” is that it offers hope and love. This is really a book about being who you are and we all need to read it. As you can imagine and probably even see here, I had troubles with pronouns but I am getting better. Boston has a very large and active trans population and it is different from having lived in Arkansas where you can imagine how this would be received.

Reading this was quite an experience and I must admit I am a bit flustered and having a hard time write because of the emotions that are going on in me right now. I believe that will happen every time I think about this book and that is a good thing. All of the rest of you really need to read “Being Emily” since it is really about being yourself.

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