“Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story” by Jacob Toby— Just Not Sure

Tobia, Jacob. “Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story”, G.P. Putnam, 2019.

Just Not Sure

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I am pretty well conditioned as to how to react to a book that I read but I just finished one that had me quite befuddled (love that word!). Jacob Tobie’s “Sissy” had me crying, laughing and wondering all the way through. It’s about what it’s like to grow up not sure if you’re (a) a boy, (b) a girl, (c) something in between, or (d) all of the above.

When born, Jacob Tobia’s doctor wrote that the new baby was a male and from that point on everything went wrong. Alongside “male” came other, far fewer neutral words that carried expectations about who Jacob was and who Jacob should be— words like “masculine” and “aggressive” and “sports”. Jacob, however,  was a sensitive creative, playful kid who loved glitter and not soccer. For the next twenty years, he was called sissy, trans, queer, non-binary and he looked like he just might be heading a new gender revolution in North Carolina, of all places. Now as he looks back at his childhood (am I using the right pronouns here?), he calls out the stereotypes that we have all faced, and as we think about them, Jacob asks us to rethink what we know about gender and offers us a bold blueprint for a world that is free from gender-based trauma and filled with trans-inclusive feminism.

Jacob had a Methodist childhood and then went through the “hallowed halls of Duke University to the portrait-laden parlors of the White House” and now in ,”Sissy”  takes us on a gender odyssey that is written with brutal honesty, irreverent humor, and touching vulnerability. Jacob shatters the long-held notion that people are easily placed into the categories of “men” and “women.” After reading this, it is almost impossible to ever think about gender–both our own and other people’s in  the same way again.

The focus is on their experience growing into their identity as a genderqueer person. It covers their life from early childhood to the end of college and examines queer identities coming up with the idea that you don’t have to choose just one identity or gender. We read of the little moments that take place with friends and family and strangers and ourselves as we learn about gender identity, and more broadly about who we are.
Jacob writes playfully and in a charming manner that really pulls us in as we remember all of the dumb things that we have heard in our lives and about our gender and/or sexuality. Jacob looks at emotional moments and gives them the space they deserve. There is pain to growing into these identities, both internal and external, and Jacob is able to give space to let those feelings be. Gender here is fun to play with especially after reading so much about trans angst. Jacob’s memoir is about an imperfect journey without focusing only on the pain. As might have been expected, we have so many trans memoirs now; it is as if everyone wants to wrote a book and they do making it difficult to know which to red. This is one of the most sincere that I have come across and there have been thousands and I am not exaggerating.

This book is unapologetically honest and reminds us that it is more than gender that makes us who we are.

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