Whitney, Emerson, “Heaven”, McSweeney’s, 2020.
At the center of Whitney Emerson’s “Heaven” is their desire to understand their relationship to their mother and grandmother. These were Whitney’s first look at womanhood and all of its consequences. Emerson retraces a roving youth in prose that is deeply observant and psychedelic but using the work of thinkers like Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and C. Riley Snorton to unite transness and the nature of selfhood.
This is an expansive examination of what makes us up, looking at what kind of role childhood plays in who we are. Is it possible to exclude causality and whether or not our bodies really belong to us. Emerson moves between theory and memory in order to explore these.
Emerson Whitney traces intellectual and emotional research, writing, and observations on gender and bodies through their family history. They make statements about femininity needing to include more and that gender really does not belong to anybody any longer. We explore what’s ‘natural’ about the ‘unnatural’ and all the problematics of that. Whitney is rigorous with their mind and soul and asks how much of heredity is suggestion and how can anyone pinpoint the impact of nature or nurture when examining a human being. Emerson asks if it is better to simply listen and exercise unconditional acceptance as well as love. This is the story of the generational links between mothers and daughters.
Whitney is totally aware of the texture of moments that describe their own history in a way that holds back on what wasn’t understood at the age when something happening or isn’t remembered, or isn’t the focus; and yet, what they write makes everything important.
Emerson includes many personal moments that become essential and public as their story mixes with theory on gender, sexuality, childhood, and psychology.
Whitney turns coming-of-age inside out as they examine selfhood in relation to their mother, adds a layer of theory, and delivers a memoir that will stay with the reader long after the book is closed.
This is a frank and absorbing examination of transness, brokenness, mothering, femininity, embodiment and truth.