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Exploring Gender: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children




I spend a lot of time looking for new things to read to expand my knowledge of the community, but lately, I have really been looking for a novel or something more positive with trans* characters. A few days ago, I found this article, describing a young adult novel written from the first-person perspective of a transman: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. After reading the article, a defense by Cronn-Mills of her decision to write from the perspective of a trans* individual despite being cis, I decided to read the book myself and see how I felt about it. Where does the line between trying to represent the community and appropriation and misrepresentation lie?

From a literary perspective, the storyline moves well. The characters are well developed via dialogue and interaction, but there is a lack of adequate physical description. The lack of physical description makes it hard to picture the characters and the places integral to the book, but the pacing and overwhelming amount of music and radio insight tend to cover up that lack. You can see the amount of work Cronn-Mills put into researching music and radio, and—to some extent—her research into the community.

It is obvious Cronn-Mills did research into the community, even including an afterword about the trans* umbrella, though I don’t necessarily agree with some of her language. She writes the main character, Gabe, fairly believeably. There are several paragraphs I highlighted because she hit the feeling fairly closely: “It’s not easy to make yourself into a guy with just clothes and a haircut. And what sucks is I never get to have a bad day. I make it work or Gabe doesn’t happen (23).” I know this feeling. I hate that I can’t have an off day. There can’t be a day where I don’t wear a binder despite the fact that I may have bronchitis and the binder just makes it harder to breathe. The one thing I don’t like about this sentence is the disassociation it construes. The character is Gabe, so why the disruption between the I and Gabe. I have never really experienced this type of dissociation. Any trans* individuals out there who experience this or want to remark on the passage, please leave it in the comments.

I think my main issue with the novel is the choice of first person perspective. I think third person would have been more appropriate, but I am still processing my thoughts on the line between trying to represent a community which isn’t often represented and appropriation.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The music nerd in me was happy with the playlists and the music descriptions. Most characters were satisfyingly quirky, but it is the kind of book which I would like to talk to others about, to work out my feelings. So let me know what you think in the comments, on tumblr, or email me.

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