Show Trans by Elliott DeLine

Show Trans: A Nonfiction Novel - Elliott DeLine

Show Trans has been my favorite book of 2014 so far and there’s not too much time left for another book to come along and steal the prize. Show Trans is a memoir about: being transgender, Grindr hookups, losing time, being dissociative, a trip out West, unrequited everything, the search for intimacy, writing novels based on real people, casual sex work, STDs, transphobia from medical practitioners and the world at large, having a non-binary gender identity, sex addiction, and finding a partner. I really love recovery memoirs, but this was no typical recovery memoir. It was better.


In a lot of memoirs, when people think about their own story they frame it as a narrative identity where bad things happen and they persevere and it all makes sense. But real life doesn’t work in this orderly way as far as I know. I also think whenever people come to a new conclusion about their identity they want a narrative to go with it so they recast everything that ever happened to support their new identity. And everything is viewed through the prism of identity so a different set of things become important and unimportant. But DeLine does not play along with any of this. He presents life as it actually is, which is picaresque, nonsensical, and almost completely inside one’s own head. He takes on, or recognizes, a number of new identities in this book but he won’t recast the narrative. It’s just one damn thing after another, in the best possible way. So maybe that is one reason why this book is a non-fiction novel, not a memoir.


You know how they say a fox knows many things but a hedgehog knows one big thing? One big thing is boring. DeLine is a fox, not a hedgehog. I think this is my favorite quality of his writing. I believe anyone who likes literature that defies a few of the usual customs of writing to deliver a very real experience would love this book. I kept thinking, “In the future when the world is less transphobic, everyone will recognize Elliott DeLine as a really amazing writer.” And then, “No, wait, can’t we just cut to the chase and recognize this right now?”


In Show Trans, DeLine tells a very personal story including painful, intimate details and it feels raw and true. But he never goes a step too far and over-shares. That is a very delicate balance and I really admire the way he did this. There is a strong sense of personal dignity and integrity deeply woven into the fabric of this book. Why should he explain everything? If he really were the Show Trans of the title (like a show pony), he would display everything to gratify the audience’s prurient curiosity or to “educate” them. But that’s not what this is about. DeLine writes as if his audience is smart and can figure things out without him explaining every little thing, and I like that subtlety. This is also not an “emotion recollected in tranquility” kind of story. It’s more of a “This all happened recently; emotion recollected in more emotion” kind of story. This makes it more impressive to me that DeLine is able to sift through what needs to be told with such discriminating prudence.


The one thing I was worried about before starting the book was that there would be disturbing sex scenes, because I’m a fragile squeamish flower. But it was no problem at all; these scenes were distressing but not graphic, making it a powerful book with a low ick factor. I guess part of the reason is that if the narrator is totally dissociated and not really present then there’s nothing to describe, is there? But it wasn’t just that, it was mainly excellent writing and good judgment. On the other hand, the medical scenes were truly harrowing. I have an extremely low opinion of medical practitioners and I expect them to be transphobic and cis-normative (as well as everything else that is bad.) But the treatment that DeLine received was so appallingly criminal and medieval that it was shocking. This book is a damning indictment of the medical-industrial complex!


Book design: I don’t talk about that anymore, which is a shame because this book is very pretty and even has photos.


What other book does this remind me of?: They’re actually not that similar, but how about Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon, another great non-binary transgender memoir of 2014?


Theme song: Trouble Loves Me by Morrissey