- Transphobic Tropes and Young Adult Fiction: An Analysis of Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect
The growing number of representations of trans people in the sociocultural realm are not produced exclusively for adults, but are also made available for youth audiences (Sandercock; Norbury). One of the vehicles through which trans people have been incorporated into youth culture is via the Young Adult novel. The premise of this article is that the increased production of such texts demands scholarly attention. Despite recent growth, trans representation remains sparse across youth literature. As such, the genre can provide an educative role for trans youth, allowing them to see their experiences and concerns reflected back at them (Pini, Keys, and Marshall). Further, such novels can contribute to a trans pedagogy that challenges dominant discourses of gender and sexuality by educating students, teachers, and parents about the lives of youth with diverse genders and sexualities (Bach). Alongside their positive potential, however, novels featuring trans youth may also be oppressive for trans young people, and used as a pedagogic tool to reify hegemonic categories of sexuality and gender. As Keegan has insightfully argued, the proliferation of trans representations is not indicative of a “move to transgender equality,” for such representations can be used to “enforce” normativity.
In this paper we build on Keegan’s (2013) contention through a critical reading of a youth novel featuring a trans protagonist, that is, Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect. The text explores the relationship between a cisgender (i.e., non transgender) white male, Logan Witherspoon, an eighteen-year-old senior at a high school in the small town of Boyer, Missouri, and a new arrival to town, a female trans character, Sage Hendricks. As the novel opens we learn that Logan has broken up with Brenda, his girlfriend of three years, after she cheated on him. An air of mystery surrounds Sage. [End Page 57] She has been home schooled and her parents do not allow her to date. Despite her parents’ stance, Sage goes on a few dates with Logan. After they kiss she tells him that she was assigned male at birth and previously lived as such. Logan reacts very negatively to this news, but later tells Sage he still wants to see her. Sage and Logan later attend a frat party at Missouri University while visiting Logan’s sister Laura, and have sex. Upon his return to Boyer Laura rings Logan to tell him about Sage’s gender history. Concerned about what others will think of him, Logan breaks up with Sage. The following week Logan receives a frantic telephone call from Sage’s younger sister Tammi. He learns that Sage had gone on a date and been beaten up after disclosing her “secret.” Logan visits Sage in the hospital where she tells him she is going to live life as a man and leave Boyer. Soon after, Logan heads to college.
Katcher’s (Almost Perfect) text is a particularly important one to examine for two key reasons. The first is its status as a Stonewall Book Award Winner. Inaugurated in 1971, the award is sponsored by the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. Like other prestigious children’s book prizes, the Stonewall Book Award affords a text prominence, sales, and longevity (Kidd and Thomas). A second reason why Katcher’s (Almost Perfect) book demands attention is that it continues to be recommended in the academic literature for its positive trans representation (see Rockefeller; Miller). Costello and Reigstad and Parsons discuss using the text with preservice teachers, while Hayn et al. suggest it as appropriate in secondary English classrooms. Even a recent analysis of award winning LGBTQI youth fiction by Clark and Blackburn, which highlights some of the book’s shortcomings in terms of the portrayal of violence, asserts that the text is valuable in that it “disrupts homonormativity by including a transsexual character, Sage” (884). As we demonstrate in our argument below, this is a problematic assertion given that the mere presence of a trans character does not challenge homonormativity.
Reading and Analysing Trans Youth Fiction
We began our analysis with...