Feminist film critic Haskell (Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited, 2009, etc.) delves into the dramatic, deeply personal tale of her brother's transformation, in his early 60s, from a man into a woman.
Haskell's story opens in 2005, when her younger brother, Chevey, confessed, "For as long as I can remember, I've felt I should have been born female. And now I'm going to become one." Stunned, the author struggled to reconcile her knowing Chevey as a conservative and "manly" guy with his impending transsexuality. A semiretired financial adviser, Chevey appeared to be happily married to his wife of more than 20 years, but his desire to live as a woman had grown so fervent, he claimed that the only thing that would keep him from undergoing gender reassignment surgery was knowing he would die on the operating table. During the course of the book, Haskell's brother, her only immediate family other than her husband, becomes Ellen, the name Chevey called himself in his fantasy life. The difficult transformation required numerous surgeries, including multiple facial reconstructions, painful other procedures and a move across the country to start fresh as Ellen. Haskell's journey was obviously less arduous than Ellen's, but the two are equally compelling, in part due to the ways in which Ellen's choice acts as a catalyst for Haskell's initial discomfort, growth and acceptance. With candor and sly humor, the author questions her ideas about womanhood and considers the relationship between gender and identity as they relate to Ellen, herself, and myriad films and other aspects of popular culture. At the heart of this intelligent memoir lies the process through which Ellen’s transsexualism became, then faded from being, the primary fact of the siblings' respective lives.
A discerning, vital memoir.