In this LGBTQ memoir, a teacher and activist relates the changes, challenges, and joys of her marriage to a trans-identified psychotherapist/rock ’n’ roller.
“The first time I ever saw Katy, she was wearing a full beard and a prosthetic man-chest with perfectly molded pecs and sculpted abs,” begins this memoir. Schilt was attracted to Katy Koonce but not yet ready to come out. The two finally connected in group therapy, “a strange place to start a relationship,” but it had some advantages: “Before we ever spent a moment alone together, Katy knew that I was a depression-prone approval seeker….I knew that Katy was a former drug addict with hepatitis C” and also a therapist herself. Both had trouble with body image, Schilt from growing up with “compulsive dieters” and Koonce, who is transgender, from experiencing gender dysphoria. In Part I, Schilt describes the couple’s courtship, marriage, and birth of their child Waylon, ending with Koonce’s much-desired final chest reconstruction. Part II turns to Koonce’s treatment for hepatitis C, which weakened her and required much caretaking while Schilt was also looking after their young son. This left Schilt feeling bruised; Part III examines how she learned to stand up for her own needs and began writing. What makes Schilt’s engaging work stand out in today’s crowded memoir field is how well she avoids its besetting sins, self-pity and melodrama. Her wry humor, hard-won insights, and appreciation of eccentricity come through instead, as when she describes Donna, Koonce’s force-of-nature mother: “Saying your prayers to the moon is pretty risqué stuff in a town where the Baptists still believe that Methodists go to hell.” Especially absorbing is seeing how Koonce’s illness forced Schilt to change. “All of my life, I’d been waiting for permission,” she writes. She had to deliberately “practice acting as entitled and taking up as much space as Katy,” which she found agonizing at first. Activism, a faith community that fit, and motherhood all contributed to her growth as well, described with lively clarity.
A well-balanced, soul-searching family memoir with broad appeal.