This debut novel tells the story of a transgender man’s journey from self-discovery to self-acceptance.
Catalano’s debut novel centers on Terry Romano, a biologically born female who realized at age 7 (in 1938) that he was transmasculine and wanted “to grow up to be a real boy just like Pinocchio.” Catalano alternates between telling Terry’s life story chronologically—starting with his rocky and unstable childhood in foster care and boarding school and ending with his first successful adult relationship and acceptance of his identity as a transgender man—and as it unfolds in therapy sessions with his beloved therapist, Jean. The book focuses mainly on Terry’s sexual and romantic relationships and his struggle to come to terms with repeated abandonment by his mother; it offers an in-depth look at a person struggling to identify his sexual orientation and find a place in an overwhelmingly unwelcoming, heteronormative world. (“I am neither rewarded nor accepted by society for those same characterizations as a born biological guy. Indeed I am shunned and treated as a pariah by society.”) Unfortunately, Catalano’s book reads more like a long-winded memoir than a novel; the plot rarely compels, and much of it feels more like a catalog of events than a story with a plot. (This is not helped by the fact that photographs of the author appear occasionally.) Also, the use of therapy sessions as a storytelling device is ineffective, as each essentially repeats the preceding section and interrupts the flow of the narrative. Despite its drawbacks, however, the tale Catalano tells, with a rarely seen transgender protagonist, is a brave and honest one, and the close examination it offers of the thoughts and feelings of a person struggling with gender identity—from the perspective of a writer who has experienced it firsthand—makes it enlightening and important.
Falls short as a novel but succeeds in giving a voice to a community who are heard from far too little.