Becoming Trans-parent: One Family’s Journey of Gender Transition by Annette Langlois Grunseth. Finishing Line Press, 2017.
Review by Judy Barisonzi
Becoming Trans-parent: One Family’s Journey of Gender Transition by Annette Langlois Grunseth (Finishing Line Press, 2017) is a welcome addition to the literature about transsexualism. This slender chapbook (only 29 poems) is actually a mixture of poetry, notes in prose on gender dysphoria, and a listing of resources. And the point of view is that of the mother of an adult child who transitions from male to female. Since comparatively little has been written from a parent’s perspective—the novel This Is How It Always Was by Laurie Frankel would be a recent exception—Grunseth’s narrative of her experiences is particularly welcome.
The poems in Becoming Trans-parent follow the process from Grunseth’s son’s announcement to the family of his upcoming transition, through seminal events (“The First Time I Enter a Ladies Restroom with My Daughter,” for instance, or “Sharing Clothes with My New Daughter”), to the moving conclusion: “You are the daughter I always wanted” (“When Your Child Comes Out,” p. 30).
Grunseth also writes about sharing the news with others—“I am certain it will be either / a long conversation / or a short one,” (“How Are the Boys Doing?” P. 14)—and about fears in situations where her daughter may not be accepted: “She fears what the doctor might say about who she is” (“Health Risks for a Transgender Woman,” p. 22). She also reflects that she is now better able to understand previous puzzling experiences with her child (“At the Baby Shower,” for example) and admits to shedding some tears at her sense of loss: “the day you told us the court approved your female name / I cried that night in bed” (“Naming My Grief,” p. 3). But for the most part, the attitude of the family is one not only of easy acceptance but also of assuming the role of advocacy for transgender rights and recognition: “[Our daughter] is finding her way, now we must support others so they can find theirs” (Epilogue, p. 31). Although most of the poems are ostensibly addressed to Grunseth’s daughter (“you”), they are actually directed at the reader, inviting us to learn about the process and share the emotions and experiences of the parent.
These poems are simple in language and structure, and narrative in voice. They are occasionally witty, as is the title with its double meaning, and a few use metaphors from the natural world—milkweed, especially—to parallel human experience. But Grunseth’s metaphors leave little to the reader’s imagination. For instance, in a poem about the metamorphosis of a butterfly, she spells out her rather obvious point: “like the Monarch, she transformed/ has acquired wings to be herself” (Wings, p. 26). Perhaps conveying a message was more important to Grunseth in this book than the imaginative transformation of experience that many of us expect and appreciate in a poet’s work. Readers who appreciate the poetry of advocacy, however, will find this small volume a worthwhile addition to their libraries.