This Is How It Always Is is a book for right now. For what our society is feeling and facing right this moment when trying to decipher the meaning of sex and gender and the difference between those two words. It opened my eyes and helped me to understand how when someone asks, “are you a boy or a girl?” the answer may be “yes.”
When Claude was born, he was boy #5. His mother Rosie was desperately hoping for a daughter, and the “let’s keeping trying for a girl” resulted in five sons. But little did Rosie know, her desire for a daughter had been fulfilled, just not in the way she expected. Because when Claude was just 5 years old, he announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. Lucky for him, his parents were already used to operating outside of gender norms, at least when it came to their professions. Rosie was an ER doctor, the sole income-producing member of her family, while her husband Penn was a stay-at-home dad and aspiring writer. So when Claude decided he wanted to start wearing dresses instead of pants, these two parents weren’t overly phased. However, when Claude wanted to go to kindergarten in those dresses, they began to worry. In the safety of their family home, Claude could be who he wanted (or who he really was, according to Claude), but outside? Outside was a risk.
So this book progresses through Claude’s journey in the outside world as he becomes Poppy, a happy, intelligent, loving little girl who happens to have a penis. And while other books may choose to focus on the parental struggle of having a gender-nonconforming child, this one focuses instead on how Penn, Rosie, and their four sons struggle to present Poppy to a world that may not understand her, but gives her the best chance to be accepted.
I especially appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, where Laurie Frankel reveals that she has a little girl who used to be a little boy. And like Rosie and Penn’s family, she also lives in Seattle. So I feel like while this book is a work of fiction, it also comes from a place of experience, told by someone who has more knowledge about this subject than I may ever have. It helped me to understand what a gender-nonconforming person is and how best to address them with respect. It grew my mind, and so yes, I would definitely recommend this book to others.
P.S. I always like reading the quotes at the beginning of the book and then going back after I read it to see if the quotes actually relate to what was written or if the author just put them there for show. Frankel’s quote stuck with me all through the book:
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?
It’s from the musical Into the Woods (one of my favs) and I think does a fantastic job of stating what this book is about in just eight words! Nicely done, Laurie Frankel. Nicely done.