TITLE: For Today I Am A Boy
AUTHOR: Kim Fu
PUBLISHER: Random House
RELEASE DATE: January 1, 2014
GENRE: Adult Fiction, LGBTQI+
PAGE COUNT: 241
For Today I Am A Boy is a no holds barred exploration of transgenderism against a backdrop of traditional Chinese culture. This is the rawest and most confronting LGBTQI+ story I’ve read.
From childhood, American-born Peter Huang knows she is a girl, but is too ashamed to tell her family. Over the course of decades, Peter and her sisters drift from the lives their traditionalist parents planned for them. Only after suffering silently through an abusive relationship, workplace bullying, and indoctrination from a Christian “ex-lesbian”, does Peter rethink her relationship with family and self.
For Today I Am A Boy isn’t sugarcoated or clichéd. Peter’s story is often hard to read, opening my eyes to LGBTQI+ issues I’d never considered before. A lot of the events and themes throughout Peter’s journey made me squeamish and uncomfortable – things that were previously invisible to me as a cis gender female (i.e. I identity as the gender I was biologically assigned). Kim Fu handles the countless taboos with care and purpose, unlike many writers who butcher delicate topics by biting off more than they can chew and only scratching the surface.
“We waited a long time for you. In a family, the man is the king. Without you, I die – no king” – page 16
As an only son, Peter’s gender identity is unthinkably shameful. In her patriarchal culture, sons are responsible for keeping the family line alive. She is indoctrinated from a young age to view masculinity and femininity as binary – one dominant, one subservient. She is haunted by her father’s expectation to bring honour to the men of her family, past and present. Before reading For Today I Am A Boy, I was unfamiliar with Peter’s culture, especially regarding parent-child relationships. I felt sad and anxious reading how cultural norms alienated Peter from her family – and from her true self. With immigrant parents from Hong Kong, Kim Fu writes about Peter’s American-Chinese upbringing from a knowing point of view.
I saw our dead father everywhere. In the way the guards held their mouths in disgust, their bland, shaming voices: How dare you bring a water bottle? Did you think we wouldn’t know? That we can’t hear the vile thoughts in your head? The twisted happiness you squeeze out of dresses and dolls when you think you’re alone? We are watching you from the other side. How Father would love the new America, its all-seeing, all-knowing eye – page 191
Regrettably, the story structure – beginning in Peter’s childhood and continuing chronologically into her 40s – got in the way of me connecting emotionally. I felt like I waited until the second quarter of the book for the story to really start. Also, the tangents focusing on her sisters’ stories distracted me even further from engaging with Peter. I think if the book started when Peter is a teen, I would have invested in her more quickly. I feel like she becomes more layered and empathetic as an adult. That said, Peter’s character arc is very believable. Her decisions and experiences are always authentic to her internal journey.
While there are many amazing elements of this book, my favourite is Peter’s relationship with the female body. Going against media and societal pressure to be one of two set beauty standards – skinny or curvy – Peter falls in love with the athletic female body. I found this inspiring, even shocking, since the athletic body is so rarely celebrated despite being healthy.
For Today I Am A Boy is an unfiltered and powerful LGBTQI+ narrative with a rich cultural context. Reading this book expanded my awareness of transgender issues. Peter’s complicated and confronting journey moved me.