Normal by Amy Bloom


Normal by Amy Bloom
140 Pages

Gender issues seem to be something that we talk about more and more these days, and that can only be a good thing. The more we talk about something, the more something can be accepted. Sure, the more we talk, the more there is bound to be controversy that unfolds, but it allows the topic to be discussed. And I think that’s what’s important. Imagine a book subtitled Transexual CEO’s, Crosdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitudes being openly talked about 50 years ago in a non hostile way. Don’t think it would’ve happened. At least not in a wide venue. But I think we’re ready to do that now. And Amy Bloom has given us this wonderful book to talk about.

This is a short book and I guess that’s my one complaint about it. That’s the only reason it loses a star. I would’ve loved to see 100 more pages. The book has three main sections. The first looks at Female to Male transexuals, the second looks at Male crossdressers, and the third section examines the lives of Intersex individuals, or people born with ambiguous genitalia. I wish Bloom would’ve made this a more comprehensive volume. I wish she would’ve maybe addressed male to female transexuals as well, or maybe had a whole section focused on the idea of a gender continuum, an idea that’s briefly mentioned, but never fully addressed.

But let’s focus on what actually gives the book 4 stars. Bloom’s writing is extremely accessible. As I said, I would’ve loved another 100 pages of her writing. She’s passionate about the issues that she addresses and it’s obvious that she put a lot of time into this book. She spends time with these issues and doesn’t hide her own emotions when writing about them. She asks the questions that we all want to know.

What I loved about the book is that it’s very interactive. Not only does Amy interview people who fit into each of the above categories, but she goes to their events, their conventions, their cruises and emerges herself in their lifestyles. Gets to know the people, the wives, the families, the friends. She paints a picture of what is like to live intersexed. She shows us that in essence these people are “normal”. Not a sideshow freakshow like society has so often painted them to be. They lead normal lives. Sure, they have issues, they have things they deal with on a daily basis, but which one of us doesn’t?

My favorite thing about this book is that it challenges the idea of Normal. What is normal anyway? Amy shows us that when it comes to gender specifically, very few people fall into what society’s picture of normal is. Gender is a continuum. Very few males are completely male and very few females are completely female. In their characteristics that is….we fall on a continuum. Most males will have some feminine traits, most females will have some male traits. Because a male likes to crochet does not mean that he’s gay or crossdresses or wants to be a woman. Because a female likes to play football does not mean that she likes to dress like a boy, or that she’s a lesbian or that she wants a penis. We can enjoy things that are typically of the other sex without wanting to be the other sex. I don’t know that society has completely accepted this idea yet, but with the help of books like this, I think we’re moving towards that direction.

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10 2009

17 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. Eva #

    I wish I could make everyone read this! :) I’ve never taken a formal gender studies class, but I’ve read some books and watched some documentaries, and I find the whole continuum idea of gender and sexual attraction fascinating. While it’s sad that society is still stuck in the old black-and-white mentality, there’s something so wonderful and freeing about looking at life not in terms of duality but in terms of continuums.

  2. 2

    I really need to read this. Gender studies are so interesting, and a subject I’ve long been interested in. I’m glad to see another good review. I’m always scared about nonfiction, but I think I can settle on this one.

  3. 3

    Shoot, nobody would have talked about this 25 years ago! I think it was AIDS that forced us to talk about homosexuality and led to more openness, myself. Till then . . . in the closet went anyone who wasn’t, as you say, the generally conceived opinion of normal. And, yeah, there is no normal. There are simply perceptions of normality. Ask my sister. She thinks I’m way left of normal (“You. Are. So. Weird.”) and I think she’s smack dab on crazy. LOL You wanted to know that, right? ;)

  4. 4

    The Kinsey Scale! Every time I discuss sexuality it always comes back to the Kinsey scale. Not only is sexuality not an either/or but it evolves over time – taking the Kinsey scale in your teen years and in your fifties will get you different results.

    Thanks for the great book recommendation, I’m always looking for books that address these topics honestly. :)

  5. 5

    I read this book earlier in the year 9after reading Eva’s review) and loved it. My only complaint was the hermaphrodites section which I din’t think flowed or was as well explained as the others

  6. 6

    Ooh, this book sounds really informative and interesting. I’ll have to keep my eyes open. Thanks for the review. :)

  7. 7

    Wow, this sounds amazing. I may have to give this a go. :) I love reading anything to do with gender studies. Great review.

  8. 8

    I’m with Eva…I wish everyone would read this book! And I hope you’re right about people’s attitudes continuing to change. They sure won’t without people talking about them, for sure. That’s why books like this, and reviews like yours are so important. Rich teaches in his biology classes that male/female is really a false dichotomy. Maybe, maybe, maybe with all these kinds of conversations going on, fear and hatred and ignorance will finally be erased. Thanks for the great review, Chris!

  9. 9

    Referencing your last paragraph, I’ve never really been beholden to the whole idea that girls or boys should like or be drawn to specific things because of their gender. I decorate my house, have definite ideas and thoughts about women’s fashion, love most chick flicks, enjoy making crafts, enjoy shopping…and I’m definitely not gay. I love sports, find women incredibly beautiful in so very many ways, love most movies where stuff blows up, etc.

    Neither of these things make me more ‘male’ or ‘female’…they are just ‘me’. I’m so glad I never had parents or role models who discouraged me from just being myself. I certainly hope that the gender stereotypes are dying.

    For example, I find it very attractive when a women is a sports fan. I’d much rather be sitting down with my wife discussing football or the latest sci fi movie then have her in the kitchen making me a seven course meal or darning my socks!

  10. 10

    Maybe I can get the library to buy this… I really want to read it!

    Your last paragraph is such a good discussion topic starter! I have been told for years that I am not normal because I don’t act very girlie… And, the CC told me the other night that I was acting like a girl. I just looked at him because, well, I AM a girl! I thought that was sort of the point. Guy likes girl, guy asks girl out, etc. Anyway, I know people have thought I was a lesbian because of my likes and dislikes, but as long as I know who I am and what I like I don’t worry about it. And, I don’t worry about other people either. I have been told over the years that my friends don’t act very ‘normal’, but they are just people to me… You like what you like and you do what you do! No one likes it, then tough!

  11. 11

    I grew up in a family that saw everything as very black and white, and I’m still trying to break away from that mentality. This book would probably be a good one for me to read.

  12. mee #

    I would love to pick up this book soon (hopefully). I’ve been curious about gender issues since I read Middlesex (which was an excellent book!).

  13. 13

    I’m lucky that I grew up in a family where my brother and I were encouraged to be like we wanted to be, enjoy the things we liked, and choose whatever paths we wanted to choose. I’m straight and happily married to a man, but my husband and I like to joke that I’ll be downstairs watching hockey while he makes dinner for me. We don’t follow traditional husband/wife – gender-defined – roles (or deliberately set out to subvert them); we’re just two individuals, supporting each other in the ways we best can.

    I know I wouldn’t have searched this book out without your review, Chris, and I might not even have picked it up off the shelf if I came across it while shelf grazing. But I’m going to add it to the list now — thanks for that!

  14. 14

    Fantastic review! I’ve got this on my must-read list (because of Eva’s review) and now I want to bump it up higher :)

  15. 15

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