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Luna by Julie Anne Peters

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Review by: Abbie Desloges

**For the purposes of this review, non-gender-specific pronouns will be used, and the main character, Liam, will be referred to by hir given name as opposed to hir chosen name, Luna.

Julie Anne Peters’ Luna tells the story of Liam, a high school student struggling with hir transsexuality and hir female identity, Luna. Liam is trapped within what Blackburn terms a “heterosexual matrix” [6] where ze is forced to perform masculinity and display “appropriate” heterosexual patterns of desire. Luna is unique in that Peters allows the audience into Liam’s life through the eyes of hir younger sister. The novel is as much about her life and struggles as hirs, revealing the impact of the struggles of transsexual people on all those surrounding them. Overall, Liam’s experiences of gender are articulated as “less about breaking gender stereotypes... and more about performing gendered identities in ways that demand consistency between what experience internally and externally” [6]. During Liam’s transition, Peters’ describes youth identity formation in a fairly formulaic way. In finally assuming Luna as hir identity, Liam asserts hir agency, demanding respect for hir “whole identity” [7] from hir family and society as a whole.

While Peters’ novel addresses some key struggles faced by transsexual youth and their families quite well, she also leaves some issues unexplored. First, Peters in no way discusses the privilege experienced by Liam with regards to hir class and race. Liam transitions, “comes out”, and moves out along a linear model which may only apply to white LGBT people of the upper classes. Peters presents, through the character of Liam, a “whiteness” that is “not really anything, not an identity, not a particularizing quality because it is, supposedly, everything” [9] because of her uncritical attitude toward how Liam’s race affects hir experiences of gender. Liam, like Namaste, operates under the assumption that being transsexual necessitates the use of hormones and surgical treatments [8]. Peters does not afford the reader the chance to consider what other potential options could be, or how Liam arrived at the decision to transition physically. Also, Peters does not discuss the issues that Liam will face in hir new life in Seattle. Namaste notes that transsexual people experience legal discrimination and unequal access to services, especially those related to health [8] though Peters does not address these significant issues. As Liam leaves, the reader is left with the idea that hir struggle is over, as if moving out of hir parents’ home was hir final struggle.

Overall, Luna is well worth recommendation to those with questions regarding, or looking to learn more about, transsexuality and the experiences of transsexual youth. By writing the novel from the perspective of Liam’s sister, Peters tell the oft neglected story of the struggles experienced by the families of transsexual youth. Although the novel is not perfect in its analysis or presentation of transsexual youth, it serves as an excellent introduction to the issue for those who are unfamiliar with transsexuality. Unfortunately, those factors which make the novel widely comprehensible also make it exclusive in its presentation, and therefore one might consider additional recommendations, beyond Luna, for those looking to study the diverse experiences of transsexual people across race and class.

Bottle Rocket Hearts

by Zoe Whittall

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Review by Emily Hellyer

Zoe Whittall’s Bottle Rocket Hearts portrays the bildungsroman of a queer eighteen-year-old woman, Eve, developing her sexuality with the cultural background of living in Montreal during the 1995 Quebec Referendum. Whittall successfully raises the following queer issues in her novel: the formation of sexuality with coming out narratives; and queer subcultures that are formed to create familial bonds and promote activism. However, Whittall raises these issues by underplaying disability with queer identity formation, and by reinforcing queer stereotypes. Thus, Bottle Rocket Hearts is not complex enough in its discussion of queer issues to be recommended to a friend interested in questions of sexuality formation.

Due to the amount of queer characters, the narrative of “coming out” permeates the text through characters’ revelations to their families.  Bottle Rocket Hearts portrays a positive example of coming out through Eve’s revelation to her family.  However, Eve’s mother frames her opinion of her daughter’s sexuality with the term tolerance, versus acceptance. Whittall also portrays negative examples of coming out throughout the novel and how individuals cope with rejection from their family through the support of queer subcultures.  In the novel, Rachel’s parents react to her coming out by telling “her she was going to burn in hell. Her father once told her she wasn’t welcome in their home for an entire year. They never met her partners. They never really knew her” [13]. The inability to reconcile after Rachel’s death infers that parents must accept their children and his or her sexuality or gender identity to create a positive support system outside of queer subcultures. 

Bottle Rocket Hearts is not adequate for someone interested in questions of sexuality because of its limited representation of disability.  Whittall presents two disabilities in Bottle Rocket Hearts: Seven’s disability of being HIV positive, and Della’s disability of mental instability.  Della conveys acts that present her as having a mental disability, namely her threats of suicide, her violent reactions to events, and her constant lies, such as claiming her mother is dead when she is in reality alive.  Society must allow access for both queer and disabled people by making HIV/AIDS, mental, and physical disabilities visible to “afford...., [so that] many of us are not disabled at all” [11].

Bottle Rocket Hearts is also limited by its reassertion of queer stereotypes. For example, XXXX expresses Eve’s queer sexuality as “a phase you may grow out of” [12].  This limits the fluidity of queer sexuality by reinforcing the heterosexual/homosexual binary.  Therefore, Zoe Whittall successfully raises coming out narratives and subcultures as important in sexuality formation in Bottle Rocket Hearts, yet its sexuality exploration could have been furthered with a comprehensive disability, race, and class critique, along with the dismantling of negative queer stereotypes.

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6. Blackburn, Mollie. 2007. The experiencing, negotiation, breaking, and remaking of gender rules and regulation by queer youth. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues 4.2: 33-54.

7. Gutierrez, Nova. 2004. Visions of community for GLBT youth: Resisting fragmentation, living whole: Four female transgender students of color speak about school. In Gender, Sex & Sexuality. A. Ferber, et. al., eds. New York: Harrington Park Press, 463-469.

8. Namaste, Viviane. 2005. Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press.

9. Noble, Jean Bobby. 2006. Sons of the Movement. Toronto: Women’s Press.

11. Fries, Kenny. "The Imperfections of Beauty: On Being Gay and Disabled." Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Communities. Ed. Dawn Atkins. New York: Harrington Park/Haworth, 1998. 315-22.

12. Rochlin, Martin. "Heterosexism in Research: The Heterosexual Questionnaire." Gender, Sex, & Sexuality. Ed. Abby Ferber. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 299-300.

13. Whittall, Zoe. Bottle Rocket Hearts. 2nd ed. Toronto: Cormorant, 2009.

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