I’m slowly being educated about all the genders out there and my first teacher was Ruby Rose. I saw her picture on Facebook and didn’t think much more than “She’s a stunning looking woman.” Ruby Rose is an Australian model/actress, covered in tattoos, with the kind of “in your face” attitude that doesn’t repel but makes you want to pull a chair closer. I read an article where she described herself as “gender fluid” a term I had not come across. The word fluid is right up there with moist for me. I’ve been known to almost roll out of a moving car when someone uses the word moist. And they were just describing a cupcake. Damn it. Now I want a cupcake.
5 minutes later. Now I have frosting halfway up my nose. I’m a pretty girl.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Ruby Rose.
This is how she describes gender fluidity:
“Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I don’t identify as any gender. I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which-in my perfect imagination-is like having the best of both sexes.”
When I read her quote, a light bulb didn’t just go off in my head. The bulb burst and I’m still picking up pieces of glass. I’m not sure how many people understand this but I don’t wake up and think “I am Jennifer. I am female.” Most of the time I wake up and think “Didn’t I just fall asleep five minutes ago?” closely followed by something that sounds awfully close to a solemn prayer: “Please let me be a half-way decent human being today.” Not female. Not male. Just human.
Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s Jess, Chunk, and The Road Trip to Infinity isn’t a book about gender fluidity but about a young man’s transition into womanhood. Jess and Chunk are starting their summer after high school graduation with a road trip from California to Chicago. The last time Jess saw her father her name was Jeremy. Her mother and father went through a nasty divorce after her father started an affair with his wife’s best friend. Not only was the divorce painful for Jess but she lost a friend and a mentor in Jan, her mom’s now ex-best friend, who encouraged her artistic dreams. When Jess finally came out to her father and said she wanted to transition, he told her she was going through a phase and asked her if maybe she was just gay and not wanting to become a woman. Last I checked there was a pretty big difference between being gay and feeling like you were born into the wrong body.
At 17 when she wanted to begin taking hormones she needed both parent’s signatures. Her father refused. She stopped speaking to him. Now at 18, she’s been taking hormones for a couple of months and she’s beginning to look on the outside like she feels on the inside. She got an invitation to her father’s wedding to Jan and replied she wasn’t interested in going. But then she begins to think. About revenge. She decides she’s going to show up at the wedding in a gorgeous dress. Her presence will say “This is not a phase. This is who I am. I didn’t need your support or approval to get where I am.” But of course, you know deep down she wants her father’s love, support and approval. Who wouldn’t when going through something so huge? I lost my mom at the grocery store last week and nearly had a panic attack. (Not the same thing, I know. But we all need our parents at some point in our lives no matter how old we get.)
Chunk (real name Christophe) has been Jess’s best friend forever and has been pretty damn supportive of his friend’s journey. His mother is a smothering but well-intentioned psychiatrist who oozed love and understanding when Jess came out as gay, but she doesn’t know about Jess transitioning. Chunk is…well, he’s overweight. He’s a hefty dude. And he’s kind of a geek who was picked on a lot in high school. He’s looking forward to the road trip for different reasons, mainly because he’s been chatting up a girl online and wants to meet with her. The road trip doesn’t get a magical start. It’s hot out, Chunk keeps getting texts from someone, and Jess is worried if she’s at a point where she passes all the way as a girl or if she’ll still get questioning glances when they stop to gas up. She spends a lot of time with her hood pulled up over her head.
During the long drive, she has plenty of time to think about how angry her mother had been during the divorce and how she now seems to have found peace, a peace that Jess doesn’t feel. The texts to Chunk’s phone keep coming and Jess is confused by her feelings of jealousy. Chunk’s her best friend. Why should she be mad at him or the girl texting him? And what’s with him not chowing down on gas station junk food like they planned? He stocked up on granola bars at their last pit stop. The car is filled with more silence than talking and time and again they snap at each other. The closer they get to Chicago, the more nervous Jess gets and she starts to think twice about just showing up and crashing the wedding as a girl.
The tipping point comes in a Podunk Midwestern town when they pick up a hitchhiker named Annabelle, a girl who’s a couple years older than them and is in college, on her way to her grandma’s. She smokes, is super smart, and Jess wants her boots. Chunk is acting weird and Jess is feeling insecure about her femininity. But Annabelle ends up teaching them a couple of pretty good eye-opening lessons.
But the road trip is far from over and Jess and Chunk have to face what they really mean to each other. And Jess has to face the idea that she may have been a terrible friend during a time when Chunk needed her most.
Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity made me want to go on a road trip with my best friend, even though I’m more interested in gas station junk food than the journey itself. It’s hard enough being a teenager, hard enough being a gay teenager but try being a teenager trying to get to a place you want to be with an outside that matches your insides. This was a great buddy road trip book that taught me even if you think you know yourself and your best friend, there’s always something new to learn and to accept.