Fairest, by Meredith Talusan
Topics: Intersectionality, Identity, Gender, Sexuality, Family, Friendship, Relationships
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I picked up Fairest by Meredith Talusan after having the good fortune to attend her panel on subverting toxic masculinity at a writing conference. Talusan was assigned male at birth and was raised in the Philippines as a boy with albinism before transitioning to womanhood as an American immigrant. But don’t look to me, or even her, to explain her intersectionalities. She’s more interested in explaining herself to herself.
One of the reasons Talusan wrote her memoir, as she shares in an interview with InStyle, was to tell her story on her terms. She weaves scenes from childhood through adult romances, gender experiments, and her studies at Harvard with her own flair. The resulting narrative structure, she joked at the panel, is akin to braided, but with extensions.
Much of Talusan’s story centers on romantic relationships, an area she says she regrets devoting so much time to as she nears the end of her college education. But by the close of the book, their necessity becomes clear: these relationships were mirrors, clues to a gender identity so often difficult to bring into focus. You have to respect the drive required to take those clues and sort them out on the page, independent of other peoples’ gazes in a world that offers them so freely.
One of the book’s most memorable scenes is Talusan’s solo production of the Dancing Deviant, where she talks about her gender-fluid body, bares her skin, and gives a controversial performance for the sake of queer activism and personal liberation. While the show proves wildly popular, tensions mount when the Harvard football team arrives. Talusan expects ridicule, but is surprised to be met with silence and respect. Later, a player verbalizes his admiration and shares how the show helped him better understand and accept a sibling who recently came out as gay.
Beyond a search for gender, Fairest is where Talusan clarifies her history, identity, and desires, none of which lend themselves to neat categorization. And by the end, she seems okay with that. Maybe we should also be more okay with that—blurring the lines of our own identities and bringing invisible parts of ourselves into what makes us uniquely whole.
Want This Memoir?
Consider purchasing from Femme Fire Books or your local independent bookstore.
Like This Memoir?
Read more from this author on Substack at The Fairest Writer.
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