Reviewed by Rod McLary
Now That I See You is drawn from the lived experience of the narrator as she traverses through the process of her male partner’s transitioning to female.
‘Transitioning’ from one gender to the other [the term encompasses both male-to-female and female-to-male] is a challenging concept to grasp. Our sexuality and gender are such core aspects of our identity that it is not always easy to accept that, for some, there is a disconnect and an incongruency between their gender presentation and their internal sense of gender identity. Personal relationships can take on different dynamics in accordance with gender transitioning when what was once an opposite-gender relationship becomes a same-gender one. The psychological impact of this change is significant and some relationships may not survive that impact.
Based on the narrator’s actual letters and journal entries, the first-person story recounts in honest and sometimes raw detail the narrator’s thoughts and emotions over an eighteen-month period. It is however told from only the perspective of the narrator [whose name we never learn] as she rightly says: her partner’s story is for her to tell.
The story is divided into three sections – Us [addressing the relationship and how Jess’s disclosure impacts it]; Them and Us [Jess and the beginnings of his transitioning]; and Me [the effects on the narrator and her attempts to restore herself]. The use of ‘them’ in the title of the second section reflects Jess’s request that non-binary terms are used when speaking of him [them] – thus ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’ are required use rather than ‘he’, him’ or ‘his’. While seemingly a relatively minor matter, it is important to a transitioning person to properly reflect their status – and of course also to those who do not want to be constrained by binary gender terms. There are also a number of italicised sections offering an intimate glimpse into their relationship from its beginnings some five or six years previously.
The narrator and Jess are in a long-term relationship. One night after returning from a work trip, the narrator finds in the bathroom some hairs – ‘Long and dark. Glaring at me against the white tiles of the bathroom floor’ . Jess makes no reference to them that evening so, as they are going to bed, the narrator casually mentions the hairs. Jess denies any knowledge of them and, over the following days, continues in his refusal to acknowledge the hairs and what they may mean. A few weeks later though, Jess shares ‘his secret’ by disclosing to the narrator that ‘I feel more comfortable when I’m dressed in women’s clothes’ .
The narrator and Jess begin with reading all they can on the matter – but with the unspoken caveat that it is too soon to ‘acknowledge it properly’ . The inner turmoil of the narrator is best expressed by her: ‘It’s as if I am caught in some sort of emotional hurricane’ . The reality of her living in the hurricane is laid out for the reader in an engaging and authentic amalgam of journal entries, emails from the narrator to Jess, to-do lists and lists of ‘matters to be grateful for’.
Through the recounting of this intensely personal journey, core human issues such as identity and authenticity of self, the meaning and value of acceptance and love, are challenged and explored as the couple confront the impact of Jess’s transitioning to female. At the heart of the story is the question – can and will their relationship survive this fundamental shift?
Whatever the reader may think of ‘transitioning’ as a life choice, Now That I See You is a must-read for anyone willing to explore the complications of love and relationship as told by the narrator in an authentic and original way. And surely, to learn something of the complexities of transitioning and its impact on lovers, families and friends as the process unfolds. Perhaps more importantly, to learn something of the courage and strength required by any person in deciding that he/she would rather be of the other gender and taking the necessary steps for change.
Emma Batchelor is a writer and author from Canberra. She writes about gender issues, societal analysis and fashion. Emma lives with her partner Jesse and Now That I see You is her first novel.
Now That I See You was the winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2021.
Now That I See You
by Emma Batchelor
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 1 76087 976 1