Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman
GENDER IS A GRAY AREA.
Topics of Interest: Identity, LGBTQ, sexuality, gender roles, family relations, teenage angst, genetics, music, bullying
Curriculum Connections: English, Biology, Health and Physical Education
Blurb: I used to call my sister a “Sally Girl.” Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the term: we totally made it up.
As kids, my sister and I were in the time of our lives when we needed classifications to understand how the world worked. We thought that I was more of a “tom boy” (although when I look back now we only assumed this because I didn’t like wearing dresses), and she was a “girlie girl.” Well it seemed completely ridiculous to us that girls who liked “girl” stuff were called by such a ridiculous name, so we invented the term “Sally Girl.” And there you have it.
Neither term really describes us now. We both have a wide variety of interests that could technically fall under either a masculine or feminine theme; plus, the world has become a bit more gender neutral since then.
Alex, in Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well, is tortured by society’s preconceived ideas of gender. Born sexually ambiguous (with a small penis and ovaries), Alex has been raised by his parents as a boy.
Life for Alex is complicated, and never more so since he stopped taking his medication. Without his daily hormone treatments, Alex realizes that he is, in fact, a she.
Desperate to live a life that feels natural, Alex enrolls in a new school as a girl. Everything female feels right to Alex and she knows that she’s made the correct decision.
But creating a new identity, even one that is far more appropriate for Alex than her original one, causes a serious uproar. Her parents are distraught and unsupportive, her peers are relentlessly cruel, and she continuously battles with the male side of her that hasn’t completely disappeared. For Alex, life doesn’t fall neatly into gender categories, so why does everyone else have to make such a big deal about it?
Alex, the girl, just wants to live her life: in make-up and nail polish and pretty clothes. Why does that make her a freak?
Flavour: “I should stop here, because it’s not Alex and I, not really. We’re just the one person. Did you get that already? You guessed it from the blurb, right? I put in some clues. Alex and I are one person, but I feel like two people, and this is the problem.” (12-13)
“Why does it matter whether I’m a boy or girl? But it does. It really, really matters. People want to know which one you are. They want to be able to decide what you are, even when they are just walking past on the street and will never see you again. It’s crazy. Most people don’t see it as a gray area.” (14)
“You were there; you saw. [My parents] don’t love me. They don’t even like me. What scares me is that I’ve heard people who aren’t loved can’t love. Does this mean I can’t love Amina? Is this why I’m being so mean to Sierra? Are we always going to be alone, Alex and I? Maybe I’m a psychopath.” (150)
“I don’t see how I can get away from the old Alex. At least not without a huge effort. He’s hanging off me. He’s quiet sometimes, but he’s always there, like a shadow.” (188)