Thursday • 2012.07.05
Secret Selves is a Secret Worth Revealing
NOTE: This was published in XTRA National on July 4th, 2012, as Allowing Secret Selves with minor edits.
I try to avoid forming preconceived notions, but when I was asked to review Jamie Johnson’s Secret Selves, I felt a twinge of scepticism. As a self-published book by a first-time author, it raised warning flags and I initially feared I might be facing a painstaking slog through the 328 page volume. However, once I dove into it, I found I couldn’t put it down. Like most forms of prejudice, my preconceived notions were completely unfounded.
Secret Selves, subtitled “how their changes changed me, a mother’s story,” is the true tale of a mother whose two sons both underwent transforming life experiences. Jamie’s first-person narrative tells how helping her sons to grow through their changes created a transformation in Jamie herself.
One son, Joey, suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), causing him to cycle through a number of alter-ego personalities who range in demeanour from harmless and cute to frighteningly menacing. Her other son, Kip, began life as Jamie’s daughter Jul, and must undergo the complicated process of gender transition from female to male. The two stories are deftly woven together in a quasi-linear fashion, with succeeding chapters linked thematically in a manner I found comfortable and easy to read.
Being a trans-identified person myself, I naturally expected Kip’s story would resonate with me more than Joey’s. However, I quickly found myself drawn into the entire family saga by Jamie Johnson’s friendly prose and good pacing. As she paints a frank and honest picture of her family’s challenging history, this flow is maintained even as the subject matter becomes emotionally difficult at times.
I was struck in particular by one chapter, in which Jamie’s son Kip comes out to his mom about his need to transition from female to male.
In truth, after reading that particularly tense and emotional scene, my first thought was that Jamie as a mother could have taken Kip’s revelation better. But then my next thought was wishing my own mother had handled that same first delicate conversation as well as Jamie had. I think that speaks to Jamie’s purpose in writing this book; Secret Selves is intended to help parents of kids like Kip and Joey to be the best parents they can be, by sharing with them the benefit of Jamie’s life experience.
Secret Selves is not the story of a magically perfect wonder-mom who always gets everything right on her first try. Rather, it’s the story of a regular wonder-mom, who simply loves her children unconditionally and does her best to handle the craziness that comes from having exceptional kids.
In today’s world, too many parents of kids like Joey and Kip live in hushed silence about psychological disorders, and about transgender issues. Or worse, they allow their misunderstanding to shatter what should be an unconditional bond of love between parents and their offspring. Tragically, many kids like Kip and Joey are discarded because their parents lack the tools to properly understand their “secret selves.”
The book does convey a lot of useful information in the form of facts and anecdotes, to educate on the FTM transition process and on DID from a parent’s perspective. But the primary lessons to be learned aren’t factual in nature—they are emotional. Jamie Johnson’s Secret Selves teaches that we must always love our kids for who they are, not for who we want them to be. And, when having kids, like when picking up a fresh book, be prepared to ditch your preconceived notions.
Secret Selves retails from Amazon at $15. This book will make an excellent read for any parent, new parents in particular, and of course for any family already struggling with issues similar to Kip’s or Joey’s. I’m definitely sending a copy to my mom.
How their changes changed me, a mother’s story
Parkenham: Transitions Studios, 2011
978 0 987 84500 9