Visit the Whosoever Bookstore
Or search Amazon.com for books related to GLBT people and Christianity.
Christianity Book Search
If you live in Canada, follow
Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.ca
If you live in the UK, follow
Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.co.uk
Join the Whosoever Community:
Read More Whosoever:
Spirituality of Music
God and Politics
The Good Book
More issues ...
This Sort of a Life
A Review of Purple Hearts and Silver Stars
Josephine Carney's Purple Hearts and Silver Stars is unique among
transgender memoirs for many reasons. First, it is not written in narrative
form. It includes poems, essays, short stories, journal entries, play excerpts,
and "rants". Secondly, these various writings are not in chronological order.
Janice Josephine begins with "Book One: My Personal Journal in the Weeks
Before and After My Gender-Confirming Surgery," which gives us a naked glimpse
at the meaning of this surgery for her.
The next section, Book Two, includes poetic essays from creative writing
workshops. "Book Three: The Transition as My Marriage Was Coming to an
End" outlines in painful clarity the losses that so often accompany the
gain of one's true gender. Book Four, the last section, is by far the
longest. Subtitled "Finding Me: My Life as Janice Josephine Carney," its
length - perhaps unintentionally - illustrates the freedom and open-endedness
of Janice Josephine's present and future.
Not only is the form of the book unique, but the subject is as well.
As the world strives to understand the transgender experience, one important
caution is not to lump us all together. Just as with any gay or bisexual
person (or straight person, for that matter), each transgender person
has a different childhood, a different adolescence, a different journey
through the fear and shame and loneliness.
And Janice Josephine shows us her unique self in all of her singular
glory: deeply thoughtful, passionate, angry, loving, expressive. And,
above all else, distinctively beautiful.
Janice Josephine is able to illustrate the longing present in many transsexual
lives. "All I want is to feel whole, to feel like a human being," she
writes in her journal as she approaches her surgery. Through other journal
entries, poems, and other writings, Janice Josephine shows us what she
wants out of life, what matters to her, and, most of all, how her experiences
have shaped her.
The line in the book which most spoke to me is this: "I am lost in a
past I never had." She writes of being saddened by her "lack of a past
as a little girl". Even as Janice Josephine moves toward the wholeness
of which she dreams-and for which she has worked very, very hard-her past
will not transition with her.
I was also deeply moved by the poem "They Died as They Lived." Janice
Josephine writes about Laden and Laleh, the Iranian conjoined twins who
underwent separation surgery shortly before Janice Josephine's surgery,
and relates her own experience to theirs. She writes:
Janice and John
We agreed to separate was worth dying forů
If my heart stopped beating, if my lungs stopped breathing
If I only had a few hours being whole
A whole woman, one soul, one body, one brain
Oh yes! It would have been worth dying for
But Janice Josephine's story is wider than her transsexual experience.
She is also a Vietnam War veteran, still processing that experience. She
is an ex-husband still mourning the loss of her marriage. She is a father,
navigating her changed relationships with her children. In the end, this
is a book about a human being who has faced more than her share of struggles,
and who has landed on her feet.
Janice Josephine has also landed in a decidedly spiritual place. She
says, "I have a very personal conviction that being a transsexual is a
spiritual experience." She cites the yin/yang concepts and the Native
American two-spirit shaman as inspirations for her "belief that being
a mix of the two common genders is a blessing." She writes that "forming
a strong spiritual base" helped her to overcome "a world of lies and deceit,
alcoholism, and overwhelming depression." This base is evident throughout
the book. The various writings are profoundly spiritual, laying bare the
connections among human beings, our Creator, and nature.
Janice Josephine calls her book "a mish-mash of emotions" and says,
"I deeply hope that the readers of my book feel the pain, loneliness and
isolation I felt." Dr. Milton Diamond, who wrote the foreword, agrees
that Janice Josephine was successful in this goal. "I know of no other
collection of [transgender] writings," Diamond says, "that offer the intimacy
and insight in how this sort of a life FEELS."
I agree completely. As a transgender man - even one safely on the other
side of transition - I wept over many parts of this book. "When will it
be my time to live?" Janice Josephine asks; and, "Now can I overcome the
battle scars?" "I am lonely, please let me in!" she cries; and then, more
softly: "I wonder if a life of loneliness is the price I will pay for
finding inner peace."
Janice Josephine says she wrote this book "as a means to express my
experiences as a transsexual and my life-long struggle to find peace in
my skin." When she writes, "I have grown into a beautiful woman," I know
she has found that peace and I know the world is a better place for her
having done so.
Any story of deep change resulting in deep peace is powerful, and Janice
Josephine Carney has found ways to bring the reader right into her depths
with her, right into her changes, right into her peace. The non- narrative,
non-chronological form adds much to this ability. Gender transition is
not a narrative experience, nor is it as chronological as it may seem
to those outside the experience. Janice Josephine's writings let us into
her thoughts, hurts, and vulnerability in a way no narrative could.
This is not a sanitized story, edited by retrospect, heavy with lessons,
chronological and neat. This is a real story of a real woman with more
insight and courage than most of us could ever imagine. Her long walk
toward wholeness is laid out on the pages unashamedly. Accepting Janice
Josephine's invitation to walk with her for just a little while is a grand
Benjamin D. Thiel
is currently a graduate student in Servant Leadership at Viterbo University.
He lives in Iowa with his partner, Mary Vermillion, author of the Mara
Gilgannon mystery series.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
Back to the Table of Contents