A journalist looks back on her complex personal journey, from her childhood in the Philippines—where she was raised as a boy—to her young adulthood in the United States, where she attended Harvard University and often passed as white due to her albinism. Finally understanding herself as a trans woman, she underwent gender transition surgery and has found self-acceptance in a complicated web of identities.
An Ivy League-educated scholar of literature, Talusan deftly evokes the themes and motifs of 'traditional' trans narratives, all the while refusing to settle for easy answers to the questions raised by a life lived beyond the conventions of gender, race, and class identity ... pays homage in both style and structure to Talusan’s predecessors in the trans memoir genre. Shades of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness and Jennifer Finney Boylan’s She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, as well as others, come through in the sharp, journalistic voice with which Talusan captures and studies her own life ... Crisp, lucid prose belies the fairy-tale quality of Talusan’s lived experiences ... like the best of trans memoirists, Talusan refuses the call to sensationalism and political proselytizing that so often characterizes writing about 'different' or 'exceptional' people. Instead, Talusan spends much of the book focusing on the sensory, emotional, and relationship details that give texture to any life ... Talusan’s spare, journalistic prose blossoms into a lyrical poeticism that further distinguishes Fairest as a work of literary nonfiction ... By painting her life in such exquisite detail, Talusan breathes new life into the well-worn body of the transgender life story, showing the reader deep wells of complexity where, in a less truthful or less talented writer’s hands, oversimplification and cliché might reign. Talusan leans into the pain and heartbreak — as well as the beauty and hope — that have emerged from each of her choices, allowing her full humanity to shine through ... while Talusan is certainly politically aware, she is neither pedagogue nor polemicist. In Fairest, she grants herself the freedom to tell her story on her terms, which is a kind of magic all its own.
In Fairest's carefully nuanced and detailed analysis, Talusan articulates the ways in which people of color create solidarity when there are only one or two non-white individuals in these elite, predominantly white spaces of privilege ... This nuance, this careful attention to looking and attempting to understand this journey not just from her own perspective, but also from those affected by it, gives a welcome maturity, depth and resonance to Talusan's memoir ... While an argument can be made that the vehicle of a mirror as a tool for self-reflection is a bit on-point, a bit overused, it does hold a productive presence both narratively and structurally in this gorgeous and lyrical debut ... The language we have now, the spaces and community support to exist firmly within a gender fluid and/or nonbinary gender identity are developments made mostly within the last 50 years. They have been made, in large part, because of the work of inspiring trans activists like Talusan. Because of them, people are no longer faced with erasure or binary opposition as the only realities.
.... render[s] an intellectual debate intimate ... Talusan navigates these complex dynamics graciously, acknowledging both her privileges and their cost: the constant threat of being exposed as herself ... Bounding between place and time, Fairest’s shaky structure and inelegant sentences can sometimes threaten its momentum. But Talusan also toggles between emotional planes as well ... Although her account can grow tedious with anecdotal detail, there’s enough material in Talusan’s life story to fill several memoirs ... In telling this story, Talusan finds something like resolution: She gives voice to a self that somehow always existed, she just couldn’t yet see it.