Morgan in the mirror
By J. Dougherty (PHD)
MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL – WHO IS THE SANEST OF US ALL?
Transgender is the fourth component of the LGBTI community and, although it has been brought under this umbrella, the concept – let alone the experience – still triggers fear and intolerance towards transgender people: female to male (FTM) and male to female (MTF). Given the discrimination, and sometimes violence, that many lesbians and gays have experienced, it is ironic and sad that we ourselves display varying degrees of prejudice against bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
Saint-Clair, in her latest novel Morgan in the mirror, tackles the important issue of transgenderism. It is an important issue for the health and survival not only of our own community but also of humankind, because transgenderism is part of the global issue of discrimination against ‘the other’, and our survival is based on our ability to become compassionate, accepting human beings capable of caring for each other and, in turn, our planet.
I believe Saint-Clair’s novel contributes towards our understanding of ‘the other’, and any knowledge and experience we gain of those who differ from us diminishes our ignorance and its concomitant fear. We have all witnessed recently in Iraq the horrific human, cultural and environmental destruction which has occurred as a consequence of this ‘innate’ fear being fanned into all-consuming violence.
Although there is a plethora of information on this subject on the internet, there is little, if any, fictional or imaginative explorations. In Morgan in the mirror, Saint-Clair imagines the mind and psyche of Morgan, an FTM, and her exploration engaged this reader’s interest and compassion. In the prologue, the author sets up an intriguing mystery, which is partly solved for the reader in the first chapter, where the main protagonists are brought together, and their inter-relationships deftly uncovered.
Then, in a series of flashbacks interweaved with present moments, Saint-Clair develops the credible character of Morgan the transman – from the little girl who ‘had blurred even before she was old enough to know what she was doing’, to the young man who comes to terms with the question: what is a man?
Saint-Clair’s skill in interweaving the personal pronouns ‘she’ and ‘he’, without confusing the reader, is epitomized in this one sentence: ‘Though Jo and Maddy’s cavorting is, indeed, a hilarious sight, their antics have triggered a memory that Morgan thought he had forgotten – that of Dan, his father, bouncing her on his shoulders until, podgy little hands buried in his hair, she’d squeal with delight’. The sensual language (whether describing the delights of flesh, food, flora or fauna) that the reader has come to expect from Saint-Clair’s earlier novels permeates this one also. While all her previous novels have explored erotic, passionate connections between women, Morgan in the mirror expands this sensuality to imagine, not only sexually but also emotionally, what it is like for a woman to become involved in a relationship with a transman.
Bringing one or two characters from a previous novel into a current novel is a leitmotif of this author, and I feel I am meeting old friends again. It is also a good technique by which to introduce a new character; for example, Jo and Maddy, the main protagonists in Far from Maddy, now come into Morgan in the mirror as minor characters, while Christen, a minor character in Far from Maddy, now is one of the two main protagonists in Morgan in the mirror.
One of the consequences of this continuity is that, as a reader of all of Saint-Clair’s novels and therefore being familiar with the characters, it is somewhat difficult to evaluate whether certain characters are sufficiently developed for a first-time reader to gain a feel for them. However, Jo and Maddy are minor characters in this novel and do not require the same in-depth development which the main characters receive.
Saint-Clair has developed a fully-fleshed character in Morgan, building him layer by layer by means of flashbacks to childhood and adolescence, depictions of his current experiences as a young man working on a building site, and expositions of others’ perceptions of him.
The character of Christen was introduced in Saint-Clair’s previous novel Far from Maddy, as the heterosexual police officer who searched for the missing Jo, became involved with Maddy, and consequently questioned her sexuality. Christen is well developed in this novel as she struggles with the tension between her feelings for Morgan, and her confusion and prejudice. No matter what subject Saint-Clair chooses in which to envelop her characters – domestic violence, homelessness, ageing, transgenderism – she creates credible lesbian characters and describes them and their passionate connections in sensual, evocative language and imagery.
The author explores some of the issues which arise when Morgan and Christen begin to act on their attraction for each other; for example, Morgan’s refusal to allow Christen to touch his cunt while they make love triggers issues of reciprocity and power.
How will this affect their relationship in the longer term, if Morgan remains as he is physically, with no breasts and no penis? I found it difficult, initially, to understand Morgan’s revulsion for his female genitalia – he is convinced that his female genitals are ‘one of those horrible mistakes Nature makes occasionally’ – the paradox (or is it?) being that Morgan finds women’s female genitalia attractive. However, after talking with a friend who is post-op MTF, and who had found her male genitalia repulsive, I began to understand – a little.
This sensitive exploration of a male psyche within a transitioning female-to-male body will appeal to a wide audience, although some lesbian readers may be put off. However, by not reading this novel, they will miss a very moving story of one person’s journey to self-acceptance, and acceptance by friends and lover. While those who do not have to labour under any of society’s ‘abnormal’ labels still find life extremely painful at times, it is beyond the imaginations of most of us to conceive of the pain and struggles endured by those who differ so much from the ‘norm’. Saint-Clair’s overall positive treatment of Morgan’s journey does not avoid the difficult issues.
There is enormous potential here for a further novel to explore the physical, social and legal issues which would arise as Morgan and Christen develop their relationship. I hope there is a sequel to Morgan in the mirror – I can’t wait to read it.