Friday, August 14, 2015

"Gracefully Grayson": a middle-school boy comes to term with gender identity as he accepts a lead female role in a Greek school play

Author: Ami Polonsky

Title: “Gracefully Grayson

Publication: 2014, Hyperion, ISBN 978-1-4231-8527-7, 244 pages, hardcover, three parts, 35 chapters

Amazon link for hardcover here also in Kindle.

This gentle novel relates the experience of a sixth-grade boy, Grayson, who is beginning to deal with the possibility that he is really a girl (transgender), although, by the end of the book, it is not completely clear that Grayson will eventually follow through.

The novel is written in first person present tense.

Grayson has lost his parents to a car accident in Cleveland and now lives in Chicago (or near suburbs) with an uncle and aunt.  His Humanities teacher, Mr. Finnegan (we called this “General Education” when I was in “junior high school” in the 1950s) is sponsoring a school play, “The Myth of Persephone”  about the daughter of Zeus.  Grayson decides to accept the lead role as a girl. He decides he is a girl.

Controversy ensues in the school, possibly jeopardizing Finn’s job, and leading to a climax of the story.

It is common for plays and operas to switch genders.  The lead of Rchard Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavlier” is often female.

As for gay teachers, it has only slowly improved over the years, but more rapidly recently. In the spring of 1961, when I was graduating from high school, there was a “rumor” that a beloved physics teacher was gay.  He “resigned” and became a traveling lecturer, but later died of Hepatitis B,
As for Persephone, there are numerous school-age plays based on the Greek mythology, such as this one in Canada, link, or "Demeter and Persephone". 

Back in seventh grade, in 1956, I had a role in the musical “The Sunbonnet Girl”.  I remember putting makeup on my hands and feeling sensitive about that.  But I didn’t want to do anything that could make me “feel feminine”, but partly because masculinity was so “valued” in my surrounding culture.

There is a YouTube review from the Fairfax Network of Fairfax County Public Schools, where I subbed from 2004-2007, with some controversy.  In fact, the novel introduces the idea of a “long term substitute teacher” near the end, who does not have to be licensed but who has authority to grade.  Greek mythology is often covered in ninth grade English in Virginia schools.  

There is a subplot involving the reading of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" (not named for a while) ; but this novel was written before "Go Set a Watchman" had become known (see July 15 posting).

There's also a great line about the idea that an actor learns empathy by literally walking in someone else's shoes. Remember Clive Barker's rule that an audience can focus on only three "players" on stage at a time.  

I think this novel logically calls for a sequel, so we learn how Grayson develops in the following years.

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