Any gay man who recently saw Love, Simon in theaters can tell you how incredible it feels to see a teen romantic comedy with a gay protagonist after all these years, and how the experience is bittersweet because even though it feels like we’ve finally arrived, it’s still sad that these stories weren’t around for us when we ourselves were teenagers. I imagine this is a similar sensation for a transgender person who reads Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl, which is essentially a teen romance about a girl named Amanda Hardy moving to a new school having recently completed transitioning from her previous life as Andrew.
Much of If I Was Your Girl plays out like a fairytale. Many of the rough edges reality might impose on the story have been magically sanded away. For example: at 18, Amanda has been taking hormones long enough that her body has been thoroughly changed. She has also been able to have procedures to complete her transition despite the fact that she comes from a poor family in poor parts of Texas. Not only is Amanda easily able to pass, she’s considered beautiful. On her first day in her new school, the quarterback has a friend approach her to ask her out (why the quarterback didn’t approach her himself is unclear except that it serves as a meet-cute for Grant, the friend, who is also interested in Amanda). Amanda is also a sweet, smart, and inoffensive person. Hating her would be like clubbing a baby seal.
There are, however, stark doses of hardship in Amanda’s story. Her deep insecurity about whether or not people will like/accept her impacted me greatly. At her previous school, Amanda was bullied and beaten on a regular basis while she was undergoing her transition. She still bears scars–both emotional and physical–from the hard process of becoming who she was meant to be. And when Amanda was living as Andrew and terrified of being transgender, she attempted suicide. This obviously haunts both Amanda and her parents, who are so afraid of losing their child that the process of them accepting her as transgender was considerably fast-tracked.
Still, I struggled with the fairytale side of the story all the way through–first because I can’t help but feel it’s unrealistic, and second because it seems unfair to any transgender teen out there who doesn’t fit this story and hasn’t been able to transition the way Amanda magically has. But when I got to Russo’s afterward, in which she admits to making a creative decision to present Amanda in this way and hopes that doing so won’t make anyone who isn’t like Amanda feel alienated. Russo admitted that this is not the most common experience for transgender or genderqueer teenagers but an almost hopeful version of it.
Which takes me back to Love, Simon, which of course portrays a very narrow, camera-ready version of a gay teen’s life in which the scariest part of coming out is just the coming out. And I went along with it because it was like an act of wish fulfillment. Hetero, cisgender people have had this same sort of wish fulfillment for as long as pop culture has existed–so don’t we deserve it, too? Aren’t the complications Russo built into the story enough? And didn’t she handle her transgender teen love story infinitely better than the shockingly irresponsible Adam? One of my problems with Adam was that there were no consequences for the deception at the center of the romance. In If I Was Your Girl, Russo more successfully teases out Amanda’s secret while also having her try to be honest with Grant. And at the end there’s still a struggle to reconcile things. It feels like there are real feelings and real people at here because of that. And at the end of the day, that’s enough for me.