One of my besties is a public school teacher. Over the summer she attended a conference and bought me a present. Hooray for that, right?! When she called to tell me she had something for me I couldn’t imagine what she could have gotten me at a teacher’s conference. And I definitely didn’t think it was going to be better than the Daenery’s Targaryen bobblehead she’d already gotten me (thanks Flo!). Ok, well maybe it isn’t cooler than my Kaleesi statue, but it really is close.
Anyway, my friend went to a session about LGBTQ topics in schools and there was an author there talking about his book. The book, “Revolutionary”, is an historical fiction, which is one of my go-to favorite genres. Revolutionary, is about Deborah Samson – a woman who dressed and fought in the Revolutionary War as a man. It turns out that Deborah Samson is a many generations-past relative of this author, Alex Myer, and it turns out that he was even more interested in her because he is transgender himself. And one might wonder if Deborah Samson was as well.
I knew nothing of Deborah Samson or her story despite the fact that I grew up in Easton Massachusetts where Deborah Samson spent many years of her life. I lived and played and traveled in the area where she lived and fought and died and is buried. In school I learned about the Revolutionary War. But never once was Deborah Samson (or any other woman) ever mentioned. After reading Revolutionary, I was motivated to learn more about her life and who she was. I learned where she is buried and that there is actually a statue of her in a neighboring town (a town my family has owned and operated a store in for close to 50 years!). The statue is in front of the public library for goodness sake! Really, given all this, one would think I might have encountered Deborah Samson before now.
In reality, I’m not at all surprised that I had never learned about Deborah Samson. But I can’t help wondering what it would have been like for me, growing up, feeling so different and isolated, if I had learned about her. What would it have been like for me as a kid to know I was not alone? To know that I wasn’t wrong or broken?
The book is excellent. Exceptionally well-written and with likable relatable characters. The author does a phenomenal job of walking a very fine line of letting his character be who she was and not imposing modern (read that: trans) intentions onto her, deciding who she should have or even might have been. There were a few times while reading I wished he had given her more of a trans-identity. There is one romance the author sets Samson in that doesn’t sit right with me. But mostly it was a fantastic reading experience. He masterfully and seamlessly wove pronouns and names (Deborah as a man is Robert). It is neither confusing nor burdensome to follow. Unlike the book “Suits Me” (the story of Billy Tipton) where that author insists Billy dressed and presented himself as a man only to make his way in jazz music, utilizing female pronouns throughout the book, Myers leaves things open, using pronouns in varied and interesting ways, allowing readers to wonder, dream and relate, coming to their own conclusions. The truth is, we don’t know whether Deborah Samson was transgender. What we do know was that she was adventurous, brave, inspiring and heroic. Both as Robert and as Deborah.
I hope that we are raising our children to question the boxes others draw around them. Not necessarily to always chafe or rebel, but to at least be aware of the lines and question the fit. Nina became interested in Revolutionary as my enthusiasm became more palpable the more I read. But it is an adult book and, bright as she is, she couldn’t have read it with any real comprehension. So as I read I summarized for her. Nightly she would come up to our room and snuggle on the bed next to me and ask, “What’s going on with Robert now?” I told her about Deborah’s yearnings, Robert’s adventures, and the inner secret fears that nearly everyone carries with them for any number of reasons. We talked about the strict rules and roles for women in those times; the things they were expected to do as well as the things they were not allowed to do. Nina was fascinated. So fascinated, that for her birthday I ended up buying her a book about Deborah Samson for young readers. She devoured it and we talked about the differences. The young reader’s book didn’t question why Deborah would want to dress or live as a man. Overall though, it wasn’t a bad book.
Also for her birthday, Nina requested a set of tools. She’s very interested in building and dismantling and getting a real look at how things work. We have a workbench in our basement and I helped her clear it off and set a space for her. But what would we actually build down there? I don’t have any substantive experience building anything but our yearly sukkah. I may have mentioned one or a dozen times that my dad wasn’t exactly handy. And even if he had been a guy who built things with wood, he probably wouldn’t have shared those skills with his daughter. I took Nina to the library to look for woodworking books for children. I figured I could learn alongside her. Perhaps we’d build a birdhouse. There were several books of either beginning woodworking or children’s woodshop books. We found one that had several good but simple projects in it. Pretty much all the books looked like this. Nina was both incensed and amused.