In between all my trips to here and there, I’ve been taking some pretty heavy duty reading with me. A few months ago, I was asked if I was interested in reviewing a copy of the book, A Murder Over a Girl by Ken Corbett.
While trans-gender laced, true-crime stories aren’t generally my forté, this topic appealed to me for many reasons. But let’s back up first.
My first experience with anything gender-based was actually way back in the 1970s when I would watch the Korean War-era dramedy, M*A*S*H, with my parents. It was Corporal Max Klinger who brought cross-dressing to light. But in this case, the idea was that he wanted to be considered “crazy” because he thought he was a woman.
We were all in on the joke and we knew that he was just pretending because if he wasn’t, he surely was crazy and surely would be discharged!
In the 80s, we had Boy George and in the 90s, RuPaul, but again, we didn’t know if they were trans-gender or cross-dressers or just eccentric.
Because it wasn’t a topic that was personal to me, I never really thought much about it until a few short years ago when I turned on the first episode of Orange is the New Black.
I wondered how they made that guy look so much like a woman. That was before I knew about Laverne Cox, one of the first openly transgender actors on television. I later learned that Laverne has an identical twin brother who actually played her pre-transgender. But Laverne, to me, is simply a stunning woman.
We’ve definitely come a long way in better understanding and accepting that things like gender and sexuality (which are totally different) are more fluid than we once thought. I certainly understand through personal friends of my own that many people feel trapped in their own body in the wrong gender.
Seeing my friends openly talk about it and sharing it on their blogs or social sites and even with major media outlets shows me that, even though it’s something I’ve never experienced or will never experience, doesn’t mean I can’t try to understand it.
Unfortunately, the shifting attitude towards gender has not been without its collateral damage along the way.
And this is how I became interested in reading the story of A Murder Over a Girl. Subtitled Gender, Justice, and Junior High, I was hoping for a book to educate, inform, and hopefully make me feel something. Unfortunately, this was not the book to do it.
Ken Corbett painstakingly detailed the trial of Brandon McInerney who stood trial for the murder of his 8th grade classmate, Larry King, known as Leticia King shortly before his death.
Both boys came from difficult, violent, and negligent childhoods which only added to their lack of understanding about the world and their role in it. Brandon was raised with an extremely narrow attitude of tolerance. And Larry was passed around until he reached an age when he was trying to feel comfortable in his own skin.
Unfortunately, Larry never had the chance to embrace his identity as Leticia because just a week after he claimed his new identity, he was shot twice in the back of the head at school by Brandon.
Don’t worry. This point is not a spoiler. We know the crime, the details, and every character involved in the story from the start. But the major focus of the book is on Brandon and his trial.
The reasons for this are pretty obvious. Larry/Leticia was no longer around to contribute to the story and not much seemed to be known about him. Instead, the story focused more on Brandon and his motives (which are never really revealed) and the argument on which charge he should be found guilty of.
It’s a slow narrative that seems to lack the hook or emotion of a crime story. Instead, the book focuses on a more intellectual level to try to understand the what and the why behind a murder and a hate crime like this.
At the end, I felt disappointed. I was disappointed in the jury and the decisions. I was disappointed that more information wasn’t presented about when gender identification really starts to emerge. And more than anything, I felt disgusted (no fault of the author) that people walk among us with small minds and violent tendencies.
The book did leave me with many questions though. If Larry had been allowed to explore his gender identity today, 8 years later, would things be different? Would Larry see someone like Laverne Cox as a positive role model? Would the educational system be more equipped to put aside their personal prejudices to help keep their students safe?
As I was thinking about my final thoughts on the subject, I turned to my 9 year old son and asked him how he would feel if a boy in his class, that he doesn’t particularly care for, decided that he felt more comfortable as a girl. He said that it would feel strange to see him like that but he could try to understand that he was doing it because that’s how he felt inside. And he said he would just get used to it.
Maybe things have changed and hopefully for the better.
If you want to connect with real life gender stories, I recommend reading Amanda Jetté Knox over at The Maven of Mayhem who has both a trans-gender child and trans-gender spouse. And she’s a fabulous writer. I also think you’ll love Casey at Life with Roozle who spent many years as a lesbian mom until she realized she was a trans-parent.