This was not included in the list of books I read in April because I didn’t finish it. I thought I’d talk about why, because this has genuinely baffled me.
In It Chooses You Miranda July reads a local classifieds booklet full of advertisements from people who want to sell things, contacts the sellers, and interviews them about their lives and the things they are trying to sell. My feelings on July tend to fluctuate – on the one hand she can be teeth-grindingly whimsical; on the other, she knows and acknowledges this and has moments of being quite wonderful. It’s possible that said moments of wonderfulness show up later in It Chooses You. However.
The first of July’s interviewees is the seller of a black leather jacket (valued at $10). July calls this seller first:
The person who answered was a man with a hushed voice. He wasn’t surprised by my call – of course he wasn’t, he had placed the ad.
“It’s still for sale. You can make an offer when you see it,” he said.
There was a pause. I sized up the giant space between the conversation we were having and the place I hoped to go. I leaped.
“Actually, I was wondering if, when I come over to look at the jacket, I could also interview you about your life and everything about you. Your hopes, your fears…”
My question was overtaken by the kind of silence that rings out like an alarm. I quickly added: “Of course, I would pay you for your time. Fifty dollars. It’ll take less than an hour.”
“Okay, great. What’s your name?”
The door opened and there was Michael, a man in his late sixties, burly, broad-shouldered, a bulbous nose, a magenta blouse, boobs, pink lipstick. Before he opened the door completely he quietly stated that he was going through a gender transformation.
But then we get this:
Miranda: What was your life like before you came out?
Michael: I was trying to be the same as every other man, and hiding the fact that inside I felt like a woman. I knew that when I was a child, but I had this strong fear of coming out for a long time.
At this point I was really confused by the pronoun choices that the text was applying, and wondering if I or July (and McSweeneys, who had originally published the book, and Canongate, who had published my edition) had got something wrong. Perhaps Michael was using a male name and male pronouns for reasons I didn’t understand. I’m a cisgendered woman; there are things I will oversimplify or get outright wrong even if I genuinely try.
Then a few chapters later there was this:
The PennySaver didn’t have quite the allure it once did, but I sat down with the latest issue and a pen to circle new listings. Andrew’s ad was still in there; the tadpoles had probably transitioned this week. It seemed Michael had sold the leather jacket; he was ten dollars closer to womanhood.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of this. The few people I discussed it with found it as bizarre and offensive as I did; but if it was the result of ignorance (rather than a deliberate choice of words for some reasons I cannot fathom), it passed multiple levels of writer-editor-publisher to make it into print. The copyright page says that “The interviews and sequences within have been edited for length, coherence, and clarity” but that tells me very little.
If this is the colossal pronoun fuck up it appears to be, I’m aware my shock is partly the result of naivete. People who have been paying attention to this for far longer than I seem to have learnt to expect this sort of thing. But as long as it appears July and her publishers have got this wrong, I don’t think I will be reading this book.
The Michael chapter is here. The Beverley chapter (from which that last quote is taken) doesn’t appear to be online that I can find.