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Trans-Sister Radio Hardcover – May 9, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 191 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This sympathetic novel about the effect of a sex change on a romantic relationship, a family, and a community could almost be sold as a textbook--a kind of transgender Guide to the Perplexed. With its calming tone and scrupulous sensitivity to the feelings of all involved, it sometimes reads like a textbook, too. But while nobody is likely to launch a protest campaign over the cautious revelations of Trans-sister Radio, that's precisely the subject of Chris Bohjalian's seventh novel, in which a male college professor in a small Vermont town transforms himself into a woman. Even Dana Stevens's initial step in this direction--donning women's clothing--elicits a powerful reaction from the community.

And what about Dana's new girlfriend Allie Banks, a beloved local schoolteacher who fell in love with him before learning of his plan? Her initial instinct is to end the relationship. Then she decides to stand by Dana, inspired rather than daunted by her stuffy ex-husband Will's opposition to the "effeminate" guy she's dating, and by the horrified reactions of the parents at her school. She does, it's true, continue to love Dana after the sex reassignment surgery. And she stoically endures the threatening notes in her school mailbox and the crude graffiti on her front door, as well as the minor vindication of a local public radio story on their battle. Yet Allie never makes the emotional shift from heterosexual woman to lesbian. Breaking off the affair, she spends months mourning the man she had fallen in love with.

Assuming, as we are meant to, that Dana is outwardly becoming the person she always was inside--that biology is anything but destiny--there's only one character who undergoes a profound change over the course of the novel. That would be Will, Allie's ex-husband, who recoils from Dana's initial sexual ambiguity. After her surgery, however, he finds himself increasingly aware of her as a woman.

And so when I'd hug Dana or touch the inside of her palm with the inside of mine (a handshake, yet so suggestive) or my fingers would find their way to one of her arms, I would experience a sexual ripple and wonder why I had felt such a thing--why I had courted such a thing. And the answer would be because she was pretty and she was smart and she was feminine.

Structuring his story around the transcript of a fictional National Public Radio feature on transgender, Bohjalian shifts the point of view with every chapter: the characters often seem to be enlarging on comments they had made for broadcast. We hear from Dana, Allie, and Will in turn, as well as Carly, the daughter of the divorced couple. In this sense, Trans-sister Radio gives everyone equal time. And for good or ill, it has none of the bluster or transgressive charge of Gore Vidal's late-1960s bombshell, Myra Breckinridge. Instead it brings transgender home, rendering it (to quote Dana herself) "domestic as a balloon shade or a perennial garden. And just as harmless." --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

The bestselling author of Midwives and The Law of Similars continues his tradition of incorporating social issues into his moving narratives. Transsexuality goes mainstream in this Scarlet Letter for a softer, gentler but more complicated age. Allison Banks--42 years old, heterosexual, long divorced, mother of a college student and a grade school teacher in a picturesque Vermont village--meets single, attractive, attentive, 35-year-old Dana Stevens when she takes his film class at a nearby college. Early on in the relationship, Dana confesses that he has always believed he was female, though he desires women, too--and he is soon to undergo a long-planned sex change operation. Despite this revelation, and despite her reservations, Allison invites Dana to move in with her, and they have great sex right up until the night before the operation in Colorado, where Allison has loyally accompanied Dana for post-op and moral support. On their return to Vermont, he--now physically and emphatically "she"--continues to share Allison's bed and her house, though nothing can be the same as it was. Allison's ex-husband, Vermont Public Radio president Will, now her good friend, and their daughter, Carly, cope well with the situation, but the close-knit community is less understanding. Questions of what constitutes community tolerance are explored here, but the novel's central focus is on the definition of sex and gender in the characters' personal lives. Allison, Dana, Carly and Will express their views in alternating first person chapters, and transcripts from a fictional NPR All Things Considered series on Dana and her operation provide additional narrative background. Gender is central to who we are, Bohjalian concludes, but not perhaps to who we love. Sex, on the other hand, expresses who we are. Bohjalian's sometimes simplistic characterizations diminish the emotional impact of the novel, and his abundant research on gender dysfunction often gives the book a curiously flat, documentary quality. Nevertheless, Bohjalian humanizes the transsexual community and explains the complexities of sex and gender in an accessible, evenhanded fashion, making a valuable contribution to a dialogue of social and political import. 50,000 first printing; NPR sponsorship; cross-promotion with Vintage publication of The Law of Similars; 15-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1st edition (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609604074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609604076
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As an avid NPR listener, I loved how Chris Bohjalian framed this exploration into the life of a transsexual woman as an interview on National Public Radio. Bohjalian joins the life of Dana as he is on the brink of moving through the magic portal of physical/social/emotional/ of change from male to female.
The Bohjalian researched well the technical, familial, and social process that confronts a transsexual. Many books, and web sites, explain the technical details of transsexuals and the surgeries that change them from the sex they were physically born to into the sex which their minds tell them they really are.
It is the interpersonal and emotional process of transsexual transition that needed a good storyteller. The author succeeded with a delightful story about a person who could be anybody's neighbor, living in a town which could be anybody's neighborhood. This is a wonderful story about what happens when that neighbor, Dana, switches from the guy next door to the gal next door.
To spice things up Dana has fallen love with Allie, one of the town's most popular elementary teachers. The story gains more depth with Will, Allie's still emotionally involved ex-husband, and their first year college age daughter, Carly.
What is most impressive about the story are the very accurate descriptions of the struggles which the characters have about Dana's changes as told from their own voices. There expereinces are believeable and very realistic.
I closely identify with the story in Trans-sister Radio. In addition to being an NPR, All Things Considered regular, I am also a transsexual woman, living in a small town, with a female lover, two daughters (one college age), an active co-parent relationship with my ex, and a professional career.
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Format: Paperback
Trans-sister radio is a profound novel about the intricacies of gender and sexual orientation. The topics are unusual for a novel, yet Bohjalian explores them with style and grace.
Allison Banks is a typical Vermont divorcee - she lives with her daughter Carly, has dinner with her ex-husband Will, and teaches sixth grade at the local elementary school. Her life changes deeply, however, when she falls in love with a local professor, Dana. Her passion cannot be extinguished even when Dana drops a huge bombshell - he has been preparing for sexual reassignment surgery, and is travelling to Colorado to have the procedure done in just a few weeks. Allison travels with Dana and continues to love the new woman, even as they are harassed by town members.
The novel does an excellent job of portraying all of the characters in a sympathetic manner and of enabling the reader to get at the depths of the emotions. The story is told in the context of an NPR interview, and through this format the author is able to plumb the depths of each character. The ending is perhaps a bit too tidy, and distracts from the rest of the story. Despite this, the book is an incredibly compelling read and is strongly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Trans-sister Radio is about living one's truth even as one's understanding and acceptance of it may change.
Transsexuality is a journey, as are most things in life. As a married postoperative transsexual, I can directly relate to almost every situation and, definitely, to every emotion in this excellent portrayal of transsexual impact on self and others. From the pre-divorce intimacy with my ex-wife, through the loneliness, the rejection, the joy of matching body and mind, to the unexpected involvement with a man, now my husband, my life experience echoes that of Dana. My ex-wife and children's experiences have run the gamut of those experienced by Allison and her daughter. This story rings true, and the author has performed a wonderful service of education in showing that transsexuals are not deviant, perverted freaks. We are merely people who were handed a difficult life situation and have struggled to integrate psyches and bodies.
As have those in the book, I have had gains and losses. I mourned the losses and moved on with the joy of being whole and at peace with myself and my God.
Thank you, Chris Bohjalian, for helping.
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Format: Paperback
Once again Chris Bohjalian has been able to write a compelling, disturbing and heartwarming novel - from a unique point of view - and has taken what could have become a tawdry subject and written a beautiful, intriguing novel.
Trans-sister Radio is a novel in five parts - as it is told from four points of view and it also uses excerpts of an NPR radio interview. Like the other novels by Bohjalian that I have read - this novel takes place in a small town in Vermont - which makes the topic that much more interesting . Dana Stevens, a college professor meets and falls in love with Allie - the divorced mother of Carly - who is about to leave for college. The romance is going smoothly for both Dana and Allie until he tells her that he is planning on having a sex change at the end of the summer.
This is the story of Dana and Allie's relationship - from falling in love through Dana's operation and how they handle the small mindedness of their neighbors as well as how Allie's ex-husband Will, who is still in love with Allie, and her daughter Carly deal with the situation.
To say that this is an unusual book with a unique topic is an understatement but the reader will find much to enjoy in Trans-Sister Radio. Chris allows each character to develop individually as well as through each of the other characters experiences. As we can "hear" each person's thoughts as well as see how their actions (or in-actions in some cases) effect one another.
I can't say enough about this book - I could not put it down. While the topic may seem hard to swallow - it is well worth reading, whether you would agree or disagree with Dana and Allie's choices. In a lesser author's hands this book would not amount to much, but in Chris's deft and able hands - it is a beautiful book and a fabulous read.
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