By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Mature content: The following story contains descriptions of mature themes and subject matter. Read at your own discretion.
The Park County No. 6 School Board has voted unanimously to keep a transgender-affirming book in the Cody High School Library.
“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo is a novel following a transgender girl, Amanda, who falls in love with a high school boy, Grant.
Grant does not know that Amanda was born male, has taken testosterone suppressants, has been on estrogen for about three years and has had vaginoplasty.
Vaginoplasty transsexual surgery usually involves creating a space between the rectum and prostate for a vaginal canal made from the skin of the shaft of the penis and scrotum, and shortening the urethra and fixing it near the vaginal opening. A female vulva is shaped using scrotal and other skin.
Suicide Attempt, Bottom Surgery
As a young male, Amanda’s name was Andrew. Suffering from gender identity disorder and enduring frequent bullying, Andrew swallows a bottle of oxycodone in a suicide attempt at age 15.
Andrew wakes in a hospital. The teen’s mother, on learning that Andrew has gender identity disorder, says, “Anything, anyone, is better than a dead son.” And the mother helps the teen transition socially, chemically and surgically to appear as a female.
Andrew adopts the name Amanda, starts presenting as a girl, then undergoes bottom surgery at about age 17. The character, who also is the first-person narrator, discusses the process of dilating, or inserting medical equipment into the neo-vagina to keep it from self-sealing.
Bullied And Moves
Amanda is often bullied and harassed, including by the father of a girl who was frightened by the sight of Amanda in the girls’ locker room.
Amanda’s father, who lives in another town, allows the teen to come live with him and have a fresh start. Their relationship is strained, since the father describes himself as “old-fashioned” and misses having a son.
After Amanda falls in love with Grant, a boy at school, they date for several weeks.
They kiss, engage in minor foreplay and flirtatious touching. They undress together, removing Grant’s pants and Amanda’s bra, but leaving both pairs of underwear on. However, Grant and Amanda decide not to have sex.
Amanda writes a letter explaining to Grant about the suicide attempt and transgender treatments, but Grant destroys the letter without reading it.
Amanda has to explain the situation to Grant in the end of the book anyway, because Amanda’s friend Bee, a bisexual girl who has a crush on Amanda, tells the entire school Amanda’s secret shortly after the latter is crowned homecoming queen.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, with no indication of whether Grant will still want to be with Amanda after learning that Amanda was born male.
Book Approved Twice
Local resident Sheila Leach challenged the novel in September. A reconsideration committee of community members appointed by the Park County No. 6 School Board voted soon after to keep the book on the shelves of the Cody High School library.
Leach appealed that decision to the school board in October, she told Cowboy State Daily. The board voted Nov. 14 to deny Leach’s appeal, and to keep the book in the school.
No Porn Here
Leach told Cowboy State Daily in October that she did not consider “If I Was Your Girl” to be pornographic, but challenged the book because she found it too controversial for the high school’s collection.
“This book is not pornographic, but it is dangerous,” said Leach in an Oct. 18 interview. “It’s dealing with a highly controversial issue and should not be in the high school library at all.”
‘We Need To Have Books Like This In Our Library’
School board members, however, defended the book Monday by stating that it is not pornographic. They also said Russo’s book is informative and highly empathetic.
“The author avoided graphic content of a sexual or a violent nature,” said board member Jessica Case. “We need to have books like this in our library. They ensure that transgender students feel welcome and supported in our district.”
Board member Cathy Roes also defended the book by saying it doesn’t contain pornography.
“I did not see anything that was pervasively pornographic,” said Roes, adding that the book rightly addresses the “hardship of the high school experience. And I saw a little bit of my own high school experience in it.”
Board treasurer Sheri Schutzman, member Karen Schipfmann and board chair Brandi Nelson all spoke in defense and support of the book as well.
The board voted unanimously in favor of keeping the book.
A Misunderstanding, Challengers Say
Vince Vanata, state committeeman for the Park County Republican Party, spoke against pornographic books at the meeting, as did community member Tim Lasseter.
Vanata told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that he and Lasseter were speaking generically of the need to craft an anti-pornography policy in the district. They were not classifying “If I Was Your Girl” as pornography, Vanata said.
“Pornography wasn’t the crux of (Leach’s) complaint,” said Vanata. “She doesn’t even know why they were addressing the issue of pornography. … They weren’t addressing her complaint.”
Leach could not be reached Friday for a second interview.
Nelson did not respond by publication time to a Friday email requesting additional comment.
“If I Was Your Girl” is well-written and is, generally, grammatically sound. It contains other themes that some could consider controversial for a school audience, including the following:
The dialogue has numerous profane words, including the use of “God” and “Jesus” as curse words.
Two main characters smoke marijuana and hide marijuana from a school official.
There is frequent teen alcohol and tobacco use.
A bisexual girl and a lesbian girl have a secret relationship.
A transgender woman who is a minor character commits suicide.
A girl says that she was raped as a young teen.
A boy’s father spent his days “cooking meth.”
A boy punches then attempts to rape Amanda, but Amanda’s friend Chloe trains a shotgun on the boy to make him stop.
Amanda’s father punches Grant in the nose, believing mistakenly that Grant was the boy who had punched Amanda.
A transgender woman who is a side character hooks up with a man on Tinder and complains that the man is one of a very few who will date transgender women.
Amanda reconciles the transgender experience with the Christian faith, saying, “God wanted me to live, and this was the only way I knew how to survive, so this was what God wanted. This was what I wanted. I had chosen to live, and it seemed like, finally, I was doing just that.”
A Diversion Of Priorities
Book challenges are at the forefront of public discourse in Wyoming, especially as Casper parents this summer challenged the presence of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” and “Gender Queer” in the Kelly Walsh High School library.
Both books remain in the library, but the Natrona County School Board is developing a policy forbidding sexually explicit books.
The two books in Casper have sexually graphic images and words. Detractors generally have denounced the books as “pornography,” and have said they do not care that the books are LGBTQ-affirming.