“Maxine Wore Black”: Jayla’s Self-Actualization and Trans* Issues

Maxine Wore Black is the most gripping book I have read in a long time. I had a hard time putting it down, and even after I updated my progress I would usually sneak in at least one more chapter.

The story opens with Jayla, the main character sitting by the entrance to her local queer prom, waiting for her friend to arrive. From the way she talks, you can easily tell that she has confidence and self-esteem issues, something that really hinders her judgment. As the story progresses, her love interest’s girlfriend dies due to an accident… Or so we are asked to believe. The rest of the story focuses on Jayla, who must untangle the threads of truth as she finds her voice and sense of self.

As a transgendered person myself, I can relate to many of Jayla’s problems and fears. I really enjoyed reading a novel where the main character was relatable as a trans person, but that her gender identity wasn’t what the plot hinged upon. So many books about transgendered people make that the main focus of the story, and it was refreshing to see us depicted as normal people who get into all kinds of situations; our lives containing many different facets.

I wanted to mention a few things that came up for me while reading the book. There were a few scenes that brought on strong emotions and made me ponder different topics that are dear to me.

One of the most poignant and realistic side-stories was the little blurb about one of Jayla’s first experiences using a female bathroom. As a pre-op transman, I feel very similarly whenever I strut into the men’s room. I put on a façade, attempting to fit in, so no one will ask me questions. I subscribe to the belief that if I act like I belong, people will think I belong. It has worked so far, but each new bathroom trip sets off my nerves.

As a warning, this next paragraph contains a spoiler! It set my nerves on fire when Jayla rejected Francesca. I truly cannot understand why some transgendered people cannot always accept other transgendered/gender variant people for who they are. This is a deeply personal topic to each individual person, and this is just my own opinion. However, it made me really sad that Jayla was unable to accept Francesca as she is, and that her reasoning for not liking her was not due to anything less hurtful. She could have even told her that she just doesn’t feel attracted to her that way; there is nothing that makes a trans person feel more inadequate than knowing that we will not be loved based on our transgenderedness. You can’t choose who you like, and many people in this world will not be “the one” for you, but this is just cruel.

The last thing I wanted to touch on involves a quote from page 244, where Jayla wonders if she should have acted as a “suave, elegant ambassador from the country of transgender”. I have found that if you are the first transgendered person that someone has met, this is quite accurately what you need to be. I have held many different titles and job positions over the years, and having been the first trans person filling those positions, there are so many people who did not know how to deal with me, how to address me, or what accommodations I would require. You must act polite and poised the entire time or fear bias towards future generations. It is a really difficult position to be in and to navigate. In summation, I loved this quote.

Overall, the quality of writing was pretty great; the book was easy-to-read. The only thing that I felt was slightly-less-than-stellar is how Jayla and Francesca could make each other feel like clichés sometimes. They are definitely foils for each other, but when their reactions or feelings about things are put side-by-side, it can seem like the author just wanted to cover a broader range of opinions.

I loved this book. It was a solid, enthralling read with characters I could relate to and identify with, as well as new and exciting situations. I recommend picking up a copy and delving in—You won’t be disappointed!

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