SELF-ISH

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight - KAREN RIGBY

Chloe Sch­wenke, Red Hen Press (MAY) Soft­cover $17.95 (260pp) 978-1-59709-608-9

SELF-ISH is Chloe Sch­wenke’s mem­oir, fol­low­ing her jour­ney from a male up­bring­ing to life as a woman. From reflections on iden­tity to the re­ac­tions of co­work­ers, fam­ily, and friends, this can­did ac­count walks an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, ex­cru­ci­at­ing tightrope be­tween liv­ing for one­self and liv­ing in har­mony. Sch­wenke holds a mir­ror to so­ci­ety while in­ter­ro­gat­ing her­self; “self-ish” be­comes an in­spired call to au­then­tic­ity.

Sch­wenke spent years work­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture, ad­vo­cacy, hu­man rights, and with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion as one of its three trans­gen­der po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees. The­matic chap­ters high­light an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer punc­tu­ated by ter­mi­na­tions; facets of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, in which in­di­vid­u­als sit­u­ate them­selves at dif­fer­ent points within and out­side of the gen­der bi­nary; Quaker faith; mem­o­ries of two mar­riages, along­side parenthood; and Sch­wenke’s process of be­com­ing Chloe.

Sch­wenke’s ac­cep­tance of the fact that liv­ing as a man no longer worked is por­trayed in grad­ual in­cre­ments, un­fold­ing with nat­u­ral ease. As in­tense as many of the emo­tions sur­round­ing her de­ci­sion are, events that would seem ex­tra­or­di­nary to an out­sider are treated with deep con­sid­er­a­tion. Her voice is marked by a com­pelling mix­ture of con­fi­dence and hu­mil­ity.

In­tro­spec­tive for­ays min­gle with ac­counts of peo­ple who helped along the way, even with well-timed words or ges­tures. The book firmly grounds Sch­wenke’s trans­for­ma­tion as one that could never have taken place in iso­la­tion. Her ex-wife stands out as a con­tin­ual pos­i­tive force, while col­leagues in Africa prove re­sound­ingly ac­cept­ing amid so­cial, re­li­gious, and cul­tural dif­fer­ences. When dis­crim­i­na­tion and other neg­a­tive en­coun­ters take place, they’re nar­rated with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight and with hope for the fu­ture.

At times cir­cuitous in its ap­proach, and pop­u­lated with fig­ures who some­times ap­pear and quickly re­cede, this grace­ful, ten­der ex­plo­ration of iden­tity across decades is a po­tent re­minder to honor one­self through ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence.

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