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Literature / I Am J

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J is a teenager growing up in New York City in the early 2010s. J lives with his mother and his often-at-work father. J's only friend is Melissa, an artistic girl who wishes to become a professional dancer. He's a rather normal, if somewhat moody, 17 year old boy. That is, except for one secret of his: J is a transgender boy, though he isn't out yet and he doesn't even understand what that actually means. Feeling ostracized at school and suffocated by his loved ones, J goes through a difficult journey as he tries to be himself.

I Am J tells the story of a Puerto Rican-Jewish teenager named "J" as he comes to terms with his gender identity and goes through the process of coming-out.

This book contains examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: J has begun hormone treatment, is living as male, and is accepted into college. But, his relationship with his parents (especially his father) is still rocky and he's broken up with Blue.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Melissa can put on a "tough street girl" accent whenever it serves her best.
  • The Bully: J has been getting into fights with bullies since people started picking on him for his androgyny in fifth grade.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Melissa's Hippie Parent mother lets her call her "Karyn".
  • Childhood Friend Romance: At the start of the book, J has a crush on his friend Melissa, who he's known since middle school. After a while J's crush wavers and the two firmly go into Like Brother and Sister territory.
  • Cool Big Sis: Chanelle is older than J. She acts as both a mentor and a close friend.
  • Cultural Rebel: J self-deprecates himself for being a Puerto Rican who hangs around a 14th st. Starbucks.
  • Dead Guy Junior: As per Jewish tradition, J is named after a deceased relative, namely a maternal aunt.
  • Delinquent Hair: Blue's hair is dyed blue, thus her nickname. In her case it shows off her spirited artist side.
  • Disappeared Dad: Melissa's father is described as "little more than a hit-and-run".
  • Does Not Like Men: Chanelle has a rocky relationship with men. It's mentioned that it's a reflection of her own dysphoria and self-doubt.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: J kisses his friend Melissa when she's supposed to be asleep. She freaks out because she's not into girls and he kissed her when he thought she was sleeping.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: J's mother calls him "Jenifer Juana Silver" when she's really mad at him.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: J has less-than-enlightened views on gay people.
  • Hidden Buxom: J originally layered to hide his chest, but he was later given a proper binder.
  • LGBT Awakening: J first heard about trans people at age 11 when channel flipping and coming across an exploitive talk show episode about trans women. The next day he began researching online about being trans. J stopped researching after being dissatisfied with what he found on SRS. It took 6 more years for him to start wondering about transition again.
  • Macho Latino: The Puerto Rican-Jewish J is obsessed with masculinity, which is troublesome because most still see him as a teenage girl. J mocks himself for doing something as "un-Puerto Rican" and "wimpy" seeming as hanging around a Manhattan Starbucks.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Carolina's Catholic family had issue with her marrying a Jewish man. Ultimately, Manny doesn't concern himself too much about being Jewish. J was raised Catholic, though his religious beliefs as a teenager are gray.
  • Mentor in Queerness:
    • After running away from home for a few days, seventeen year old trans boy J meets Marcia. She's a trans woman who visits the motel looking for runaway teens to give them advice. Marcia recommends that J visit a shelter for LGBT teens. She's a bit character who only appears in that one scene, but she has a major impact on J's Coming-Out Story.
    • Chanelle goes to J's high school. She's a twenty year old trying to graduate (with the cut-off age being twenty-one). Chanelle is a trans woman herself. She acts as J's older sister-esque friend who helps him where his cisgender Childhood Friend Melissa cannot.
    • J meets Zak, an older trans guy, at a support group for transmasculine people. He helps inspire J and is his sole male friend.
  • Mistaken for Gay:
    • Everyone from his parents to his classmates believe J to be a Butch Lesbian and he causes him no small amount of anger.
    • J's girlfriend Blue asks him if he's gay or bisexual after he sends her poetry. She also followed him to his queer-geared school, so that made her confused.
  • Mistaken for Suicidal: After J sends Melissa a violent-seeming photograph he took, she thinks the worst.
  • New York Is Only Manhattan: Averted. A large portion of the book takes place in Manhattan, though it's clear that NYC is more than just Manhattan.
  • No Bisexuals: Several gay kids in the book think bisexuals are gross.
  • Older Than They Look: Being pre-T, J looks more like a much younger boy than a 17 year old.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Melissa's father was a musician who was in town for a show. He isn't present in Melissa's life. Melissa's mother tracked him down for child support, but he never interacts his daughter.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Blue's name is Basia Karasinska, but everyone calls her "Blue".
  • Potty Failure: When J was a kid he tried to pee standing up while out with his dad. He ended up peeing on himself. He was so embarrassed that he ended up spilling soda on himself to cover up the spot.
  • Self-Harm: Melissa cuts herself. She hates it when J brings it up. Her mother sends her to therapy after she does a dance performance involving cutting herself on-stage.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Carolina got pregnant by a guy she didn't love in order to keep her parents from making her go back home from college. She ended up marrying Manny and over the years his feelings for her became mutual. Despite this, their relationship is still rocky.
  • Trans Relationship Troubles: J ends up dating a girl called "Blue", however he doesn't tell her that he's transgender. He has a lot of internal conflict trying to hide it from her. Eventually she finds out by seeing him go to Harvey Milk High School. She initially assumes he's gay (which would explain his awkwardness towards her). After he comes out to her, they end up breaking up.
  • Weight Woe:
    • J doesn't eat much and tries to keep his fat low because of dysphoria. He wishes his period would stop and he would look muscular.
    • As a dancer, Melissa keeps track of her weight and her calorie intake.