From time to time we get asked to review media and have had some interesting autobiographies, not least Eddie Izzard’s. This week the publisher of a new work contacted us with a couple of copies and here is that review.
Finding Chloe follows the life story of Colin. Colin is talked about in the third person, at first this can feel less intimate, plus you are not quite sure if it is an account of an observer or the actual person concerned. It is clear as time goes on Colin is talked about as another person, which to be fair he was by the end.
The book is one of those rare reads that I thought, “yeah I’ll speed read this,” only to then realise after a time I was taking longer and longer over every page to absorb the feelings of the author as the transgender issues came to the fore.
Lines like page 65 in the book draw you in to the next chapter.
“These feeling were so powerful he was ruining everything including his life, Shirley’s life, and the lives of his daughters. The tragedy was that he was so well aware of all this but could do nothing to change it. Colin was possessed, driven by an emotion so powerful that nothing he did could stop it. He was slowly climbing great heights, then plummeting back down at a terrifying speed, with nobody at the helm to help bring it under control.”
This is a very raw and honest book – sometimes incredibly so. As a result transgender people in particular will quickly relate to Colin’s life, his torment, his family and the feelings of deceit.
Obviously reviewing books can risk ‘spoilers’ so I’ll be careful to tease rather than give too much away, which to be honest in this case is impossible, this book must be read to be fully appreciated.
This autobiography takes us on a journey, from childhood where Colin first experiences the draw of his sibling’s wardrobe and sneaking out ‘dressed’ alone (and getting caught and the family silence that followed), to the pursuit of manly activities to try and push his feminine side away. He does succeed for a time. He moves all over the UK chasing the man he feels he should be, his time in Cornwall. I (the reviewer) was born in Plymouth and I lived in Cornwall as Colin did with his first family, so this was like visiting an old friend and he relives his joy of surfing, beaches and diving and that all remind me of that time.
We witness his difficulties with his father, his bereavements that come along just when Colin is getting his life together, time and time again, he compares his ups and downs as ‘the rollercoaster’, and it is a roller coaster!
Then later Colin embarks for France. At this point I felt personally I had tumbled into some parallel universe, I was myself in the south of France at this exact time also for 4 years, I too renovated a French home. So when Colin talks about the absurdity of the French system at that time, such as the difficulty in satisfying the Gendarmes that you are working for yourself, they turn up with guns you know. And the madness that was their ‘Carte de Séjour’, I suddenly found this book almost like a journey I was on with Colin. The difficulties with the language anywhere other than the builder’s merchants sent me flying back to those panics also.
We follow Colin through a plethora of trades, family breakdowns, friendships and betrayals. One friendship in particular was to last his whole life, that of Bruce. Bruce was a musician and Colin’s ‘mucker’, Bruce falls back in (an apt description as he liked a drink) and drops back out of his life from time to time, towards the end in quite surprising ways that in more recent years help Chloe find herself at a much deeper level when invited by Bruce on trip to Cuba.
The book is peppered with a number of celebrity encounters too that I won’t spoil here, that if you are of a ‘certain age’ will make you think – “oh wow cool!” The celebrities do turn up in the strangest of places.
A lived life is something that’s hard to critique in the written word as it is a lived experience. What people may find easier to critique is the way Colin went about it. But I feel trans readers will approach this very differently, as they will understand more deeply how hard it is to try and fight this ‘inner you’ who in the end is simply too powerful to overcome, that then destroys everything.
There is the hiding of clothes, the crossdressing and the utter joy and calm it brings, the difficulty sharing this with family and friends, shame, purging, self hate, isolation and sadness.
I suppose if there was a criticism is would be that she was quick to knock other transpeople which we are all guilty of from time to time, but this was when he was Colin and needed support, he was disappointed with ‘a certain Society’ his words – I think we can all agree which one that is. However Colin did have good reason to mistrust ‘support groups’ when he attended one (unrelated) that seriously let him down run by a gay man who lets say took a shine to her rather than be professional.
He also felt that the women on television were letting the side down, on shows like Kilroy,
“There would be the occasional programme on tele about TVs, or TSs. (Transvestite or transsexuals). These added to his frustration as they always seemed to feature very camp, over the top people, and he was not like that at all. Why did they have to show this side of things everytime? Why couldn’t they feature someone normal like him?” (p110)
Yet when Chloe first ventures into the French village ‘dressed’ she is wearing fishnet stockings, stilettos and a mini skirt 😉 Perhaps sometimes the woman you are dictates how ‘normal’ you will be and this applies to the Kilroy audience too.
Colin tries so hard and works day and night to achieve his goals for himself and his second family in France (Colin was a builder by now) and then these dreams are so cruelly snatched away in the most unlikely ways imaginable – nothing he could prepare for!
His alter ego Chloe (for a time named Coleen) almost destroys the pair of them, and there are dark days, very dark days indeed where you just wish you (the reader) could personally walk through the door of his Gite in France where he was contemplating self harm and rescue them. But there seemed to be no let up in his and her luck. Sexual assault under threat with a firearm, abuse, being violently attacked, and literally starving in France relying on food parcels from friends, and all the time wanting her surgery that she simply cannot afford – truly ‘trapped’ physically and emotionally in another country.
For a time she did become a local celebrity and running perhaps the most successful music bar in the region (at a loss), then in a short time to eating just a small portion of pasta a day, flat broke, losing weight, freezing and wanting to die.
The reader would probably think well come to England visit your GP and go to Charing Cross. At times I thought this would be the best bet. But you need to read the book to see how her situation came to this. Chloe was/is a grafter, and this book is written with the support of her friends in France where she continues to struggle, I suspect hoping that this book at last will raise enough revenue to have the surgery she dreams of.
Her returns to the UK were productive, but she is very much the victim of circumstance. She mentions visiting Transformation’s Albany Clinic, and comes away troubled by it, she seeks surgery in France of course, and this is probably a turning point in her well being and the dip in the roller coaster she often mentions.
This is equally a book about other people as much as herself and how tangled webs of betrayal come from the outside in as much as from Chloe herself.
The secret to a happy life from then on like a phoenix rising from the ashes is how you put your life back together.
This is where ‘Finding Chloe’ shows us how Colin by finding Chloe rescues his (and her life) that would have otherwise have disappeared down the bottom of a whisky glass – or the cheap local French red wine. There are very few examples of utter determination that are so very open and moving I have read.
Chloe is brutally honest, and after reading it I feel I was with her every step of the way! As an observer I am exhausted, I can’t imagine how she must be feeling.
The Epilogue is particularly poignant where she describes where she is now and her dreams for the future. And tries to open up to the non trans reader and trans reader alike, hoping to educate and this is a few pages but one quote is worth reposting.
[i]“Remember you only need courage for a couple of seconds. That’s all it takes to say, “I am transsexual” or “I am transvestite”. Then you are free to live as you choose. I can assure you it can be a wonderful life; but you have to be true to yourself, and believe in yourself. Only by standing up and being counted can we win the struggle for acceptance and the freedom to be who we really are. Likewise if you know someone who is transvestite or transsexual, try to understand, and don’t be afraid to support them. For now, more than ever, he or she, will need your love. Bonne courage et bonne chance.”[/i]
I hope Chloe can at sometime join our forums.
If the publishers and other promoting this want a quote for this book from TransgenderZone.com then it would be this – as it is a nod to the French that has so nearly rescued her and destroyed her,
“A therapeutic oeuvre you cannot put down. This autobiography is raw and honest. It takes us on a journey to very dark places and really does help explain how being a transgender person can systematically destroy a life and yet rescue one at the same time, peppered with wonderful moments of personal growth that make this truly a roller coaster ride of a life!”