KB Brookins' 'Pretty: A Memoir'

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday June 18, 2024
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Author KB Brookins
Author KB Brookins

"Pretty: a Memoir," published by Alfred A. Knopf, is the kind of memoir KB Brookins wishes they'd been able to read while transitioning. The book is dedicated to highly segregated Texas, where the author grew up, and to all the bois (Black butches) who never got to be boys.

KB Brookins previously authored two award-winning poetry collections: "Freedom House" and "How to Identify Yourself With a Wound." A poet, writer, educator and cultural critic, Brookins, 28, has an upbeat personality that shines through.

Brookins is currently a graduate student at UT Austin, a PEN America Fellow, a 2023 Creative Writing Fellow with the National Endowment for the Arts, and founded two nonprofit organizations in Austin: Interfaces, which addresses the problem of accessibility of all kinds, and Embrace Austin. Their life is the subject of an upcoming documentary that will premiere at the 2024 BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival.

Their writing is candid, hopeful, uplifting, and very informative, and features soulful poetry and photos from throughout Brookins' life. "Pretty" is one of a number of eye-opening transgender memoirs recently published. This book in particular is a quest for understanding and acceptance that hopes to inspire much-needed change.

What is it like to grow up queer in Texas, a place known for keeping a firm hand on the wrong note? The memoir vividly brings to life their upbringing in a Dallas neighborhood with a 40% poverty rate.

"Segregation never really ended" in Texas, Brookins writes, but today it's self-segregation. As the country progresses, Texas never really modernizes; it just gets weirder. Brookins reports that in Ft. Worth, gay bars were raided on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, injuring people peacefully enjoying a pint. But Brookins knows that once you leave, you miss the sweet BBQ.

"I should be able to define myself, but I am not. Not by any governmental or cultural body," Brookins reveals. "Pretty" is filled with insight into this society's fear of Black men, a fear so intense it truly took Brookins by surprise after they transitioned.

But in the author's experience, it's not Black men one must be wary of. At age 5, "three teenage American boys" sexually assaulted them, not four, and not at church, as reported in Kirkus Reviews.

Nonetheless, the irrational fears of white people are a major reason these two years since transitioning have been the hardest years of Brookins' life. They have been years of social trauma.

"Every day, I negotiate the space between who I am, how I'm perceived, and what I need to unlearn. People have assumed things about me, and I can't change that. Every day, I am assumed to be a Black American man, though my ID says 'female,' and my heart says neither of the sort. What does it mean, to be a girl-turned-man when you're something else entirely?"

To be sure, the experience has given the author a deeper understanding of the trials their father must have had to endure.

Perhaps the most important new theme in "Pretty" is the near-constant battles Brookins faces as a trans person. They call the resulting feeling "trans fatigue," defined as "the everyday fatigue of being trans in an embarrassingly cisgender world."

"Transness is forty-nine lawmakers in forty-nine states wanting your carnages and spirit dead cause you dared to be yourself," Brookins writes.

But the problems don't end with legislation. Even a routine visit to the gynecologist's office can be traumatic. There must be a better way.

Another highly relevant theme of "Pretty" is, who is your tribe? As Proverbs says, sometimes a friend is much better than a brother. Some of the most moving passages are conversations the author had with their birth mother, who gave birth as a single teen and kept the baby for over a year.

Like many who have been adopted, Brookins was eager to find family through genetic testing, and did find someone closely related. The chapter is full of suspense as they meticulously seek contact.

'Pretty" by KB Brookins, Knopf. $28.



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