Wednesday, October 7, 2020

THE DOCTOR'S DISCRETION, a still-rare example of transgender representation in romantic fiction

$3.99 Kindle original, available now

 Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher SaysNew York City, 1831.

Passion, medicine and a plan to break the law ...

When Doctor William Blackwood, a proper gentleman who prefers books to actual patients, meets retired Navy surgeon Doctor Augustus Hill, they find in each other not just companionship but the chance of pleasure--and perhaps even more. The desire between them is undeniable but their budding relationship is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious patient at New York Hospital.

Mr. Moss has been accused of being born a woman but living his life as a man, an act that will see him committed to an asylum for the rest of his life. William and Augustus are determined to mount a rescue even if it means kidnapping him instead.

Their desperate plan sets William and Augustus against the hospital authorities, and the law. Soon they find themselves embroiled in New York's seedy underworld, mixed up with prostitutes, spies, and more than a lifetime's worth of secrets. When nothing is as it seems can they find something real in each other?

My Review: Transgender persons have been among us throughout time, just like lesbian or gay persons have. What is different now is that we have the vocabulary to identify, to label them; this is both a blessing and a curse. I know, from my own experience of growing up Other in a world (South Texas in the 1970s) and in a family of mostly unsupportive women, the incredible power of naming yourself: "I am gay. Not a faggot, not a queer. I am gay."

What, then, is one to do when a transgender person has the clawing need to name themself? How to find the courage and the model? For millennia, that wasn't on offer; there was no way to explain a transgender person to themself. With few exceptions, societies where the trans people came out and lived as they ought to have had the freedom to live were reviled, subjected to psychological and physical violence at even greater rates than the merely homosexual. Most of us who are cisgender but queer (and it took a long time for me to warm back up to that label, let me tell you) can, at a pinch and for a minute, hide it well enough to pass if trouble looms. Not so a man in women's clothing, or a woman trying to pass as a man.

This is becoming a thing of the past. Bodies are plastic; we are able to sculpt and mold them in many ways once impossible. We understand the endocrine basis of gender a great deal better than ever before. How we're failing the transgendered persons in our midst is less and less medical and more social, political. MANY folk feel they are being abused by being asked to refer to and address the trans community by the gendered pronoun of their identity, not their biology. These are usually also the people whose faces turn red and mouths spew hate when asked to wear masks to help keep everyone safe during a plague whose causal virus is *demonstrated* to be airborne.

Idiots, in other words; deeply ignorant and utterly unworthy persons without a shred of worth or value to add to society.

That being both self-evident and inarguable, the book I review here is one in which a transgender person is "discovered," arrested, and subjected to the full brunt of the hateful and misguided legal and medical regimes in place in the US during the 1830s. These truly are enlightened times, as much room for improvement as there remains; we should all be grateful we live in them as well as practice kaizen, the path of pride in accomplishment melded to continual striving for improvement.

Mr. Moss, the person in question, is lucky enough to be rescued by Dr. Augustus Hill, a gay Navy veteran without a hand due to combat injuries. Dr. Hill's maiming hasn't disabled him; he practices medicine at New York Hospital. He must, given his limitation, accept the other work that comes to him. For example, as we meet him, he is busily cataloging and organizing a collection of medical books and objects. With him in this task is Dr. William Blackwood, a trained physician of free African descent. The men meet in the book stacks, sparks fly, they begin what must be a clandestine relationship of great tenderness, passion, and intimacy.

So when Hill impulsively rescues Mr. Moss from the humiliations and horrors attendant on being shown to be a "transvestite," he is by no means sure Dr. Blackwood will assist him in arranging an escape. This is a romance, so we all know that he will; but the author effectively conveys the uncertainty of Hill's anguished waiting for Blackwood to decide.

In the end, the to-ing and fro-ing of this rescue-cum-escape is resolved a bit too neatly; the idea of their assistance to a wanted fugitive possibly rebounding on them is snipped at the same time. One can see the appeal of such a symmetrical bounce of the ball. It wasn't particularly satisfying to me.

What worked very well was the atmosphere, the world-building of sights and sounds and customs and coping skills. I was immersed, I was enfolded, and I was invested in the Happily Ever After that must follow such a lot of stress and battling of demons.

What gave me great pause was, in this deeply unenlightened passage in US history, the fearful recognition that this story could become a cautionary tale and not just a thumping good read if too many people, for whatever reason, do not get themselves up off their hindquarters and vote 45 and his fellow kakistocrats out of office on 3 November 2020.

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