RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Writer Laurie Frankel has written a novel about a family with five boys - yep, five boys. The youngest, though, feels he is something entirely different, a girl. This is a story that could not be closer to Laurie Frankel's heart. She is living it with her own child, born a boy, who now identifies as a girl. Laurie Frenkel joins us now to talk about the book, which is called "This Is How It Always Is." Laurie, thanks for being with us.
LAURIE FRANKEL: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel.
MARTIN: And I guess we should underscore, you have taken novelist's liberties here because you do not actually have five children. (Laughter).
FRANKEL: That is correct. I only have one child.
MARTIN: You would have no time to write a novel.
FRANKEL: That's - that's exactly true.
MARTIN: So how closely did your own family's experience reflect the story that you're telling here?
FRANKEL: The nice thing about my life is that it's pretty boring, which is really how you want your life to be but not how you want your novel to be.
FRANKEL: So in fact, this - this really is very fiction. It's very, very made up.
MARTIN: The child at the center of your novel is born a boy, named Claude. And there's this passage early on, when he's talking to his parents about how he's thinking about his future, even as a very young kid - I mean, only 3 years old, I think, at this point in the story. Would you mind reading a little bit of that?
FRANKEL: (Reading) When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a chef, a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a farmer, a recorder player, a scientist, an ice cream cone, a first baseman, or maybe the inventor of a new kind of food that tasted like chocolate ice cream but nourished like something his mother would say yes to for breakfast. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a girl.
MARTIN: So kids go through phases, as any parent knows. And they say things and use their imaginations, as - as you just illustrated in that passage. And you try not to ascribe too much significance to anything because who knows what's going to happen. So when your son, now daughter, first came to you, did you dismiss it as a phase of some kind or just a kid thing?
FRANKEL: Yeah, not so much dismissed it as a phase of some kind as embraced it as a phase of some kind. I thought, OK, she wanted to wear a dress. And she was a he at the time. And we said, OK. It didn't inspire panic. It didn't seem to be anything to be worried about or alarmed about. It seemed like it - pretend. And it seemed like...
MARTIN: How old was she at the time?
FRANKEL: She was 6. She had just turned 6. And it seemed like she was just playing and having fun. And she was just playing and having fun and trying things on. It's just that - that it stuck.
MARTIN: Rosie is the mom in this story. And at one point, she asks, why would we ask him what he wants? He wants to sleep in the crate with the dog.
FRANKEL: Right (laughter).
MARTIN: He thinks high heels are comfortable. This is clearly not a human being whose judgment should be used to make major life decisions. Did you go through that?
FRANKEL: We did go through that. And we still go through that. I think that putting all of your - your faith in the decision-making powers of your small children is probably not the best way forward for anyone. In the book, they - what happens is that they feel their way through. And I think that that's what all of us do in parenting in general.
You make a judgment call. And you take your best guess. And you take a shot. And you hope for the best. And if it works, that's wonderful. And if it doesn't, then you modify. That's what parenting is, is figuring out that balance between letting your kids be who they are and protecting them from the world they have to live in.
MARTIN: And releasing them into that world, which is hard enough if your kid is just, hey, doing fine and is, like, accepted by the mainstream. It's still really difficult to let your kid go to school and not be there to fight his or her bottles.
FRANKEL: Yes. Yeah, sometimes I feel like letting my kid out of the house every morning is the hardest thing I do all day. And again, I think that's - that's the hallmark of parenting. No one out there in the world is ever going to love my kid or get my kid as much as I will. And yet, I've got to let her go every day anyway.
MARTIN: Did you want this to be a how-to book when it comes to parenting a transgender child?
FRANKEL: No. No, I wanted it to be the opposite (laughter).
MARTIN: Is it an annoying question?
FRANKEL: No, no, it's a wonderful question. But I didn't - I don't want it to be a how-to book. In fact, I want it to be the opposite. I want it to say, whatever - whatever you think you know, whatever your gut reaction is to what you would do if you were in this situation, probably it isn't. And I want to say, yeah, but. I feel like that's the thesis of this book - yeah, but. You know, like, people's gut reactions are often, as they are to so many things, very black and white. And in fact, this is a complicated issue that's getting more and more complicated. And that complication is wonderful. And I want more of it.
MARTIN: So to that end, do you think of this novel as an opportunity to open up dialogue with someone - a parent, maybe - who has a very different perspective about what it means to be transgender?
FRANKEL: I hope so. Yeah, I hope so.
MARTIN: I mean, we're living through this moment with the debate about transgender bathroom use. And it is a complicated time. And this is something that a lot of people are struggling with.
FRANKEL: It is a complicated time. And it is something that a lot of people are struggling with. And I think it is a topic that scares people. And I think that, in part, that's because they haven't met anyone, or they don't know that they've met anyone, who is impacted by these issues. There are a lot of transgender people. And there are even more people who are gender nonconforming. And these little kids are just kids. They're the least scary people you can imagine.
So one of the things that I hope is that people who read this book will read it and forget about the transgender issues and just be in the embrace of this family and realize that this family is like all families. They love, and they keep secrets for one another. And they protect one another. And they struggle with how to do that. And they have these challenges. And it's hard, but it isn't scary. And it isn't abnormal at all.
MARTIN: If I can ask you about your daughter.
MARTIN: She's 8 years old now?
FRANKEL: She's 8 years old now, yeah.
MARTIN: What does she think about you having written this book that was inspired, at least in part, by her?
FRANKEL: Well, she loves it. She thinks that all books should be written about her.
FRANKEL: She cannot actually imagine why I would ever consider writing a book about anything else. And she's a big reader. But it's a - it is a book for adults. It is not appropriate for her. But I'm certainly mindful of the fact, and was while I was writing it, that she will read it some day. And I hope that she will love it, of course. But I also know that she will see that it really is not about her. It's really very - very fictionalized. And I hope very much that the plot that - and heartbreak that - and drama and near misses that happen in this novel, I hope that they will never happen to her.
MARTIN: Laurie Frankel's new novel is called "This Is How It Always Is." Thanks so much for talking with us.
FRANKEL: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
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