“Whenever she imagined her child, grown up without interference from a judgmental world, she imagined its male and female halves as complementing each other, and as being secretly, almost magically powerful.”–Kathleen Winter
Filth is the first book I have read about a transitioning main character. Toni is physically a man. She identifies as a woman. Toni is unable to afford the quality medical care or proper dosages of medication required to undergo such a major change. She buys her drugs online from Mexico and decides her own doses according to what she has read on the internet. Kel loves her to distraction. He supports them both by turning tricks. Toni used to work as a rentboy, but Kel can’t handle the thought of another man touching his “honey”, so he is now their major source of income, while Toni works part-time in a book store.
When they met, Kel and Toni were both heavy drug users and drinkers. They moved in together, in a neighborhood far away from their old friends, and both got clean, except for the cigarettes. When Toni mentioned to Kel that he wanted to begin transitioning, Kel questioned whether it was something Toni really wanted. It had never come up before, so it didn’t seem to Kel that Toni fit everything he had ever heard about “t-girls”. They mostly said that they had felt from a very young age that they were born into the wrong body. It did explain why Toni preferred watching game shows on TV with his mom as a kid instead of playing sports. But Kel worried about the safety of the drugs and the influence of Toni’s friend Danielle, who is already living as a woman and is encouraging Toni through her transition.
Kel and Toni live in a dangerous world surrounded by dangerous people. They have had conflict in their relationship because of what Kel is forced to do to pay for Toni’s medications. As long as Kel goes to his NA meetings and Toni takes the drug which is intended to counteract the side effects of the other drugs, things go along pretty smoothly.
But they don’t talk to each other. They are deeply in love, but seem to just exist side-by-side without sharing a life. Toni has doubts about her choices and she doesn’t talk to Kel about them. Kel bought a book for families of transitioning people, and he hides it from Toni. Toni knows that the medications will eventually have an effect on her exceptionally healthy libido, but won’t warn Kel what to expect. Kel has concerns about the behavior of one of his johns, and he doesn’t mention it to Toni.
When something goes terribly wrong and Toni and Kel are forced to flee, they finally begin to connect. They share their doubts and insecurities. They tell each other the things they have been feeling but were too scared to disclose. Through their forced exile, they come together and form a unit, a real couple who know deep down and can express that they will love each other regardless of what form they take or what they do for a living or what has happened in the past. They gain a deeper level of commitment.
M. King writes eloquently about the feelings of despair and loneliness a person feels when they are born in the wrong body. My heart broke as I read about Toni just never feeling “right”. When she presented as a man, she felt she wasn’t masculine enough. When she presented herself as a woman, she felt she lacked femininity. I kept hoping for a happy medium for her. There are so many young people who identify as the gender they weren’t born into. There are so many shades of grey on the scale between being a fully masculine, hairy man, and a soft, curvy, feminine woman. If for no other reason than to gain insight into the mind of a “t-girl”, I highly recommend this book.
(I am unfamiliar with the terms the trans* community uses to describe themselves in any one of their beautiful forms. If I have used a wrong term and offended someone, I am deeply sorry. Please comment below so I will not make the same mistake again.)