Review Content Warning: N/A
Book Content Warning: discussions of partner abuse, depictions of transphobia
“As Viviane Namaste pointed out almost twenty years ago, trans narratives are constrained by the ‘autobiographical imperative,’ the push by cis people to tell Our Story on Their Terms: We always knew, we grew up as a tomboy/sissy, we got on hormones, we had the surgery, all in a standard, linear format.”—Morgan M Page, Pass with Care: Memoirs
The title of Cooper Lee Bombardier’s memoir, Pass with Care, acts on multiple levels in referencing the act of “passing” as a trans person but also how readers should pass with care into his world of glittery and gritty masculinity. Gently and insightfully, Bombardier writes about the bustling queer scene in 90’s era San Francisco, the small but rich queer communities in Portland, and his experiences inhabiting masculine roles and spaces in New Mexico. At the heart of the memoir are Bombardier’s negotiations with his gender presentation and identity throughout the years and the very idea of the “trans memoir.”
He writes with and against the standard linear structure that cisgender audiences like to assign to trans narratives: the trans person knows from a young age that they are trans or “different,” begins using a new name and pronouns, undergoes medical interventions to express their true gender, and finally “passes” into the crowd with no indication or acknowledgement of their past. Such a narrative is open-and-shut, with little room for the nuances and delightful messiness that comes with exploring one’s gender identity.
Bombardier writes explicitly about this standard narrative that “non-trans people like the ‘born in the wrong body’ idea because there is real comfort (for them) in binaries, of understanding that if you are not A then you must be B.” He goes on to expose how that narrative was both socially and politically required from trans people in order to gain acceptance or obtain access to healthcare. In contrast to this imposed narrative, Bombardier fully acknowledges and embraces his past as a “butch lesbian” and the ways his past exploration of gender has given him the crucial tools and insight to love the man he is now.
However, Bombardier goes beyond prose and narrative nonfiction in his memoir. He includes interviews with figures like Susan Stryker and Jordy Jones, along with other academic perspectives on trans discourse. By integrating these various forms, Bombardier does his best to fully immerse the reader in both an academic and informal conversation about transness.
Through lyrically constructed prose, Bombardier introduces us to the fraught and beaming world of being queer, trans, and of passing in the world as a man. We see how he negotiates masculinity as a trans man who is hyper-aware of the problems and privileges of masculinity, and the ways the world reacts with both love and derision to his transness.
He weaves together memories from pre-T and as a “butch lesbian” with the experience of navigating traditionally cismasculine spaces when “passing” in locker rooms, construction zones, and college campuses. Through it all, Bombardier makes sure to maintain the connections between his past and present to remind us that being trans doesn’t have to mean erasing the experiences of the pre-T or the pre-knowing-you’re-trans era.
Pass with Care: Memoirs is a necessary and important glimpse into a living trans history as Bombardier explores how much the world has changed and made room for trans people, while also introducing us to how Bombardier came to be the man he is today. For those who would like a peek into a more complicated and nuanced narrative of being queer and trans, read with the same care that Bombardier has lovingly written into every sentence.
COOPER LEE BOMBARDIER is a writer and visual artist from the South Shore of Boston. HuffPost named him one of “10 Transgender Artists Who Are Changing the Landscape of Contemporary Art.” He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pass with Care: Memoirs is his first book.
Pass with Care: Memoirs can be purchased here.