By Carla Grant
Bedazzled Ink Publishing
Carla Grant is just your average St. Albert mom of your average St. Albert family. The house is clean or at least clean-ish: well decorated but also well lived in with a couple of dogs that are always underfoot. There are three kids, the eldest of which had to be woken up at 9 a.m. That’s Ella, obviously on a summer schedule. At the kitchen table, the two of them are as chipper as a couple of chirping birds bantering with each other on a lazy July day. “They get along famously,” I think. “The bond is strong with no sense of friction.”
They've obviously worked hard on their relationship and built it up well. That strength and energy flows straight to the page of Carla's non-fiction account of what life is like for her and for Ella, 19, her autistic daughter who was not born female. Uncommon Girls is the story of her gender identity, her transition and all of the other experiences that the two of them have made for more than enough material to write this heartfelt, heartbreaking, and often hilarious book.
Make no mistake. These pages are intensely personal but they’re so well-written that they practically turn themselves. It’s that good. Carla and Ella really lay it all out there.
“When we finished writing the book, there was a big decision to be made about giving away our privacy. Once you put it out there, you can't get it back. It's the nature of privacy,” Carla began.
Publishing it was a team effort as each family member took their turn reviewing it, editing out some of the anecdotes. Even her ex-husband had a turn, which Carla said was the scariest part. He could have just nixed the whole thing.
The truth is that being transgender brings all kinds of attention your way whether you want it to or not. The book is more than just a power move; the Grants figured that they should have control of their story after all of the unpleasantness they went through that they didn’t have control over like deciding to sue a school system.
“When we decided to pursue Edmonton Public for outing her repetitively, I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? Because it's going to make us public.’ Ella said, ‘I'm going to be outed either way. I'm either going to be outed because the system can't handle it or I'm going to be outed by trying to do something about it.’ So that's the way that we've both gone,” Carla said.
“Might as well,” Ella followed, her mother quickly echoing the sentiment.
The book then is a combination of bravery and simply facing facts, though Ella calls it a way of “bracing yourself for impact.”
“I’m going to try to be one step ahead of this because it’s going to hit us, and it's either going to hit us really negatively or we can put ourselves in a position to try and have some positive come out of the impact,” Carla continued. “And there has been lots of good.”
Having published a book must certainly occupy a large part of that ‘good’. Carla doesn’t really fancy herself a writer but all of those cobbled lists, remembered bits of dialogue, and endless scribbled journal pages have paid off. It’s a stellar read that’s very real and filled with mirth.
“It's not a heavy read. It's not supposed to be a textbook. It's not supposed to be a how to. Some of it’s really funny, like, really funny,” the author emphasized.
This is Grant’s family and it has lots in common with functional relationships that many of us only read about, except functional families don't get written about like this. She says that she hopes it helps people to be more accepting of things that aren’t familiar to them. After all, there’s nary a day that goes by when LGBTQ2 issues don’t make the news. Uncommon Girls today, perhaps, but far more common as time goes by.
“This does happen. It is happening. It's happening way more,” she said, suggesting that there are other books from her family life that could still come out.
I believe it and now I'm hoping for it.
While Uncommon Girls was actually published last fall, Carla is just now finding the time to host some public launch events, the first of which took place at a busy Chapters location in Edmonton two weeks ago. The second is coming up from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 right here at the Chapters in St. Albert.