Laura Sook Duncombe’s previous Literary Ladies Cage Fight columns for The Butter can be found here.
Greetings, mortals! Welcome to LLCF, where we celebrate heroines of classic and modern literature by making them engage in combat. I am your host, Artemis, goddess of the hunt and chastity and protector of women.
And I’m the co-host, her sister and goddess of love, Aphrodite! We are soooo glad you are here! It has been our honor and pleasure to highlight some of the many wonderful LGBT heroines of literature this month. Today, we tackle the stories of two trans women whose stories made us sob with sorrow and cheer with joy! I am super pumped to introduce Luna from Julie Anne Peters’ Luna and Emily from Rachel Gold’s Being Emily. Let the fight begin! Fight fair, ladies.
Rules are the same as always: the characters off in five categories, winner gets one point. At the end of five rounds, whoever has the highest score is the winner.
Luna is a super sweet gal who is only out to her younger sister Regan. She loves computers and is super smart, making tons of money selling customized computers with her best friend, Aly. She yearns to escape her life as “Liam” and move to a big city where she can get surgery and become the woman she is inside. Brilliant and resourceful, Luna is a Ravenclaw.
Emily is a small-town teen who, like Luna, can only dress in women’s clothes at night with the door locked. She enjoys working on cars with her dad and playing superheroes with her little brother, as well as being on the swim team. She loves her girlfriend, Claire, and is worried about how she will take her “boyfriend’s” transition into a girlfriend. Emily is so many things that are hard to pin down—she’s smart, brave, and loyal—but her devotion to her family and Claire make her a Hufflepuff.
Winner: Luna. Her situation is a lot more dire because of her isolation, and she’s very resourceful because of that. She’s determined not to let anyone get in the way of her dreams, and I don’t think Emily would stand much of a chance against her.
Round Two: Sidekick
Luna’s sidekick is her sister Regan, who I feel super bad for but am also annoyed by. Regan thinks her whole life is miserable because if she lets anyone close, they’ll find out Luna’s secret. She blames Luna for ruining her life, which is so not fair! But, she is there for her sister and protects her secret, and lets her dress up and put on makeup in her room. It’s clear she loves Luna and wants her to be happy, despite her projecting of a lot of her own problems onto Luna.
Emily’s best friend is also her girlfriend, but the stupendous Claire must be saved for Love Interest. So, I’ll go with Dr. Mendel, the therapist who helps Emily come out to her parents. She is whip-smart, kind, and takes no crap from nobody. She seems like a tough-love grandma you’d definitely want in your corner. (I realize I’m starting to sound more like my sister, but you’ll pardon my ebullience this once. This book was so wonderful that it makes me wax rhapsodic.) When Emily meets her, it’s like letting out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. The reader knows that finally, Emily is going to be okay.
Winner: Emily. Hands down. I want Dr. Mendel to be real, and I want every trans teen in the world to get to talk to her.
Round Three: Love Interest
Luna, sadly, doesn’t have one. She is in the closet and feels like her whole waking life is a lie, so she can’t start to date yet. She is interested in boys, so she is considered straight. I hope that she finds a super-hot prince who treats her like a princess! She deserves that, and so much more. He’s out there, Luna! Don’t give up!
Claire. Claire is one of the most complicated characters I’ve come across in a long time. She’s goth, bisexual, and loves to stand out from the crowd. She is also Christian—able to spout biblical passages at haters—and fiercely loyal. When Emily comes out to her, she’s shocked and upset and first, but she realizes that God made everyone, and Emily is one of God’s beloved children too. She educates herself, visits Dr. Mendel with Emily, and supports her friendship with Natalie, another trans teen. Dr. Mendel calls Claire a “protector,” and she couldn’t be more right.
Winner: Emily again. She’s just luckier to have a better support system in place! I hope Luna will have one eventually.
For Luna, it’s that she felt she had to stay hidden for so long! She seemed like a smart, happy, well-adjusted kid, but she cried in her room for hours at night. Her parents don’t get it, her sister is supportive but not really her advocate, and there’s nobody else she trusts. When she finally makes her escape at the end of the book, you’re happy for her, but you wish she had done it a heck of a lot sooner!
Emily’s tragic flaw—and this is a tough one to word—is believing (for a while) the lies and junk science Dr. Webber feeds her. When Emily’s mom finds out Dr. Mendel supports her daughter’s transition, she sends Emily back to the prejudiced and creepy Dr. Webber. He almost convinces Emily that she’s making it up, that she’s just improperly bonded with her dad and is aroused by women’s clothing and all sorts of other wrong stuff. Claire and Dr. Mendel drag her out of it eventually, but watching her succumb to his quackery is devastating. Don’t ever give up on yourself, Emily!
Winner: Luna. She is under so much pressure for so long. It’s amazing how strong she stays in the face of all that adversity.
Round Five: Happy Ending?
Luna (SPOILER ALERT) escapes her family with a one-way ticket to Seattle, where an online trans friend is going to help her transition. She’s done with her hometown, clueless and unsupportive parents, and living a lie. She is going to fly away to a new life—one she totally deserves! She leaves Regan her car and her thanks for helping her all those years.
Emily’s epilogue tells us she’s going to college as a woman, still friends with Claire, and reconciled with her parents. It’s a pretty unremarkable ending (she doesn’t win the lottery, meet her Princess Charming, or anything like that), except that it is remarkable for Emily: she gets her boring, ordinary life with “ordinary moments” and plans to enjoy each one.
Winner: This is close, but Emily. We know she’s okay—we can only hope that Luna will be okay, too.
Emily beats Luna by a nose! What an excellent round. I am so grateful both of these outstanding books exist for teens—and many more are coming all the time. Read diverse books, ladies! It’s the best way to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. (Also, honorable mention goes to the excellent Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, my favorite book about a trans kid, but it features a boy and thus is ineligible for LLCF.)
Thanks for participating in Pride with us this month!! We’ll go back to classical ladies next, so stay tuned! And share with us YOUR dream LLCF match-ups! They might be featured in an upcoming column! Stay fabulous, gal-pals. See you soon!
Laura Sook Duncombe lives in Alexandria, Virgina with her husband and a mutt named Indiana Bones, Jr. Musical theater, pirates, and Sherlock Holmes are a few of her favorite things. Her work can be found on the Toast, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and at her blog.