None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio, published in 2015
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”
Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?
In this book, Kristin grapples with the same questions that most readers will: if a person is intersex, does this make them male or female? Where does the condition end and her identity begin?
The term intersex is not as commonly known. In her author’s note, I. W. Gregorio explains that she chose to write about the condition to raise awareness and understanding. Gregorio herself first learned about AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) and intersex people as a fifth-year surgical resident, and the case stayed with her years later. As Gregorio puts it “intersex was a perfect jumping off point for a discussion of tolerance, feminism, and gender essentialism” while adding “the great challenge of writing about intersex is that it encompasses so many different variations of biology and personal experiences. There is no one intersex story.”
Meanwhile, Gregorio addresses these points perfectly in her book. But allow me to break down the story a little, and show you why I think what I do.
Kristin starts off the book in a solid friendship with her two best friends—Vee and Faith. She’s excited for Homecoming, when she thinks she’ll finally go all the way with her boyfriend, Sam. The book doesn’t waste too much time getting to Homecoming (it’s the next day, in terms of when the novel starts, so we have a quick chapter on Kristin at school) and then after a surprise crowning as Homecoming Queen, we see our main character speed off in a private limo with her boo.
This scene made me roll my eyes a little. Maybe I’m inexperienced in the ways of limos? But Sam and Kristin ask the limo driver to park by a golf course and then the driver just walks off “for a smoke break” so they can have sex. Is that a thing? If I was a limo driver, I would not be cool with people having sex in my limo. Especially teens who will probably not be shelling out big money to rent my limo again. But whatever, tiny plot point. The point is, Sam pulls out a condom (safe sex y’all) and Kristin is like, “Let’s do this” (consent!) and then … it hurt. Like, not in the way a first time was supposed to hurt?
A confused Kristin (and embarrassed Sam) head back to their respective homes. The next morning, Kristin calls Vee to ask for a gynecologist and then suddenly she’s there, in the office, wondering if maybe things are a little more serious than she thought because the doctor is hesitating during a routine exam and saying “I’ll need to do a blood sample.”
So yup, things go rather fast at the beginning. Not fast for the reader, but fast for Kristin. One minute she’s getting ready for Homecoming, and the next she’s sitting in the gynecologist’s office waiting for her father to come because an ultrasound showed she didn’t have a uterus. It’s scary and the author does a great job of showing how Kristin doesn’t have a chance to breathe. When the gynecologist finally offers a diagnosis, it’s hesitant. The gynecologist first uses the term “hermaphrodite,” then apologizes because it’s not the right term to use. The scene shows how uncommon the diagnosis is—the doctor is not familiar with delivering the news, or what terminology to use—and how complex it is to process.
As for Kristin, she’s getting a lot of information, but not a lot is filtering in. This is understandable considering her position: she just received a diagnosis that affects her life. Her inital understanding of intersex is as follows: she has an XY chromosome (like men) instead of an XX chromosome (like women). She has testes inside her body. These testes can cause an increased risk of cancer. All this is true, but it is a limited portion of the information concerning her condition.
Kristin hears the words “testes” and shuts down. Her entire life she identified as a woman, and now she believes these male parts make her a man. Her immediate desire is to have surgery to remove the testes. The doctor she is referred to, Dr. Cheng, advises Kristin to read up on AIS (the technical term for her condition) before making any final decisions). So this is what Kristin does.
Now let me break into my #30daysofHumanRightsBPR moment. Article #7 states that we are all equal before the law, and are all entitled to equal protection from the law. But as Kristin quickly finds out, that wasn’t always the case for people with AIS. Kristin is a runner and she is going to college on a scholarship for running. But she fixates on the story of Caster Semenya (real person!!), a woman who like Kristin has internal testes and no uterus. Semenya is a long distance runner who faced extreme controversy because people did not think she should be cleared to run as a woman, deeming it “cheating.” Kristin fears she will lose her scholarship if people find out about her diagnosis … and sadly her fears are partly realized when her school finds out about her condition.
Kristin’s boyfriend Sam shames her, calling her a man. Many students address Kristin as transgender (in a negative light). Kristin no longer feels safe at school and retreats to her house.
The book does have a happy ending (and I don’t consider this a spoiler) where Kristin finds other people with AIS and learns to accept her condition. Does everyone at her school? No. Of course not. This is not a Hallmark movie. Accepting yourself is the most important part, and Kristin is able to do this with the help of people who truly care about her wellbeing. And through meeting other people with AIS, Kristin (and thus readers) are able to hear multiple stories of intersex people: those who are LGBT, those who learned at an early age, those who chose to undergo surgery VS those who didn’t. The book does not come across as an informational pamphlet (thankfully, because I loathe that, haha), but does a great job of sharing multiple stories.
I did have one t-i-i-i-n-y-y peeve at the end of the book. And I won’t spoil it. But let’s just say it’s the reason I’m giving this a four crown. (If you want a hint, consider my opinion on romance. Or ask in the comments if you could care less about spoilers, haha.) The ending does not ruin the book AT ALL, it just made me roll my eyes like, “Uh huh, okay.”
I definitely recommend if you want a book that makes you think. The book is far from preachy, you get a chance to learn more about intersex, and the writing is v good. ALSO please be aware **TRIGGER WARNING** for the book there is a (mild) attempted assault scene. Mild in terms of detail. And of course the sex scenes with Kristin and Sam, but those are really far from graphic. It’s very much a “we were having sex and then we were done” kind of situation.
📷 = @shaniasquires