This novella, a prequel to Deline’s book Refuse, takes us through the early life of Dean, a young transman growing up in Syracuse in the late 90s and early 2000s. The earliest parts of Dean’s story are disjointed vignettes- as our earliest childhood memories so often are when we look back from adulthood. But, as in real life, the memories Dean hold onto tell us much about who he is now, even though he himself may not be aware of how they have sculpted him.
Dean grows up a time when transgender people are barely even a concept on the cultural radar. Dean, as a result, grows up without the vocabulary to articulate who he is and without role models to look to. He only knows that “something” doesn’t feel right. Something never feels right. He may look like a girl to others, but he has no idea what it’s like to actually be a girl. As a child Dean often pretends he’s someone else, perhaps to escape the role he is regularly and unconsciously forced to portray every day.
Many of Dean’s experiences as he tries to understand himself are relatable to people both trans and cis, though his struggles are made more difficult because he cannot put a name to exactly what is off in his life.
Helping Dean along the way is his friend Amy- sometimes friend with benefits, never quite a girlfriend. Dean’s relationship with Amy is an odd, uncomfortable dynamic that I think many of us have lived through at some point in our lives. She helps him in some deep ways- most importantly in finally giving a name to the feeling he’s carried around for so long and, as the title says, giving him his new, true name (Dean’s deadname- his name before transition- is deliberately never given). But their relationship is deeply toxic and Amy has her own damage to deal with.
While the scenes of Dean’s youth may seem disjointed at times and not appeal to all readers, the novella as a whole is an engaging coming-of-age story from a perspective that deserves much more attention in literature. The story can be dark and intense- there are scenes of attempted suicide, sexual assault, and characters expressing casual homophobia, transphobia, and other microaggressions. But this intensity is important for understanding Dean’s development, and these glimpses ring true as experiences that many trans folk have had to struggle through.