No mother is prepared for the moment when a child comes out to her as a person whose physical gender is out-of-keeping with his emotional and psychological gender-identity. In Michelle Alfano's intimate memoir, she recounts her experience as the mother of a transgender child.
The central metaphor of The Unfinished Dollhouse tells the story: on Frankie's fourth birthday, her parents Michelle and Rob purchased a kit to create a beautiful dollhouse. Michelle imagined building the home, buying the tiny pieces of furniture and accessories to fill it and, more importantly, the times she and her daughter would spend constructing the perfect dollhouse - a fantasy of domestic and familial happiness. Frankie expressed no interest in such typically girlish pursuits because Frankie harboured a secret - a secret about gender.
In the years to follow, Frankie's parents experienced an education in parenting a child transitioning from female to male - which pronouns to use, how to disclose the information to friends, family, school and how to deal with the reactions of all - some heartening, some surprising, some disappointing.
There is no memoir like The Unfinished Dollhouse in the Canadian cultural landscape, a memoir by the mother of a transgender child.
About the author
Michelle Alfano is a Toronto writer whose fiction and non-fiction work has been published in Canada and in the United States. Her short story "Opera" was a finalist for the Journey Prize; Made Up of Arias, the novella based on that story, won the 2010 Bressani Award for Short Fiction. She is the former Associate Editor-in-Chief (Administration) of the literary quarterly Descant.
It's we, the majority, who are the problem; we, who travel relatively painlessly through life comfortable in our birth gender, who make it all so difficult for those born into the wrong body; we who need to be guided and instructed. And I cannot imagine a better gift to that understanding than Michelle Alfano's bitingly personal, viscerally honest story of Frankie.
The Globe and Mail