by Rachel Gold
Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can’t be that bad.
Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag University, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.
New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.
Just Girls —
Barnes & Noble YA Blog
Just Girls is a story of friendship, feminism, and looking beyond the binary.
I'm With Geek - Olivia Grey
Believable and beloved characters... Jess Tucker is a girl who would be a shining example of a role model to young girls around the world. Not afraid to stand up for what is right, loyal to the end and unfailingly brave... Writing which is so intricate like Gold’s allows you to completely and utterly connect with the characters involved and to live their lives along with them as you read, feeling what they feel and seeing what they see.
Lambda Literary Review
Brilliant, brilliant, and all kinds of brilliant... Written with a sure-footed and almost magical lightness... Like a great wine: a beautiful blend of different emotions and different people told with depth, and complexity. It is a richly layered novel, which leaves the reader enthralled and wanting more of this exquisite concoction.
The novel covers all manner of sex, sexuality and gender identities and is an excellent educational tool, as well as a very good read... This book sits particularly well in the teen / young adult audience category, but can be enjoyed and appreciated by a much older audience as well, especially those who are keen to expand their knowledge and try to understand a little more about what it means to be trans*.
Glasgow Women's Library
As I said for Being Emily, this is an excellent book for any young person to read as it is a story about people like them and unlike them, which is always the basis for a good tale... What comes across strongly is that, to use my favourite quote from that great woman philosopher Marge Simpson, "our differences are only skin deep but our sames go down to the bone." This is also another fine read for any age – we were all young once and as I always maintain, still changing, still evolving.
James C. Femmer Blog
I want to marry this book! ...It’s life, with all its bumps and twists. And as in real life, friendship and love trump fear... I think everyone would be entertained by this book, and may also learn things they didn’t know about gender politics without being lectured about it. Gold does a FANTASTIC job weaving the debate between the radical feminists and the transgender community into the narrative.
Tracy Riva Blog
Stunning... I cannot praise this book enough... I loved the characters in this book. They were so interesting … and so real. The book wasn’t just about issues – it was also about life, relationships, friendship and taking a stand when you need to. I cannot praise this book enough. It gets the highest recommendation from me and as such I recognize it as our Book of the Year.
Once again, Gold has given us a novel that is full of wonderful, engaging characters... Gold has offered her readers and rich, thought-provoking novel. I firmly believe that Being Emily and Just Girls should be required reading in Gender, Women’s Studies, and Queer Studies programs. (Probably in quite a few other programs, as well.) Can you imagine the discussions? I’d love to be a fly on the wall.
Praise for Rachel Gold and Being Emily!
Being Emily —
Being Emily —
Young Adult - Mature Issues.
Young Adult Services Library Association
Being Emily Collection Recommendation
I had to be the only girl on campus upset about having a suite to herself as a first-year student. I put one hand on the empty bed in the single room that shared a bathroom with mine. The room was untouched. Of the 10,000 students here, about 1,000 were new undergrads and slightly more than half of those were women and here I was, one in 500 in more ways than one. If admissions hadn’t mistyped my social security number, if I lived in a state where I could get my birth certificate changed, if I hadn’t had to show them the only part of my life that still said, “M,” there would be someone in this room adjoining mine.
The whole suite smelled of lemon-pine cleanser and cherry licorice over fresh paper; I went into my room and opened the window to see if it really opened. It slid open smoothly and I could peer out and see the lawn below. I’d never be able to complain about my accommodations now.
My residence hall was on a corner of the main quad but turned out toward the street a little so that you had to walk a half block from the front door to be on the quad proper. The entrance was close to the street where my dad had parked illegally, like a hundred other parents, so we could all carry my many boxes up from his truck.
The dorm room door swung open and hit the far wall with a crack and Dad staggered in carrying two boxes, followed by Mom who had my small suitcase in her hand.
“He insisted,” she said.
“You have to start it off right,” he said. He put the boxes on the desk and handed me a plush Galapagos tortoise from the top of the higher box. I set it on the bed by the pillow.
He winked and headed for the door. “No parking zone,” he said. That was true, but he also had a hard time being still when he was excited or agitated. He ran marathons and played racquet sports that I could never keep clear in my mind: what was the difference between racquetball and squash anyway? The most he’d been able to teach me was ping-pong. I liked yoga and long walks—the slower stuff where you weren’t in danger of having some mean projectile ricochet off a wall and smack you in the eye.
Mom wandered into the bathroom. “This is nice,” she called distractedly. I heard her open the door into the empty single room and grow silent.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “I can set up a lab in there if I get bored.”
“I wondered what they were going to do,” she said from the other room. “Maybe she’s just late.”
“We’re already late,” I pointed out.
I had wanted to move in after my roommate was already settled so that I could tell what kind of person she was by her décor. Well, the décor certainly said a lot about something.
A girl stuck her head in from the side of the open doorway. Her looks put the “non” in nondescript: light brown hair, lighter tan complexion, and brown eyes.
“Hi, I’m Hayley, your RA, just checking to make sure you’re settling in.”
“Ella Ramsey,” I said.
I looked over my shoulder toward the bathroom to see if my mom had heard Hayley come in, but she was still in the other room. I didn’t know if you used first names when introducing parents to your RA She didn’t look more than a year older than me, so I thought it would be awkward to do the whole “Julia and Greg” thing—it’s not like I wanted her to call them that anyway.
“My mom’s in the other room,” I told her. “Do you know why it’s empty?” I figured I should get that out of the way as soon as possible.
“I never got a name for that room,” Hayley said brightly. “I called over to admissions and they said it was some kind of paperwork mix-up. I’m sure they’ll put someone in after a few weeks. That happened last year with overflow from the crowded dorms. We’re lucky, they just renovated this one two years ago.”
I mirrored the smile of her bland cheerfulness.
“El, what are these for?” my mom asked from behind me and then added a surprised, “Oh!” when she saw Hayley.
I turned around to see that Mom was standing in the bathroom doorway holding a box of tampons. At least my back was to Hayley as all the blood in my body made a burning rush for my cheeks.
“Mom, this is my RA, Hayley, and um, this is my mom,” I said, moving sideways away from both of them.
Mom looked around, shifted the box of tampons to her left hand and gamely held out her right for Hayley to shake. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. That wasn’t helping my ability to come up with the right answer to my mom’s question. Seriously, whose mom didn’t know what tampons were for? Had Hayley already figured out that the issue wasn’t the tampons—that it was me?
“Excuse me,” Dad called cheerfully from the hall and Hayley moved further into my room. Dad carried two boxes to the foot of the bed and set them down, then stretched his arms up until his back cracked.
“Just a few more loads,” he said. “Are you sure you brought enough?” Then he saw Mom’s awkward stance with the tampons and gave her a confused look.
“They’re Ella’s,” she said.
“Oh?” he turned his puzzled face toward me.
“Aren’t you in a no parking zone?” I asked Dad.
“I’ll help,” Mom said too eagerly and they both hurried out of the room, Mom still carrying the perplexing tampon box.
“Your mom doesn’t know what tampons are for?” Hayley asked when they were well gone.
“She’s an anthropologist,” I said, as if that answered everything.
Hayley’s eyebrows pinched together.
“She’s into all that crazy natural stuff, like menstrual sponges,” I told her. That was total bull. Mom used tampons like everyone else I knew. But nothing worked quite like the phrase “menstrual sponges” to shut down a conversation.
“Oh ew, nasty,” Hayley said.
“I know, right?”
I felt like a jerk for taking the easy way out, but I hardly knew this girl. Explaining that my mom was surprised to find tampons on the top of my bathroom-supplies box because I don’t get a period was a lot more complicated to get into with strangers. Hayley seemed like the chatty type who would want to know why not, and then I’d have to talk about being born a girl without some of the girl parts, like the period-getting parts and the I’m-putting-female-on-your-birth-certificate parts, and for all I knew she’d share that information with the other girls on the floor. Not how I wanted to start college. Not at all.
“Um, well, I’m down at the end of the hall if you need anything,” Hayley said and hurried out of the room before I could bring up anything else from the menstrual-practices-from-around-the-world handbook.
I went into the bathroom and quickly looked at the top of the open box to make sure there wasn’t anything else visible that was shockingly normal. Mom came in while I was hanging up my towels and put her arm around me in apology. I leaned into her and rested my cheek on her shoulder. I might have a smidge more growth left in me, but I’ll probably always be the shortest member of my family. Amy got Dad’s lanky height and I got Mom’s delicate bone structure. I totally lucked out in that deal because Amy hates heels and I can wear them without towering over all the guys around me. I got Mom’s blond hair too and Dad’s green eyes, so really it was like the genetic dice were loaded in my favor for almost everything.
“What did you tell her?” she asked.
“That you use a menstrual sponge,” I said.
Mom laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“I just got them so my roommate wouldn’t wonder, you know, why I didn’t have any. But I figured in a pinch I could use them to make tiny Molotov cocktails.”
“I don’t think you’d get enough oxygen in the mouth of the bottle for that to work, the cotton is bundled too tightly,” Dad said from the other side of the open doorway to my room. He was smiling, but his eyes had tight lines around them.
“I guess I’m not starting a revolution this year,” I told him and sighed. “You want to come look around the building with me? It’s supposed to be sustainable, but they don’t have solar panels or wastewater processing or anything.”
“Frauds!” Dad exclaimed and tilted into motion again. Mom followed him.
I looked into the empty room again. The bed was just a mattress on a frame and the desk and dresser were completely bare. It wasn’t a paperwork mix-up. Because I was born in Ohio, I couldn’t change the sex listed on my birth certificate. I was mentally, emotionally, physically and hormonally female, but anyone who looked at my birth certificate would see, “M” for “male.” At least my driver’s license accurately described me as female.
The birth certificate thing wouldn’t have been an issue except that my social security number got messed up in the system and the university admin office called over the summer and told me I had to bring my birth certificate to get it corrected. That caused more questions than it resolved.
I joined Mom and Dad in the hall, locked my room, and picked a direction for wandering. We discovered the common room together, and the little gym facility, and the laundry room in the basement with the soda machine and a crazy recycling sorting and compost waste station. Crazy because for years in Columbus we’d had single-sort recycling and I was pretty sure even worms didn’t want to eat half of the crap that students would dump into the compost bins—not that I’m dissing the worms.
Then they wanted to stand around on the curb doing the tearful parent goodbye, even though I was probably going to hop the bus home by the weekend. I understood it was part of the ritual. Amy said that when they dropped her off, Mom alternated between crying and listing the various coming-of-age rituals of a number of South American indigenous peoples. At least I didn’t get that.
Mom cried and I cried and Dad cleared his throat a bunch and then we all hugged and suddenly I found myself standing on the side of a street all by myself for the first time in my life. The only person I knew for about a hundred miles in any direction was the buff-colored Hayley.
Shyness crawled over me like a thousand small, non-poisonous spiders: too uncomfortable to stand still for, but not actually dangerous. I hurried back to my room. I’d grown up and lived in the same suburban community my whole life. I went to high school with kids I’d been in first grade with—and they went through a lot with me and had my back for most of it. I didn’t perceive, until that moment of walking quickly back to Washington Hall, how alone I was going to be in a place where no one knew me.
We lived two hours away, in Columbus, and Mom taught at Ohio State University. She wanted me there, but I was going to have to make my way in the real world one of these days and I wanted to get started. Two hours seemed like a good compromise: it wasn’t so close to home that I’d be tempted to run home for dinner on a whim, but it was an easy bus ride home for a weekend. I had no doubt that Mom was going to keep my room just the way I’d left it, though she should really turn it into a home gym.
Also, Freytag University gave me a pretty good scholarship. My sister Amy was three years into her university term and I’d overheard Mom and Dad talking about taking out a second mortgage to pay for my college. I wouldn’t do that to them; they’d already spent the cost of a good college education on me for the doctors and the hormones and the surgery. Mom said I shouldn’t have to worry about that at eighteen, but I did.
This wasn’t the best school ever and it was so far out in the middle of nowhere that the campus dorms were the highest buildings as far as you could see, but it had a shockingly good Women’s & Gender Studies department and even though I wanted to major in biology, I figured it had to mean there would be a kind of accepting vibe here.
If you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have told you I was good at making friends. But in the past I always had friends around me, so making more friends felt natural; when you were part of something, it was easy to invite others to join in.
I went into my room and closed the door and locked it. Then I went through the bathroom to the empty room and made sure that door was locked. I sat on the bed and curled my knees into my chest and just let the shy-scared-spidery feeling happen for a while. When it started to fade away, I got up and unpacked.
My clothes didn’t all fit into my closet, so I borrowed space from my nonexistent roommate. I also hogged both sinks in the joint bathroom just because I could, not because I have that much bathroom stuff. I hung a poster in my room, the one of the Doradus-30 nebula that always reminds me how big the universe is, and then I went and hung my Evolution of Life poster in the other room. It was too bare in there otherwise.
Dinnertime came but I wasn’t really hungry because I’d eaten with Mom and Dad a few hours before. I decided I should really get a mini-fridge for the room and maybe a hotpot or something. I set up my laptop and started looking at things I could buy for the room, and then checked out my class schedule and the various orientation events I was supposed to attend. At least it would be a busy next few days.
Just in case I had too much downtime and wasn’t so good at this making friends on my own thing, I also looked at the university clubs. They were mostly really boring stuff about farming or cheerleading or ineffective social change, but one caught my eye: Real-world Gaming at FU.
There was contact information for a student named Johnny Han, so I sent him an email letting him know I was interested in joining. Hopefully by Real-world Gaming they meant something easy and not too geeky. I couldn’t really pull off live-action role-playing without laughing and I was in no shape for parkour, but I played a lot of other games in high school.
I didn’t miss high school. Not exactly. But I missed…something. Friends? I texted Nico: Call?
My phone rang two seconds later and I grinned. I’d been #3 on Nico’s speed dial for the past four years.
“How’s the middle of nowhere?” Nico asked.
“Shockingly well-populated. I haven’t seen a single cow on campus yet.”
“Crap, girl, why did you not come to school with me? I’m so bored.”
“You’ve been there three days,” I pointed out. Not like it mattered, Nico could get bored in ten minutes absent the right stimulation. That’s what happened when you were the kid of an engineer and an astronomer. If Nico couldn’t take something apart and put it back together again or fit it into the grand scheme of the cosmos, it was boring. Nico had bought me the Doradus-30 poster and told me that, like me, it was an “extremely luminous non-stellar object.” We’d been sort of dating at the time and I hadn’t been inclined to complain about the “object” part of that compliment.
“So bored,” Nico repeated. “It’s like a production plant of human beings out here and Mom won’t stop checking on me.”
“I’ve got an extra room if you want to drive out here for a few days.”
“Anyone hot enough to drive out for? Other than you, of course.”
I laughed. “I’ll keep you posted. Don’t tell me there’s no one at OSU, you have ten times the options I do out here.”
Nico laughed with me and, into the pause after the sound, I added, “I miss you.”
“Miss you too, baby girl. Gotta run.”
I said bye and clicked off and then just stared at my phone for a minute. Was Nico right? Should I have gone to OSU? Furthermore, if there was someone hot out here, what would I even do about it? I’d barely managed to date Nico, let alone a total stranger.
Louisa from Glendora –
One of the things I really enjoy about Gold’s writing is how much I learn. The dedication of this book to someone who taught Gold “how to be a girl” captures much of what this book does. I loved the dichotomy between Tucker and Ella’s definitions of femininity. The novel explores and challenges what it means to be feminine, and the plot propels the reader through with concern for both characters, and every reveal is perfectly timed. I found myself sharing with my friends and family the conflicts the characters faced as if they were real people because they were so vividly drawn. I teach a course in Children’s Literature, and my students’ final project is to discuss whether a book published in the last ten years has literary merit by the standards we have set over the course of the term. I have enthusiastically recommended that my students consider this work for their presentation and look forward to hearing what they gain from the reading.