Fairest
A singular, beautifully written coming-of-age memoir of a Filipino boy with albinism whose story travels from an immigrant childhood to Harvard to a gender transition and illuminates the illusions of race, disability, and genderFairest is a memoir about a precocious boy with albinism, a "sun child" from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of U.S. citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as white. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realized she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love that will remind readers of works such as Call Me By Your Name and Giovanni's Room. Her evocative reflections will shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life.

Fairest Details

TitleFairest
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 26th, 2020
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780525561309
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, LGBT, GLBT, Queer

Fairest Review

  • Fanna
    January 1, 1970
    May 26, 2020: Happy release day to this Filipino-American, transgender immigrant woman with albinism's coming-of-age memoir focusing on race, class, gender transition, sexuality, immigration and disability.
  • Casey the Reader
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Viking Books for the free advance copy of this book. Meredith Talusan was born a boy with albinism in the Philippines. After a childhood of being treated like a public spectacle, Talusan immigrated to the U.S. at fifteen and discovered that in America, she was perceived as white. Her memoir covers these years as well as her education at Harvard and beyond, where she struggled to fit in to white gay male culture, eventually coming to the conclusion that she did not want to fit in the bo Thanks to Viking Books for the free advance copy of this book. Meredith Talusan was born a boy with albinism in the Philippines. After a childhood of being treated like a public spectacle, Talusan immigrated to the U.S. at fifteen and discovered that in America, she was perceived as white. Her memoir covers these years as well as her education at Harvard and beyond, where she struggled to fit in to white gay male culture, eventually coming to the conclusion that she did not want to fit in the box labeled "man" at all. FAIREST is one of the knottiest, most intriguing memoirs I've ever read. It takes a close look at the malleability of race and gender and how Talusan slides between labels based on where she is and who she is talking to, whether she wants to bend the barriers or not. And her trans-ness isn't even always the center of the story. FAIREST also encompasses stories we're familiar with from other "types" of memoirs - child of immigrants, child star, queer coming of age, and more. I was a bit leery of the blurb on the back of the galley describing Talusan as a boy who became a woman, but that turned out to be accurate, and one of the best things about this memoir. Rather than your now-standard-if-outdated story of "a woman trapped in a man's body," Talusan doesn't generally struggle with physical dysphoria and does not tell a tale of knowing she was trans from a young age. Instead, as an adult, she simply comes to find that she cannot express her full self when performing masculinity. It's a broadening of the trans canon that I think is greatly needed.
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  • Nicholas
    January 1, 1970
    MEREDITH! Ugh. I loved this book. Fairest is Meredith Talusan’s memoir as a Filipino boy, a gay man, and transgender woman. From beginning to end she bares everything about her past, her struggles, and her growth into who she is today. Fairest is equally an immigrant story, a gay-coming-of-age story, and a story about the discovery of womanhood.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣It truly is a powerful book that reflects on all the complexities of being a human being and navigating life. It has so much to say and gives you so MEREDITH! Ugh. I loved this book. Fairest is Meredith Talusan’s memoir as a Filipino boy, a gay man, and transgender woman. From beginning to end she bares everything about her past, her struggles, and her growth into who she is today. Fairest is equally an immigrant story, a gay-coming-of-age story, and a story about the discovery of womanhood.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣It truly is a powerful book that reflects on all the complexities of being a human being and navigating life. It has so much to say and gives you so much to take away.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣In a deeply human way she tackles love, queerness, gender, race—and colorism even, identity, power, privilege, and LEA SALONGA. I love the way she speaks about life. About how we are all of our lives—the life we’ve lived, the life we’re living, and the life we dream of—and how we don’t have to run away from or be ashamed of who we were and who we are, because all of that is what will make us who we’re meant to be.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣Thanks @vikingbooks for this advanced copy! Add this to your TBR now!
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  • Torrey Peters
    January 1, 1970
    There's plenty of criticism of trans memoir out there (see Casey Plett's essay in The Walrus), so I don't need to rehash it here, suffice to say, it is a pleasure to read a trans memoir in which the trans is only one of many aspects of a persons life and journey. It could as easily be called Child Star Memoir, or Filipina Memoir, or Harvard Memoir, or Memoir of Albinism, or Writer's Memoir. It is all of these, and like most memoirs (and people) it is also more.
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  • Kathleen Gray
    January 1, 1970
    An absolutely wonderful memoir than defies characterization. It's often hard to review memoirs because it feels as though you are critiquing someone's life and life choices but this one- this one was easy. It's a beautifully written story that goes in so many directions due to the fascinating life Talusan has led so far that it should not be put on any single shelf. Born an albino male in the Philippines, Talusan made it to the US at the age of 15 and found his world changed. And then came Harva An absolutely wonderful memoir than defies characterization. It's often hard to review memoirs because it feels as though you are critiquing someone's life and life choices but this one- this one was easy. It's a beautifully written story that goes in so many directions due to the fascinating life Talusan has led so far that it should not be put on any single shelf. Born an albino male in the Philippines, Talusan made it to the US at the age of 15 and found his world changed. And then came Harvard. And then the realization that he wasn't part of gay male culture but in fact a woman. Her decision to transition wasn't made without cost but what's key is that she never looks at herself with loathing. Keep in mind as you read that she's still young and some of her anecdotes might not resonate with an older reader. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Insightful and impactful.
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  • Beth Loflin
    January 1, 1970
    This is a great memoir. Put aside your beliefs of gay, lesbian, trans and just appreciate the human story that this author writes. I applaud her for being able to find her true self in a VERY ugly and unaccepting world. Years of searching for ones self and discovering, that THIS is what makes me happy. Excellent.
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  • Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir
    January 1, 1970
    Nothing of existence is binary, and Meredith Talusan excavates the complicated intersections of her own identity in this exquisite, unapologetic gem of a memoir.FAIREST is close to linear, but shifts back and forth through time and place as Talusan explores the fluidity and construction of her experience. She was born in the Philippines and lived mainly in the small village of Talacsan as a child. Her parents sent her to be raised by her grandmother, because she was born “anak araw” --- a sun ch Nothing of existence is binary, and Meredith Talusan excavates the complicated intersections of her own identity in this exquisite, unapologetic gem of a memoir.FAIREST is close to linear, but shifts back and forth through time and place as Talusan explores the fluidity and construction of her experience. She was born in the Philippines and lived mainly in the small village of Talacsan as a child. Her parents sent her to be raised by her grandmother, because she was born “anak araw” --- a sun child, an albino. She details how she was chosen to act on a Philippine TV show as the child of Redford White, who was also albino. This experience and her exposure to American TV and media encouraged her, in tandem, to idolize America and whiteness while reckoning with the fact that her white skin and blond hair granted her privilege. As she reflects on her time in Manila, Talacsan, California and eventually Harvard, Talusan navigates her journey toward self-understanding and self-perception.The Philippines was and is colorist, a direct product of its white colonialism under Spanish and then US rule. As white colonizers stripped the Philippines of its name and identities again and again, indigeneity became associated with inferiority. To this day, whiteness is desirable to the point that skin and hair lightening products are heavily prevalent. So the albinism that, as Talusan says, should have disabled her from birth instead gave her the experience of growing up in an all-brown country that idolizes proximity to whiteness --- and when she arrived in America, the experience of “passing” as a European or “exotic” white person, instead of the charged oppressions that come from walking this country as a brown person. Talusan also explores how, when she began to shift towards wanting to be perceived as a woman, her albinism allowed her to do so with greater ease than had she had the dark brown skin and eyes of the rest of her family.Typically, race precludes sexuality in terms of immediate privilege, though it goes hand in hand with gender presentation. For example, a violent bigot can and will threaten a queer Black person just for being Black, without knowing their sexuality, and a queer nonwhite person who is overtly trans or gender nonconforming will be perceived differently from a cis-passing queer white person. But Talusan’s specific identity means that, though she is a Filipino immigrant, she is racialized as a white woman, with all the privileges that entails.Talusan’s journey of gender is also not binary, or linear, and inextricable from her race and skin color. She reckons with the fact that, though she did not experience the specific traumas of girlhood that many women live through, her experiences as a young person who was not a boy, who experimented with gender expression, opened her up to much of the same dangers. In the Philippines, bakla --- people assigned male at birth who are gay or do not identify as male --- aren’t entirely uncommon, and their experience is different from trans womanhood in the US. Because of her fair skin and hair, Talusan found that she could be perceived as a beautiful woman, as opposed to the greater struggles she may have had were she dark.She also evokes the painful, specific experiences she’s had with her loved ones along her journey. Her grandmother was accepting of the fact that she had a boyfriend, for example, but not of her name change. Her father wanted to make sure that if she was to be a woman, she’d be beautiful. A long-term partner who dated Talusan when she identified as a gay man no longer wanted to be with her as she transitioned --- though upon reflection, in the contact they’ve had since, she wonders if he still feels the same way, if he still believes it matters so much.My experience with FAIREST is a unique one. I am Filipino and Jewish --- my father from Eastern Europe, and my mother from a village in the Philippines only a few hours from where Talusan was raised. Talusan emphasizes throughout that she typically passes as a white woman, but I immediately recognized her as a queer or trans Filipina --- because as a queer white Filipina myself, I spend so much of my life looking for others like me. She and I do not have the same identity, nor do we have the same relationship to race, but I know what it is to live with a racial identity that white people do not immediately know how to code.Talusan describes how, even when they hear she’s Filipino, white people can make racist or prejudiced comments because her whiteness means that white people still feel a level of camaraderie and comfort with her, and I feel that experience in my marrow. To hear white people speak of your own people, your own family, your own blood, as if you don’t belong to it, because in their mind, you do not, and that’s all that matters to them. Conversely, to not look like you belong when among your own family --- when Talusan returns to the Philippines, she knows she is not only white but also, irretrievably, American. There is an overlapping privilege and grievous isolation that doesn’t fit neatly into our constructions of race. I read as many books by Filipino and Fil-Am writers as I can, and I’ve loved so many, but there are countless more stories to tell, and I’m so grateful that Talusan breaks this ground. Her intimate interrogation into race, sexuality, gender, desire and love is a fierce, vulnerable, refreshing narrative. She never positions herself as the hero. She leans into the intricacies of her truth, her mistakes and her hurts, the messy work of loving others and loving oneself. And as she writes from a place that defies so many labels, she evidences both the porous permeability and imposed impermeability of perception and expectation.Please read FAIREST. Its complexity is rewarding, not only because of Talusan’s powerful, vibrant language, unique perspective and fresh, self-aware voice, but because of what she refuses to answer. Nothing of existence is binary, but this poignant book is wholly triumphant.Reviewed by Maya Gittelman
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  • Hunter
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best memoirs I’ve read. I loved every word. Cannot wait for this to come out so I can give it to everyone.
  • Samantha
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Viking for this free copy!3.5 stars. There is a lot of story in Meredith Talusan's memoir. As a Filipino-American immigrant, albino, trans woman, she tells her coming-of-age story at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. The writing is very simplistic and straightforward, so you don't ever feel overwhelmed by her multitude of experiences or her going back and forth in time.What I found most interesting was the constant acknowledgment of privilege throughout the Thanks to Viking for this free copy!3.5 stars. There is a lot of story in Meredith Talusan's memoir. As a Filipino-American immigrant, albino, trans woman, she tells her coming-of-age story at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. The writing is very simplistic and straightforward, so you don't ever feel overwhelmed by her multitude of experiences or her going back and forth in time.What I found most interesting was the constant acknowledgment of privilege throughout the book. As a person with Albinism, Talusan presents as white and was treated differently because of it, both by her own brown family members and by people she later met in America. She frequently muses that her time at Harvard would have been so different, had she looked more like her Filipino family. Before her transition, Talusan would also often get mistaken for a woman, and when she begins to cross-dress, she finds it easy to pass as a woman, presumably, she posits, because she is fair-skinned and blonde. She wonders about the challenges she would have faced presenting as a woman if she had characteristics more common to BIPOC, as softness and femininity are often qualities not afforded to BIWOC. Talusan doesn't outright say she's considering her privilege, but that constant examination of these thoughts by a person belonging to many marginalized groups stood out as the most poignant part of this book.A lot of people are reading about race right now, and Fairest is a reminder that not all BIPOC stories are the same, not all trans stories are the same, not all queer stories are the same, etc. Read marginalized stories widely.
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  • Susannah
    January 1, 1970
    Speechless.
  • Gloria Hanson
    January 1, 1970
    Loved this book. The prose is exceptional. I read this memoir with keen interest, and had trouble putting it down. The writer clearly dug deep and let us see her faults – no sugar-coating here. An insightful, unflinching, and honest account of a difficult life, that with the tools of self-esteem wrought by her grandmother gave her the courage and strength to persevere and become the person she is today. Overcoming many obstacles, Talusan’s account of her life is relatable to so many of us on so Loved this book. The prose is exceptional. I read this memoir with keen interest, and had trouble putting it down. The writer clearly dug deep and let us see her faults – no sugar-coating here. An insightful, unflinching, and honest account of a difficult life, that with the tools of self-esteem wrought by her grandmother gave her the courage and strength to persevere and become the person she is today. Overcoming many obstacles, Talusan’s account of her life is relatable to so many of us on so many levels. I was touched beyond measure.
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  • Nelda Brangwin
    January 1, 1970
    In this memoir, Talusan, an albino trans Filipino-American, doesn’t just set forth on a story of being trans or an immigrant. “I was an outcast among outcasts.” From her childhood as a boy in the Philippines to her life as a gay Harvard student to becoming gender binary and then a trans woman, she has a lot to say about determining your self-identity. I felt editing could helped, the writing seemed weak at times for the amazing story she was telling. At times, the story was tedious, but she has In this memoir, Talusan, an albino trans Filipino-American, doesn’t just set forth on a story of being trans or an immigrant. “I was an outcast among outcasts.” From her childhood as a boy in the Philippines to her life as a gay Harvard student to becoming gender binary and then a trans woman, she has a lot to say about determining your self-identity. I felt editing could helped, the writing seemed weak at times for the amazing story she was telling. At times, the story was tedious, but she has so much of value to say.
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  • Lina
    January 1, 1970
    I've never read a memoir in which a queer trans Filipina comes to terms with her albinism and the colonial mentality of colorism. It's one of a kind in the memoir genre, and it's beautifully crafted. I closed the book with a mix of lingering feelings of fulfillment, liberation, sadness, and regret.
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  • Catherine Corman
    January 1, 1970
    that same state of vacillation, between long spaces of loneliness and slivers of belonging-Meredith Talusan, Fairest
  • Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    I won a copy of this book on Goodreads First Reads. This is a wonderful memoir. I had never heard of Meredith until I saw this book on Goodreads and I am so happy that I was able to read her story.
  • Joe Hanson
    January 1, 1970
    A brilliant, painfully introspective, lyrical and eminently readable book. Talusan speaks not only to an LGBTQ audience, but more importantly, to all of us unfamiliar with that journey.
  • Maya Makondesa
    January 1, 1970
    A memoir beautifully written.
  • Libbye
    January 1, 1970
    I’m glad I read it and received it as a giveaway, but memoirs often aren’t my thing. I’m also unfamiliar with her writing, so that may have been valuable context. I respect that it’s a deeply personal look at her life and what’s she’s overcome as an albino trans woman from the Philippines, and this is picky, but I was mainly curious to know what happened in her life AFTER her mid twenties. There’s detailed description of her childhood. She graduated from Harvard and pivoted to art with a seeming I’m glad I read it and received it as a giveaway, but memoirs often aren’t my thing. I’m also unfamiliar with her writing, so that may have been valuable context. I respect that it’s a deeply personal look at her life and what’s she’s overcome as an albino trans woman from the Philippines, and this is picky, but I was mainly curious to know what happened in her life AFTER her mid twenties. There’s detailed description of her childhood. She graduated from Harvard and pivoted to art with a seemingly instant professional grade studio of her own after only a photography class. Her later life is hinted at in her Harvard visit where it sounds like she became a writer/activist, although the twenties-section ended with her moving for art school. I suppose if it’s a “coming of age memoir” though, that’s a lot to ask to double the decades.So, I was interested in where her life ended up after, and what kind of person she became. But I was less interested in the writing, or in her time at school which was most of the book. There was lots of Harvard, petty teen-twenties romances, many snobby attractive men (with “effortless six packs”), more Harvard & MIT, etc. It’s a very cold assessment because I’m wiping out a lot of important topics and I know her story resonates, the book’s just not personally my thing.
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