What are the battles that the LGBTQ+ teenagers are fighting today? Transphobia, anti-queerness, bullying, divorce and parent abandonment are among the hot topics that the book Felix Ever After ponders upon.
Spoiler alert, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is a semi-autobiographical novel. Felix, the protagonist, attends an art focused high school in New York, where only his best friend Ezra, is aware that he is transgender. The truth comes out against his will, leading Felix to resent his past and question his worth. As the narrative unfolds in the quest to discover the culprit’s identity, Felix eventually comes out as transgender to his community.
As the narrative voice, Felix addresses the audience directly. He identifies as being black, queer and trans, and as a consequence of his new gender identity, he confesses that «the more different I am from everyone else […] The less…lovable I feel». In addition, he even struggles to be accepted by the queer community. Female to male transitioning earns him the label «misogynist». Acceptance comes eventually, but not before Felix has learnt to love and accept himself.
That today’s youth has developed a large community online also transpires in the plot. Unfortunately, social networking and personal media sharing has also led to cyberbullying and catfish schemes. In the past few years, LGBTQ cyberbullying has led to a significant increase in mental health problems and suicide rates among young adults (1)LGBTQ Cyberbullying: How to Combat Online Attacks Against Youth, August, 2020. Retrieved from https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/lgbtq-cyberbullying.
More and more users resort to the advantages of anonymity on social media. On the one hand, Instagram is a safe arena that permits Felix to reveal his vulnerability and cultivate his self without being judged based on his identity. On the other hand, Felix also experiences Instagram as a dangerous space where transphobia targets its victims by name calling and physical threats.
The effect of dysfunctional families on teenagers’ wellbeing is a major focus point in the novel. Some of the characters’ internal conflicts point to severe family issues, such as divorce and child abandonment. These issues are common generators of identity crises.
The abandonment of a parent also can affect the emotional development of an individual. In the case of our protagonist, his mother’s abandonment turns Felix into an angry teenager with poor self-esteem. The father’s lack of support during the transitioning process distances Felix even more from becoming himself. Eventually, as the son-father relationship improves, Felix gains a strong feeling of acceptance as both a trans and queer person.
The Hard Work behind Relationships
The book’s underlying message to teenagers is the benefit to seeing the world as it truly is: painted in shades of grey; once one learns about the faultiness of the human nature, challenges turn into priceless life lessons.
In the case of Felix and Ezra, the main life lesson is learning to support each other despite the other’s shortcomings. Such repetitive experiences make their bond grow stronger.
The Pressure of Achieving Artistic Excellence
The relationship of interdependence between high self-esteem and the achievement of professional success also stands out in the novel. Recent studies in motivation psychology agree upon the fact that the relationship between the two variables is not of causation but of correlation (2)Terje, M. (2015). Motivasjon og Mestring. Utvikling av egne og andres ressurser, 2. utgave. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget..
In our case, Felix’s delay to prepare his portfolio for college application coincides with him doubting himself and his future opportunities. His art teacher is one of the few adults well-equipped to support teenagers facing identity crises; she shows him that only by accepting himself is he able to discover his artistic talent: «Painting a self-portrait makes you recognize and accept yourself, both on the outside and within – your beauty, your intricacies, even your flaws». When the community appreciates his art, now a reflection of his true identity and self, Felix’s confidence in the future grows stronger.
I strongly recommend reading Felix Ever After because it celebrates difference, notably belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. The author follows the development of an array of equally interesting queer characters with relatable stories. Each character fights a personal as well as a collective battle: that of being accepted as being queer by a heterosexual dominant society.
As an immigrant woman in my early thirties, I am also constantly fighting my own personal battle: that of achieving a feeling of belonging. To me, Felix Ever After is an encouragement to being relentless in the search for an accepting community.