Self-expression always happens in a cultural context. For writer and journalist Meredith Talusan, the journey to self-knowledge was long and very culturally influenced.
Talusan was raised as a boy in an unstable home in the Philippines. As a person with albinism, her pale skin, blond hair and poor eyesight set her apart from her relatives, some of whom spoke Tagalog, some of whom spoke English. As she grew, she gained power through her intellect and self-awareness, earning top marks in school. Eventually she became aware that she harbored deep feelings for boys. Had Talusan stayed in the Philippines, she likely would have embraced the role of “bakla,” a playful, effeminate gay man.
Instead, Talusan’s nuclear family immigrated to California shortly before their home life imploded. In the face of her mother’s addictions and her father’s absence, Talusan buckled down, continued to excel academically and was admitted to Harvard. Here the memoir snaps into a different register, becoming less dreamy and more journalistic as Talusan recalls her intellectual and sexual awakening. Rail-thin and often assumed to be a white boy, Talusan finds a place for herself in Harvard’s gay community by identifying as a twink, a slang term for young gay men who are usually slim and clean-shaven. Talusan cultivates this persona by purchasing trendy outfits and hitting the gym. Eventually she begins dating a man she adores, but she feels incomplete.
Through another friendship with romantic undertones, Talusan realizes what’s missing—she wants the freedom to express her feminine gender identity—and her life changes again. She navigates what gender transition and passing mean for her, ultimately finding yet another cultural identity and means of self-expression.
At each step of her journey, Talusan interrogates the complex intersection of who she feels herself to be and how others perceive her. Through this fearless self-awareness, Talusan demonstrates her intellect, creativity, sexuality and, most of all, a true dedication to expressing her inner self. For anyone who has wondered how their identity is impacted by the ways others see them, Fairest is an extraordinary story of one woman’s self-reckoning.