For Today I Am a Boy,
by Kim Fu, is the author’s 2014 debut novel. It tells the story of Peter Huang, a transgender Chinese child. The narrative follows his life from childhood in Fort Michel, Ontario, through to his transformation as an adult in Montreal, Quebec. The title of the book comes from a song of that title by Antony and the Johnsons. The narrative voice is that of the adult Peter, as a woman. Peter was born in Ontario and is the child of Chinese immigrants. He is the only male among their four children. When spending time with his sisters Adele, Helen, and Bonnie he comes to an early realization that he is female and yearns to be able to embrace that as he sees his sisters do. He has a strained relationship with his father, a controlling figure who is determined to distance his family from its Chinese background and have his son take on the role of a Western man.
By the time Peter is six years old he tells his sisters that he wants to be like them, letting his siblings in on his secret. He talks of wanting to be pretty, and his sister Helen tells him he can be handsome instead. Exploring family relationships allows Fu to avoid focusing only on the conflicted nature of the main character. As Peter is searching for ways to fit into himself and the world he lives in, his father has been trying to conform to the ways of the Western world that he expects his family to embrace. All of the rituals Peter is exposed to, such as roughhousing with boys on the playground, being taught to shave at a very young age by his father, and the taunting of a female classmate, have the goal of drawing him into the expected male profile, but in actuality point to the limitations of gender identity as prescribed by society. Peter’s coming of age tale is presented along with descriptions of the struggles of a family trying to cope with its feelings of shame.
Peter’s father takes whatever steps he can to mold his son into the picture he holds of a stereotypical Western man. He gives him advice on how real men live and die. He tells him that his own father died in a mine explosion in the manner of “a Western man.” Eventually, Peter moves to Montreal and delves more deeply into self-discovery. He shaves his legs for the first time. He takes a sadistic lover who is older than he is. Another relationship finds him involved with a lesbian who is a Christian. In her, he finds someone who shares his feelings of self-loathing. At this time in his life, Peter continues to be overwhelmed by the memories of his family and the ways in which they deal with life.
As he tries to figure out who he is, Peter also struggles to figure out the connections between who a person is and who the world tells him he should be. It is following high school that Peter makes the move to Montreal. Instead of finding the exciting life that he imagined, he feels more alone than he ever has done. His journey to self-awareness seems more difficult than ever. He needs to be wanted by another person, which is something he has never experienced. Peter’s vision of himself includes not having male genitalia. He imagines shopping for earrings and cosmetics. A coworker named John, who is transgender, eventually helps Peter realize that there are internal changes to think about, not just external ones. At this point, he fully sees himself as a woman in every way.
The story of Peter is not, in the scheme of things, a tale of transformation, but rather an account of all of the events that led up to his transformation. Kirkus Review
said of For Today I Am a Boy
, “A young man wrestles with gender expectations and his own gender identity in this quietly forceful debut from the Seattle-based author. While the book has its share of clashes with bigotry, its strength is in its interiority: Fu subtly and poetically evokes the intensity of need her narrator feels to become female. Peter’s gender anxiety inevitably leads him down frustrating paths, such as one affair with a middle-aged woman whose domination turns abusive and another with a woman who’s futilely trying to submerge her lesbianism through an ex-gay ministry. Yet Fu is skilled at capturing feelings of rootlessness that go beyond gender, encompassing Peter's immigrant-son status and distance from his family. All of Peter’s emotional baggage makes the novel tonally somber, but Peter’s search for a sense of normalcy-to finally become his female self-has a redemptive trajectory that feels fully earned. A study of transexuality that’s shot through with melancholy while capturing the bliss of discovering one’s sexual self.”