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Fairest: A Memoir

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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 gender Fairest 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 Ame 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 gender Fairest 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.


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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 gender Fairest 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 Ame 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 gender Fairest 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.

30 review for Fairest: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Audiobook....read by the author Meredith Talusan This is a reflective coming-of-age memoir. Meredith is a trans albino immigrant from the Philippines. She moved to the United States with her family at age 15. From her childhood as a boy in the Philippines.....to a gay student at Harvard university....to becoming gender binary....to trans woman.....she examines many sides of her sexuality, gender issues, immigration, race, class, privileged opportunities, colonial mentality of colorism, I enjoyed Audiobook....read by the author Meredith Talusan This is a reflective coming-of-age memoir. Meredith is a trans albino immigrant from the Philippines. She moved to the United States with her family at age 15. From her childhood as a boy in the Philippines.....to a gay student at Harvard university....to becoming gender binary....to trans woman.....she examines many sides of her sexuality, gender issues, immigration, race, class, privileged opportunities, colonial mentality of colorism, I enjoyed Meredith’s story- she was honest, vulnerable, and offered compelling perspectives as a trans gender woman — coming out to others - and most coming out to herself. Teenage trans deal with many complex issues —parental discord, their contemporaries, judgements, bullying, passing, (when to reveal they are trans), love, approval, acceptance, discomforts, .....including their own personal interests. ( writing, art, and photography), for Meredith. This is the type of memoir one wants to champion. I cared for Meredith - her flaws and her achievements. It wasn’t highly emotional - or eye-opening new to me ( I have trans friends and have read other books)....but it was still important....and bittersweet lovely. 3.7 rating

  2. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    So appreciated Meredith Talusan’s vulnerability about her experience as a transgender woman in this memoir. She writes about how growing up, she envisioned herself as a woman, however she did not transition until later on in life when her desire grew more pronounced. I found the developmental component of her story compelling, how we could see different moments throughout her childhood and early adult life in which she signaled her womanhood both internally and externally (e.g., as a child seein So appreciated Meredith Talusan’s vulnerability about her experience as a transgender woman in this memoir. She writes about how growing up, she envisioned herself as a woman, however she did not transition until later on in life when her desire grew more pronounced. I found the developmental component of her story compelling, how we could see different moments throughout her childhood and early adult life in which she signaled her womanhood both internally and externally (e.g., as a child seeing herself in female celebrities’ narratives, in college performing art in which she identified herself as a woman). Talusan also names her privilege as albino Filipinx person, such that the lightness of her skin afforded her many opportunities both within the gay male community and to pass as a woman. My main critique of this book is that while Talusan names her white-passing privilege, she does not really thoroughly criticize white supremacy (which gives her this privilege) nor does she unpack some of the centering of the cis male gaze that occurs throughout this memoir. For example, at one point she writes about traveling to the Philippines and buying sex from a Filipinx man who refers to himself as “boy” after her childhood crush rejects her. While I do not want to criticize sex work or sex workers, I felt that the way Talusan wrote about this exchange, specifically some of her self-pity, came across as extremely problematic. Like, I get that she feels a sense of grief over having loss part of her Filipinx heritage due to immigrating to the United States, however in that exchange with the sex worker I wished she had really confronted how systems of imperialism, colonization, and white supremacy afforded her the ability to travel back to the Philippines and buy sex and then just leave back to her privileged life in the first place. Similarly, I feel that the white male gaze is centered a lot throughout this book. Talusan writes about the privilege she inherits by engaging in a long-term relationship with a wealthy white professor, then she writes about how her attraction to a different white man in part motivated her transition into womanhood. Additionally, she names how she “betrayed” another female friend of hers by trying to talk this second white man out of his ongoing romantic relationship with her friend so that Talusan can be with him instead. I’m not judging Talusan for having these experiences because like, that’s what she experienced and in memoir you write about your experiences. However, she never actually explores or critiques or interrogates this centering of the male gaze, nor her participation in the privileged gay white male community, beyond naming that these guys are white and privileged. Like at one point when she writes about traveling back to the Philippines, she names that all the guys she had dated up to that point were white, but doesn’t actually describe how that’s messed up or the steps she’s going to take to actively dismantle this centering of white men. I feel conflicted between four and three stars for this book. Going into this review I was aiming for four stars but then after writing these past two paragraphs I’m like, hm, this was pretty problematic in parts. Other reviewers were definitely harsher than me and I generally agree with their points even if my tone is gentler, like Lily’s review and Max’s review. However, I still think it’s super courageous (even though it shouldn’t have to be) for Talusan to so openly write about her experience as a trans woman, so I’ll go with four and call it a day.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    wow! there’s so much going on here, and all of it’s amazing. Talusan pairs her eventful life story with incisive reflections on class, race, gender, and sexuality; the copy’s comparison of this sharply written coming-of-age / transition memoir to cmbyn happily makes no sense.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kai

    Fairest came so highly recommend that I expected it to be my next In the Dream House, which, I now realise, wasn't fair to anyone involved. What made this book so intriguing in the first place was its queerness and beauty. It's the memoirs of an albino trans woman from the Philippines who immigrates to the US and eventually attends Harvard where they explore their queerness and gender and how their passing as a white gay man/white cis woman shapes their reality. I don't think I need to say more. L Fairest came so highly recommend that I expected it to be my next In the Dream House, which, I now realise, wasn't fair to anyone involved. What made this book so intriguing in the first place was its queerness and beauty. It's the memoirs of an albino trans woman from the Philippines who immigrates to the US and eventually attends Harvard where they explore their queerness and gender and how their passing as a white gay man/white cis woman shapes their reality. I don't think I need to say more. Let's get the stuff that bothered me out of the way quickly, because I do think it's a book worth reading that grants a lot of insight into queerness, trans identity, race, class and privilege. I think my biggest problem is that there remained a distance between me and the narrator that was never bridged. I couldn't help but feel scared or anxious reading some parts of this book, but a deeper emotional connection was missing and it resulted in me just wanting to finish the book after spending nearly a week on only 300 pages (yes it's true, I'm an impatient reader). I don't think the writing was as mesmerising as promised either. There were parts that felt very self-indulgent, for example instances of name dropping here and there, and while a certain claim to fame does form part of the thrill of the book, it was put on a tad too thick. I was impressed that the author doesn't try to hide their vanity and desire to be admired. Sure, it's not a character trait we value but I think it's important to admit that we all have flaws. It would have been more dishonest not to disclose this. I now feel the need to go back to Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture and read Meredith's essay because I only just realised that they were part of that anthology and I must have read some of their writing already without connecting the dots. Overall I can recommend this book, my only hope is that future readers will form a closer emotional bond because that will definitely heighten the experience. Find more of my books on Instagram

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    I really struggled to get through Fairest, which I expected to enjoy. I disliked the author, the way they were fixated on physical beauty, held such disdain for others, and seemed to lack meaningful relationships. I never really heard about any friendships in the entire book, except the one the author ruined with a horrible betrayal. The beginning was interesting where they write about growing up as an albino boy in the phillippines, but once they get to the US, it felt like a collection of anec I really struggled to get through Fairest, which I expected to enjoy. I disliked the author, the way they were fixated on physical beauty, held such disdain for others, and seemed to lack meaningful relationships. I never really heard about any friendships in the entire book, except the one the author ruined with a horrible betrayal. The beginning was interesting where they write about growing up as an albino boy in the phillippines, but once they get to the US, it felt like a collection of anecdotes primarily centered around being a gay man at Harvard. The author clearly held their own intelligence in extremely high regard, as they recount the exact theses of papers they wrote over 25 years ago. I too attended an elite institution but somehow I feel that if I wrote a memoir, the name of my alma mater wouldn’t appear in every 3rd sentence. Aside from the self congratulatory nature of the authors recounting of their Harvard education, I found their utter lack of self awareness to be the reason I almost didn’t finish this book. They were continually upset by not being recognized as Asian yet loved the fact that they passed as white. They treated others with disregard, cheating on multiple partners and buying a probably-trafficked Filipino boy for sex. It seems there is constant bragging in the book about so many things. Their accent, their intelligence, their grades, their desirability, their gym-going habits, their abs, their thesis performance’s popularity. It’s exhausting. Perhaps if the author had displayed a bit more self awareness I could’ve written this off as a cheeky nod to how all college students are self absorbed and competitive? But the vanity remains when the story flashes forward to the author almost in their 40s. I don’t need to like or want to be friends with the narrator to enjoy reading a memoir, but the author struck me as so pompous and insufferable that I truly almost couldn’t finish it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    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!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Fanna

    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. 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Casey the Reader

    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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    A memoir about the life so far of Meredith Talusan, a writer/artist trans woman with albinism from the Philippines who immigrated to the US as a teenager. This book sails right past the conventions of both the typical trans and immigrant memoir. It's not the story of someone who always knew she was a girl. And it's about someone who fits into American racial categories in a very unique way, as someone perceived as white who is Asian. Her writing is beautiful, and she boldly looks at herself, sha A memoir about the life so far of Meredith Talusan, a writer/artist trans woman with albinism from the Philippines who immigrated to the US as a teenager. This book sails right past the conventions of both the typical trans and immigrant memoir. It's not the story of someone who always knew she was a girl. And it's about someone who fits into American racial categories in a very unique way, as someone perceived as white who is Asian. Her writing is beautiful, and she boldly looks at herself, sharing complexities, inconsistencies, and flattering and not so flattering moments in her life. I was sad when it ended, as I just wanted the story to keep going! Wonderfully read by the author as an audiobook!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I enjoyed the first half of the book where the author described their childhood in the Philippines growing up as an effeminate albino boy. The author’s struggle with their mother is poignant. They explore the interesting issue of how being albino gave them the appearance of being white, and the privileges that came from that. The second half of the book is about the author’s sexual and gender awakening, first as a gay man at Harvard, and later transitioning into a woman. In the second half the au I enjoyed the first half of the book where the author described their childhood in the Philippines growing up as an effeminate albino boy. The author’s struggle with their mother is poignant. They explore the interesting issue of how being albino gave them the appearance of being white, and the privileges that came from that. The second half of the book is about the author’s sexual and gender awakening, first as a gay man at Harvard, and later transitioning into a woman. In the second half the author comes across as vain, petulant, and selfish. They pay for sex with a destitute man in the Philippines. They hook up with married men from the internet and morally excuse it “in the name of art”. They try to steal their female friend’s boyfriend and are incredulous when rebuffed. The author seems to indicate the main reason they became a woman was to become more appealing to men since effeminate men are not as desirable in American gay male culture. They leave a lot of hurt people in their wake. The author is very privileged in some ways—going to Harvard; living with a wealthy partner who funds their lifestyle, education, and eventually their sex reassignment surgery; and presenting as a blonde white female. The author seemed very wrapped up in the vanity of being “an attractive blonde woman” which they mentioned about 1,000 times. I didn’t appreciate how they did not acknowledge some of the disadvantages that women face, such as in being catcalled by men. Whereas cisgender women are fearful and dehumanized when catcalled, the author reveled in it because it proved that she was passing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Max

    Ok, I had always harbored a vague affection for meredith because of that article where Jacob and alok bag on Meredith so hard. I now realize that coming across likable compared to Jacob “you’re offensive for not fucking me when I wanted you to” tobia and alok “little girls can be kinky” vaid-menon is probably not the hardest thing to do. I do appreciate the recognition that transition is a strategy that made sense in certain situations but wouldn’t make sense in others. Still though!!! Buying se Ok, I had always harbored a vague affection for meredith because of that article where Jacob and alok bag on Meredith so hard. I now realize that coming across likable compared to Jacob “you’re offensive for not fucking me when I wanted you to” tobia and alok “little girls can be kinky” vaid-menon is probably not the hardest thing to do. I do appreciate the recognition that transition is a strategy that made sense in certain situations but wouldn’t make sense in others. Still though!!! Buying sex from a man referring to himself as “boy” when your childhood crush (who was described in the book at age 13 using erotic language) rejects you as a gay adult?? Constantly digging into your mom’s appearance as if that’s the same as her actual bad parenting???? Trying to talk a man out of rejecting you after a months long campaign to break up his relationship with a woman????? Complaining about the fucked up clout games gay men play but admitting you 100% buy into their standards and only want to be with high status guys..... well........ ok. I no longer harbor affection, vague or otherwise

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hunter

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    Read for the Booktube Prize / Octofinals. High expectations but it turned out rather 'meh'. 2.5* Read for the Booktube Prize / Octofinals. High expectations but it turned out rather 'meh'. 2.5*

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I’m one of the very few who did not like this book. I only made it through a quarter of the book before I had to give up. It seemed to drone on about the same basic things over and over without ever getting to a point.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. DNF @ 65%. This memoir started off strong - the first half was an interesting, nuanced take on growing up albino and poor in the Philippines and how Talusan began to formulate and grapple with her identities and the conception of whiteness in the Philippines and in the US. I really appreciated that this is a trans memoir where the gender transition or post-transition life isn't the bulk of the book. The writing overall was fair and had its strong moments. The themes discussed in the first half ( DNF @ 65%. This memoir started off strong - the first half was an interesting, nuanced take on growing up albino and poor in the Philippines and how Talusan began to formulate and grapple with her identities and the conception of whiteness in the Philippines and in the US. I really appreciated that this is a trans memoir where the gender transition or post-transition life isn't the bulk of the book. The writing overall was fair and had its strong moments. The themes discussed in the first half (race, albinism, poverty, immigration, queer identity, family) raised a lot of questions I was hoping the second half of the book was going to answer. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed. The latter half of the memoir finds Talusan starting her education at Harvard and growing into her identity as a gay man. The points she makes about entering an Ivy League institution and academia's traditions as a first generation immigrant are the high point. Most of this section is spent describing minutiae of crushes, dates, lovers and sexual escapades, none of which was interesting (and most of which was actually deeply cringey). We see her behave immaturely repeatedly in an attempt to attract romantic and sexual attention and never grapple with it or reflect on her behavior in a nuanced manner in the way an excellent memoirist would. The emotions she says she's feeling don't translate and you constantly feel like you're at arm's length, being told but not shown. I understand that she wished to dig up even the most embarrassing and traumatic parts of her past, but she consistently came off as immature, shallow, foolish, and at points arrogant especially about academia. Perhaps a better editor could've warned her about this? Mostly Talusan's discussion of her gender identity hinges on her looks and her constant references to her 'gym body' and 'toned physique' were tired after the second mention, let alone the tenth. The further she delved into her relationships, the more problematic her outlook became. We see her reveling in passing herself off as a white American time and time again in order to get the sexual fulfillment she desires, but she simultaneously refuses to interrogate the Western beauty standards and misogyny that gave her that privilege. By the time you read about her cheating on her partners and buying a young Filipino boy for sex (!) in Manila while pretending to be American (!!) in order to project a one-sided disturbing fantasy (!!!) involving her childhood crush onto him (whew), it becomes clear that Talusan is incapable of reflecting on and dissecting her life's events in a mature, learned way. I don't think her hindsight has brought her to the kinds of conclusions one would expect to find after reading scenes like this. Her continued focus on womanhood as physical beauty, sexual attractiveness and deference to men reeked of misogyny and was deeply uncomfortable and almost offensive to read about as a cis woman. I just kept waiting for the payoff, an acknowledgement of her growth and maturation, but I agree with another reviewer that it simply never came. Perhaps she needs a few more years worth of self-reflection? The aforementioned scene, paired with misogyny, privilege, emotional immaturity, lack of self awareness and average writing style throughout, made this a clear DNF.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    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

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Konneker

    The worst personality in literature

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deedi Brown (DeediReads)

    All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/ TL;DR REVIEW: Fairest is an expertly written memoir that has so much to give its readers. I definitely recommend it. For you if: You enjoy memoirs, particularly by LGBTQ+ people. FULL REVIEW: “I came to understand that what I wanted was to be seen as my complete self — my gender, my race, my history — without being judged because of it. I wanted people close to me to see an albino person who had learned how to look and act white so the world All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/ TL;DR REVIEW: Fairest is an expertly written memoir that has so much to give its readers. I definitely recommend it. For you if: You enjoy memoirs, particularly by LGBTQ+ people. FULL REVIEW: “I came to understand that what I wanted was to be seen as my complete self — my gender, my race, my history — without being judged because of it. I wanted people close to me to see an albino person who had learned how to look and act white so the world would more readily accept her, and understand how that had been part of her survival. I wanted people to see how that albino person was also transgender, how she transitioned to be able to express her femininity and had surgery so she would be perceived as being like any other woman, her qualities appreciated on those terms. And if she ever hid who she actually was, it was only so that she could be granted entrance into worlds she couldn’t otherwise reach, worlds that should rightfully belong to everyone, not just those who happen to uphold the prevailing standards of whiteness and womanhood.” Fairest is a memoir by Meredith Talusan, an albino Filipina trans woman, that is so, so well written. It seems like there isn’t a word out of place. Talusan chose events and details with an expert eye that knows exactly what should be included, just how to frame everything so that it rings loudly with truth and meaning, and how to sink her readers into the story so she can express everything in her heart. The book is broken into three parts: first, her childhood as a young Filipino boy struggling with toxic parents, a budding attraction to boys, and the warring hope and regret that her albino appearance gave her; second, her time at Harvard for undergrad, when she lived out loud as a gay man who appeared white, looking desperately for love and acceptance; and third, her post-graduate years grappling with an identity finally ready to make itself known and all the changes that brought to her relationships with others and herself. I think what was most valuable to me, as a cis-het person who does her best to be an ally, was the opportunity to read about Talusan’s experiences grappling with her identity and coming to an understanding of who she was over the course of her life. There are a lot of trans stories and memoirs by people who “knew” they were trans early in life, with conviction, but it seems less common to read trans stories like this. Conceptually, I understand that gender and identity shift over time, move around, but it felt like such a gift to be given Talusan’s story in this way to help me see that more deeply. She presents herself without reservation or justification — she simply shows us who she is and how she came to be that true self. And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to read it. This is a book I’ll be recommending for a long time. TRIGGER WARNINGS: Gambling and drug addictions (by others, mentioned); Suicide (by another, mentioned); Transphobia and homophobia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cavar Sarah

    I was really impressed by this memoir and blew through it quickly. Meredith consciously resists trans autobiographical norms and refuses to attribute her identity to dysphoric pathology. Her emphasis on the cultural and relational construction of identity is the best I’ve seen in a memoir like this, and the emotional consequences of this construction (from family confusion to sexual and romantic rejection) are deftly explores. I hope to see more trans memoirs like this — trans memoirs that desta I was really impressed by this memoir and blew through it quickly. Meredith consciously resists trans autobiographical norms and refuses to attribute her identity to dysphoric pathology. Her emphasis on the cultural and relational construction of identity is the best I’ve seen in a memoir like this, and the emotional consequences of this construction (from family confusion to sexual and romantic rejection) are deftly explores. I hope to see more trans memoirs like this — trans memoirs that destabilize the genre and question “trans life” as a monolith.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    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.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary Beth Hustoles

    Definitely a mixed effort. The story of her childhood and the many ways color, nationality, gender and appearance create reality and relationships was intriguing, but even Talusan’s excellent writing couldn’t make up for how unlikeable she was as a protagonist. Betraying your best friend, paying for sex with a young boy, constant commentary about her beauty and intelligence: it all left me more annoyed than awakened.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

    Meredith has such a unique perspective and a truly singular journey to self-discovery, for that alone this book is worth the read. However, I did not find the writing nearly as compelling as it should be. Meredith would be describing incredible highs and lows, and yet, I felt little to no emotions. I found myself slow to pick this book back up and was never entranced enough to be fully invested and feeling alongside the author.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sai

    Loved the first part of the book, hated the rest of it. What was shocking to me was that I thought the author would be more radical, more challenging of inequalities because they are at the heart of multiple intersecting struggles—poor, albino, asian, and trans—and yet I found their memoir to be dominated by white privilege. Even the people they dated were the "ideal" gay men: white, rich, learned.. Author also came off way too self-congratulatory for my taste, it was exhausting. 2/5 Loved the first part of the book, hated the rest of it. What was shocking to me was that I thought the author would be more radical, more challenging of inequalities because they are at the heart of multiple intersecting struggles—poor, albino, asian, and trans—and yet I found their memoir to be dominated by white privilege. Even the people they dated were the "ideal" gay men: white, rich, learned.. Author also came off way too self-congratulatory for my taste, it was exhausting. 2/5

  25. 5 out of 5

    Beth Loflin

    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.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Cunningham

    I hate rating memoirs because it feels like you’re rating someone’s life. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this more as a physical copy, but it just didn’t capture me. There were definitely shining moments.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dani

    Fairest is such an illuminating memoir! I listened to this one on audiobook, narrated by Meredith Talusan herself. I think hearing her voice speak her own perspective made her story all the more impactful and personal. This memoir chronicles Meredith's unique intersection of being transgendered, albino, a white-passing first generation American from the Philippines, a Harvard grad, and a person in search of their place and identity in this distinct and often isolating position in the world. The Fairest is such an illuminating memoir! I listened to this one on audiobook, narrated by Meredith Talusan herself. I think hearing her voice speak her own perspective made her story all the more impactful and personal. This memoir chronicles Meredith's unique intersection of being transgendered, albino, a white-passing first generation American from the Philippines, a Harvard grad, and a person in search of their place and identity in this distinct and often isolating position in the world. The narrative itself is beautifully written and guides the reader through the massive transitions Meredith experienced from childhood to adulthood, being raised between parents and caregivers, country to city, Philippines to America, straight-passing to gay, poor Filipino to Harvard student and American, male to female, and what she took from each of these changes in order to cope and find herself in the experiences to follow. For a person whose sense of belonging was blurred and caught in between two places at once on many different levels, Meredith Talusan tells a story that is remains hopeful and resilient despite what was lost along the way. Highly recommend this one and feel everyone can learn something from this powerful story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    I enjoyed this and found it really engaging! Talusan has had such an interesting life, from her brief stint as a child star in the Phillippines to her Harvard career and beyond. I especially liked all of her reflections on theater (including her longtime connection with Lea Salonga). Unlike All Boys Aren't Blue this isn't specifically marketed as a YA memoir but I do think it would have a lot of teen appeal and although the last few chapters have some adult ~relationship concepts, and there is s I enjoyed this and found it really engaging! Talusan has had such an interesting life, from her brief stint as a child star in the Phillippines to her Harvard career and beyond. I especially liked all of her reflections on theater (including her longtime connection with Lea Salonga). Unlike All Boys Aren't Blue this isn't specifically marketed as a YA memoir but I do think it would have a lot of teen appeal and although the last few chapters have some adult ~relationship concepts, and there is some talk of sex-having, there isn't anything too explicit. And the majority of the story really is her childhood and teen/college years. It's fascinating to see her use her rhetorical skills to unpack all the cultural beauty ideals that she's had to work through (and there is some language in here that is a bit fat-shamey but a lot of it is in the context of her understanding that she's naturally thin and that gives her extra value in American culture.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Rogers

    It's not that I didn't expect it to be good, but the degree of how good this book was didn't hit me until I was already at least 2/3 done. But it was SO GOOD. There is so much going on but it's never overwhelming. Meredith is unique in so many different ways that this story is truly one of a kind. I can't even think of anything typical about it. I don't want to ruin any part of it, so all I'll say is that it's a book that should be read, especially if you're looking to diversify your bookshelf. It's not that I didn't expect it to be good, but the degree of how good this book was didn't hit me until I was already at least 2/3 done. But it was SO GOOD. There is so much going on but it's never overwhelming. Meredith is unique in so many different ways that this story is truly one of a kind. I can't even think of anything typical about it. I don't want to ruin any part of it, so all I'll say is that it's a book that should be read, especially if you're looking to diversify your bookshelf.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Olivia Law

    This was a really lovely, vulnerable read. For me, it was a bit long but I definitely don't regret reading. This was a really lovely, vulnerable read. For me, it was a bit long but I definitely don't regret reading.

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