KID DAKOTA AND THE SECRET AT GRANDMA’S HOUSE
by Walt Heyer
Kid Dakota Publishing, San Bernardino, California, 2015
Paperback: 232 pages
Reviewed by Peter Kelleher
This novelised adaptation by Walt Heyer of his own life story is a difficult read. It is not difficult because it is repetitive, or at times a little clumsy; it is difficult because it is true and it is heart rending.
The repetitions and the artlessness – I prefer to call it that than clumsiness as the latter term would seem to be a disparagement that I do not intend – in fact are two of the vehicle’s of the narrative’s effectiveness. Another such is the unemotional way in which the narrative is handled.
The story proceeds like a series of black-and-white photographs, not unlike those that illuminate the head of each chapter. The black-and-white photo, it is broadly acknowledged, pares back the details of its subject and emphasises character traits stripped as it were of cosmetic applications. There is no place to hide in black and white.
The repetitions of details that a more experienced storyteller would tell once and then trust his reader to retain take on the aspect of returning to, of dwelling on an image – the black-and-white images from childhood – just as someone going through family photographs might return again and again to particular photos that hold particular importance to him.
The result is that the reader is made to experience the novel as sharing an intensely personal journey with the author. You are being introduced to such intimate details as if you were sitting on the couch with the author going through those photos; you and him. And you are being entrusted with the story as with a delicate and priceless possession.
Walt Heyer is a recovering transgender. He is much more, of course, including a writer, blogger and speaker on the hidden story of the reality of gender dysphoria and the fraud that is sex-change surgery, and his story is ultimately one of recovery and redemption.
The secret at Grandma’s house has to do with a grandmother’s “disappointment”, we may presume, at having no granddaughters, and how she went about innocently making up for that loss by dressing her four-year-old grandson Dakota in girls’ clothes and showing how much she admired the boy so attired.
Dakota’s parents become aware of Grandma’s proclivities when Dakota sneaks home a dress that Grandma had made especially for him and his mother discovers it among his other clothes. But the damage had been done. The seed had been planted that was to grow into constant doubts in the boy’s mind as to his gender and was to blossom into full-blown transgenderism by the time he was a mature adult.
The narrative reveals a man who is attempting to recover his whole self after having lived a fractured, dual life; one part growing teen, husband and father with a succession of successful careers; and a second part the secret life of a cross-dresser with all the guilt and anger that such a condition burdens a person with.
I say “recover” because Heyer recounts those times in his life in those teenage years and early manhood with an approbation and a love of the earlier self and all the hopes that he stood for and the accomplishments he achieved. It is as though he has found particular photos in his collection that he had had to conceal in the bottom of the box as he grew further away from himself and struggled ever less successfully with the ceaseless feelings that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body.
By the time Dakota entered his 40s, Nicole, the female identity, had become irresistible. At this time, Dakota decides on the surgery that will give him the appearance of a woman. The way this process is described is that it is as though an alter ego was pushing Dakota aside even as she occupied and used his thoughts and feelings to gain control of the levers of his self.
After the surgery to remove the last vestige of his male self, Dakota is practically obliterated from Nicole’s life and becomes merely a source of unwanted nostalgia.
Only, having gone through the transition, the unwanted nostalgia for Dakota acts very quickly – especially given how long Dakota had struggled against Nicole – to make Nicole herself realise that Nicole is an imposter, not an identity at all, and that she desires to be Dakota once more.
The good news is that Dakota makes his way back from exile, with a lot of help from many good people, and has put his life back together.
To say that this is a polemical novel is merely to recognise that it talks about a subject that is surrounded by secrecy and shame and, in the political sphere, is concealed by lies of lobbyists and interested surgeons and enabled by a conniving press.
Walt Heyer is the person that those pushing the transgender barrow insist does not exist. Well, he does, and his is a voice that needs to be heard.