Life Without Pockets — My Long Journey into Womanhood by Carla Ernst is the true story of an uncommon woman and her journey from boyhood to womanhood, but it is so much more.
It takes us inside the life and mind of an ordinary white American child as s/he grows up in a secure middle-class family in the years after World War II. This is a child who knows from his/her earliest memories that something is “not right.” But in the silent and repressive fifties and early sixties, s/he cannot even find the words for what is wrong inside.
As an early childhood educator, I have pondered for several years the question, “When does a child truly know what their gender is?” Carla answers this question from her rare recollections of playing dress-up and dancing with her grandmother. Even as she experienced the pure wholeness and happiness of this experience, Carla could not ask for more without betraying the expectations of her loving family for a perfectly successful “son.”
As a child and adult, Carla led an extraordinary double consciousness as she hid her yearnings to be a woman, while struggling to keep these deepest feelings a secret. She experienced all the traditional roles and relationships of the successful life she was expected to live, yet she endured the cost in pain, anxiety, and depression that was hidden from most of her family. As an adult, Carla slowly began to find friends she can trust to tell her truth, as she became the authentic person she knew she was.
Life Without Pockets reflects on life, love, and humanity as she considers the plight of others like herself. It also illustrates the many painful challenges and misfortunes that befall all people who are in hiding, transition, or in an unwelcoming world.
In the end, she shares all secrets of her journey—from simple advice on “What not to ask,” to a plea for open minds and compassion for people denied wholeness and happiness in our competitive and judgmental world.
This book will certainly speak to transgender people, but it has much more to say to people who think they are “normal,” about the ways that normative thinking damages other people’s lives.
Review by Barbra Lancelot – Early Childhood Education and Disabilities Consultant, Milwaukee, Wisconsin