Earth As It Is

Written by Jan Maher
Review by Jackie Drohan

Earth As It Is is a complex and deeply emotional novel which explores a rarely discussed aspect of gender identity in the post-war Midwest.

Charlie Bader is a straight male cross-dresser. He often acts out his need by trying on women’s clothing. Failing to keep his secret costs him his marriage to a conservative wife in 1933. In an effort to move on, Charlie leaves his small, constricting town in Texas for Chicago, where he risks going out in public as a woman. He joins in the Full Self Sisterhood, a secret organization with which he forms a connection and begins to explore his identity. He remains living secretly from those to whom he is closest, but eventually makes the decision to live openly as a woman.

He leaves his past behind to become the resident of a small town in Indiana, where he opens a beauty salon. Here Charlie is accepted as Charlene and begins her new life. Charlene manages to keep her true identity hidden until she falls in love with Minnie, her best friend. Charlene then faces the choice to continue as Charlene and keep her life secret, or return as Charlie, in either his new home or elsewhere, as he seeks to make a life with Minnie.

Charlene’s journey is illuminating, but the story has a bit of a gender fantasy quality to it. Her ability to pass, and her option to live secretly, rings more as the acceptance she would hope for than what a person in her circumstances might actually face. Nonetheless, the emotions and dialog have a compelling and authentic quality.

A captivating novel that attempts to bring a softer perspective to gender identity. It is definitely worth reading.