Paris Lees is a journalist, model, and now a published author.
Known for being the first transgender columnist for Vogue, What if Feels Like for a Girl is a memoir of her formative years in Hucknall, Nottingham. It’s even written in a Hucknall dialect!
Paris Lees’ book is remarkable. It’s an uplifting and empowering memoir of self-identity. It’s smart, witty, and authentic. However, it’s also filled with immense sadness, including stories of physical & emotional abuse.
There are very few books that make you want to laugh, cry, despair, cringe, and shout out for joy all in one chapter, but What It Feels Like for a Girl is one of them.
Through chapters named after popular songs at the time (feel good inc. / smack my bitch up / scream if you wanna go faster, etc…), Paris recounts her experiences through the prism of Byron – named after Nottingham’s own son, Lord Byron.
From being beaten up in Hucknall town centre for being a ‘poof’, to her wild nights in Nottingham with the Fallen Divas, eventual imprisonment, and beyond – the book charts her awakening as Paris in a lucid, highly self-aware way.
Numerous times, Byron – and then Paris – reflects upon why they can’t simply be treated as they are, rather than who society wants them to be.
Through What It Feels Like for a Girl, Paris holds a mirror up to the world, highlighting its treatment of trans people and, of course, what it means to be a girl.
Why What it Feels Like for a Girl Isn't A Trans Memoir
Both in newspaper articles, and in an excellent discussion on Owen Jones’s podcast, Paris has expressed frustration at the expectations surrounding this book.
Many (not unreasonably, to be fair) expected it to be a trans memoir, covering all of the details surrounding her transition.
Her point is that Michelle Obama’s memoir isn’t a ‘woman book’, nor is David Cameron’s memoir a ‘man book’, so why should hers be a ‘trans book’?
It’s a fair point and well made.
But if this is not a trans memoir, discussing the ins-and-outs of Paris’s transition, then what is it?
Well, it’s the story of a working class East Midlands family coming to terms (or not) with the fact that their child is trans.
It’s about Paris discovering her own identity, embracing it, and posing incisive, critical questions about British society’s tolerance of trans people in the early 2000s.
And it’s about female empowerment and Paris taking control of her life.
Lots of love has gone into writing of What It Feels Like for a Girl, and it shows.
What It Feels Like for a Girl is is a terrific book, and I’d strongly urge any of my readers to pick up a copy.
It presents a lens for which a reader, of any background, can get a glimpse into the LGBTQ+ experience in the late ’90s / early ’00s East Midlands. In this respect, it makes for a highly educational book, fostering empathy and understanding in the reader.
I grew up in Nottingham too, living there for 25 years of my life though admittedly on the more privileged end of the city. And in this respect, What It Feels Like for a Girl has given me a fresh perspective on a place I thought I knew inside-out – and that’s quite special.
To conclude, this is an excellent memoir. It’s a tough read at times, and the content can be quite distressing, but it remains an inspirational piece of writing and an essential read.