St. Paulite Rob Jung’s “The Semer” will be the focus of a virtual program marking International Transgender Day of Awareness at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31, presented by the Dakota County Library.
This annual event brings people together to educate them about what it means to be transgender and to highlight the importance of treating transgender people as equal members of society.
Although trans people are still too often marginalized, there is an explosion of books about their lives and struggles. For example, Booklist.com has 20 must-read adult books on trans and genderqueer authors, 2021. Check out the hashtag #TransBooks365.
In the crime story involving Jung, the protagonist is Ronni Brilliant, a transgender former Navy deputy introduced in Jung’s earlier novel, “The Reaper.” Ronni and two female associates, owners of a private detective agency, are the clients of a man who wants to find out who killed his grandmother.
At the heart of the story is a painting by Spanish artist Joan Miro who disappeared at the end of the Paris exhibition. (This story is told in “The Reaper,” the first book in this series.)
Now Ronni and his colleagues believe their client, Hamilton Blethen, may be responsible for his grandmother’s murder years earlier. Blethen, who uses a wheelchair due to a serious accident, is asked to paint a forgery of the famous painting, but he inherits the same painting from a distant relative,
Blethen and his wife sell the painting for over $1 million to a Boston museum where a board member is media mogul Magnolia Kanaranzi. She is a candidate for the United States Senate and will do anything to win the election.
Interesting rogue characters populate the story, including a mysterious guy named Hawke who lives in Spain and does Magnolia’s dirty work (betraying and killing people) from afar. A taste of how trans people are ridiculed are the insults and sneers directed at Ronni by the thugs.
Most intriguing is Ronni herself, who sometimes can’t control her tendency to retaliate when physically threatened, a holdover from her days as a Marine. She is a strong woman who can resist prejudice:
Ronni knew people, like the sergeant behind the desk, made assumptions about her appearance, and she knew her job and her life would be easier if she let her hair grow out, got rid of piercings, and wore different clothes. But she had gone through the physical pain of multiple operations and enormous emotional challenges to become a woman, and felt she had earned the right to be the woman she wanted to be. She could deal with other people’s wrong assumptions. They should learn to take care of her.
Things get uglier when someone finds out that Ronni is in Sturgis, SD, digging into Magnolia’s past, which doesn’t seem to exist. The bad guys are moving on the detectives and lives are in danger.
Jung handles Ronni’s transition sensitively. He does not dwell on the details of his sex change operations or his love life with a police officer.
That may be because the author collaborated with Ellie Krug, a lawyer who transitioned from male to female in 2009 and speaks out on issues of equity and diversity. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her work and is a sought-after speaker who has given over a thousand presentations in North America.
Jung, the pseudonym of Robert W. Junghans, grew up in the river town of Trempealeau, Wisconsin, earned an undergraduate degree from Winona State University, and practiced law for 50 years. He has traveled to every continent except Antarctica and worked as an inventor, gourmet chef, professional fisherman and storyteller.
“The Semer”, released in 2021, comes at a good time as transgender issues are in the news.
There’s controversy surrounding University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win the NCAA Division I 500-meter freestyle, who some say shouldn’t be allowed to compete against biological women.
And despite the outpouring of books on the trans experience, Freedom for All Americans (freedomforallamericans.org) reports that during the 2022 legislative session, dozens of states are considering LGBTQ discrimination legislation. Some 240 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far, most targeting trans athletes.
Transgender people are also the most vulnerable. The HRC Foundation (hrc.org) reports that in 2020, 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people were shot or killed by other violent means, the majority Black and Latina transgender women.
Jung’s books about a strong and confident transwoman IP might dispel some of the myths about the trans community.
At the time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, gay and lesbian fiction was mostly confined to specialty stores like, in Minneapolis, A Brother’s Touch and Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, the first lesbian/feminist bookstore in the States -United.
Thanks to pioneering authors such as Minnesotan Ellen Hart’s long-running Jane Lawless series and RD Zimmerman’s Todd Mills mysteries, LGBTQ novels have finally become mainstream, with general-interest bookstores giving the genre equal space.
Now it’s the turn of trans people, and books like “The Sower”.
During Thursday’s show, Jung and Krug will discuss their collaboration, friendship, and how it turned into “The Semer.” The event is free but registration is required at: dakotacountylibrary.libcal.com/event/8811414.