In Daniel Black's lyrical, thought-provoking novel Perfect Peace, notions of masculinity and femininity are challenged as a biologically male child is raised as a girl - Perfect Peace - revealing many different ideas about what constitutes maleness and femaleness. By having a single character experience both sides of the societal expectations and pitfalls of gender, Black reveals an inherent hypocrisy that favors maleness as a normative trait. The book inherently links homosexuality with femininity as well, as Perfect - now Paul - struggles with his feelings for other boys in this conservative Southern town. Once his mother's ruse is revealed, the sudden changes he is expected to make in his behavior and his attitudes indicates just how "easy" it is deemed to be socialized as male, particularly when one is biologically so. Perfect Peace works to navigate the slippery slopes of behavioral expectations of boys and girls, and the confusion that transgenderism can elicit in both the individual and the community.
When Paul himself is particularly broken by is the shift in humanity that he experiences as a result of understanding what he is biologically, which is different than the societal expectations of him. “What broke Paul’s heart was his discovery of the penis behind the frills of the dresshis hands began to tremblethe more he studied the image, the more uncomfortable he became" (Black 193). As Paul starts to fall for boys in his town, like Johnny Ray Youngblood, questions abound as to whether or not he is a homosexual man or a transgendered heterosexual woman, and what the differences are. Paul clearly still identifies as female, and is often shocked at the prospect of being a man.
Being torn between these two genders, one of the primary changes that happens is that people treat Paul much more harshly than they would as Perfect. When he was Perfect, he was admired and adored for his adorableness, and people would often hug him and come in physical contact with him. However, after he became Paul, he was expected to be much more content with less physical contact, as male socialization is much more distanced than before. Tasks he would not be expected to undertake as a girl (holding a snake, etc.) were expected of him now - "Ain't no country boy scared o' no snake!" (Black 151). In the South, machismo is a big part of masculinity, as men are expected to be dirty, ugly, tough and not averse to risks. As Paul is none of these, he has trouble identifying with these men in anything other than a romantic context.
In conclusion, Paul/Perfect is a transgendered woman who is struggling against societal concepts of masculinity and femininity in the small Southern town of Perfect Peace. Being groomed as a pretty girl, then thrust out into the unforgiving world of masculine competition and heteronormativity, Paul simply does not know what to do. Both inside his own mind and outside in the world, he is unwanted and confused as to who he is, or is supposed to be. The outside world, from the homophobic macho men who are tough on Paul to the mother who intentionally raises a child her own way for her own purposes, socializes Paul/Perfect in polar opposite ways, leading to great confusion and hardship for the young boy/girl.
Black, Daniel. Perfect Peace. St. Martin's Press, 2010. Print.