Fred: An Unbecoming Woman seamlessly ties themes of coming out, accepting one’s queerness, and first loves into a neat package that is full of tongue-in-cheek humor and humility. A debut memoir from Annie Krabbenschmidt, Fred addresses issues of love and anxiety with tenderness and pop culture references ranging from Twilight to Mean Girls, jumping from Krabbenschmidt’s own family history to their time as a college student at Duke University, and everything in between. Sharply funny, this memoir comes at just the right time to address how, as queer people, we are always coming out, and how the process of finding oneself and reinventing oneself never really ends.
Beginning with Krabbenschmidt’s journey towards coming out, at their alma mater of Duke University, their anxiety and fear about being a gay woman is cleverly represented in these pages. The anguish that they felt about coming out, which is certainly relatable to many gay and trans youth, is wonderfully detailed, as well as Krabbenschmidt’s first relationship. What sets this memoir apart from others in the genre, however, is the way Krabbenschmidt reflects on the dissolution of their first relationship. With maturity and acceptance, they admit that they put their own needs second and put too much emphasis on that first relationship, trying to use it as a substitute for growing up. This kind of pressure would kill any relationship, especially one when a person is so young, and Krabbenschmidt’s insight is refreshing and clear.
Krabbenschmidt is at their best when they describe an experience they had at a bar with friends and are accosted by several drunk off-duty soldiers, who accuse them of not supporting veterans simply because Annie and their friends don’t want to talk to the soldiers. Brilliantly summing up the frustration and gravity of simply existing while female, Krabbenschmidt details what it feels like to be constantly under attack from men who expect women to act as sexualized objects, but also be compliant to their whims, and get angry when they do not succumb to these desires. The fear is palpable in this section, and Krabbenschmidt carefully executes a takedown of the patriarchal structures that plague our culture.
Krabbenschmidt dives deeply into what it means to be a woman—how to be ladylike, and how to reject that concept. They talk about their first suit fitting, and how attractive it made them feel. What a woman should be like—what they should wear, how they should act—is central to the theme of this book. Unbecoming a woman, or an unbecoming woman, and the dual meaning there, is a factor that permeates Krabbenschmidt’s memoir. Fred, Krabbenschmidt’s pseudo-self, is an unbecoming woman. They are cool and confident, and don’t bow to conventional pressures. We should all wish we were like Fred.
Using conversational, lifelike prose, as well as some interesting departures in form including comic panels, drawings, and distortions of text, this book is a deviation from typical memoirs about gayness. Many queer narratives have tragic endings, but Krabbenschmidt is clearly reclaiming the narrative in their own image, and although they don’t necessarily find romantic love at the end point of their story, they have found platonic love, acceptance from their family, and a variety of other forms of personal satisfaction. This is a satisfying departure from the traditional narrative.
At times Fred is repetitive. We spend a lot of time with Krabbenschmidt muddling through her confused twenties, and some middle parts of the book lack the sharpness of the beginning and the end. When the chronology of the book gets mixed up, the reader can sometimes get lost in the hubbub. The anxiety that Krabbenschmidt mentions they suffer from is visible in some of the passages, especially when they talk directly to the reader. Krabbenschmidt cuts through the noise with smart observations and funny anecdotes, but there are moments when the narrative slows and we tread the same ground over and over.
The chapter headings are humorous: “Coming Out,” “Coming Out In Love,” “Coming Out… Again,” “Oh I Get It, You Never Stop Coming Out.” For many queer people, you do never stop coming out—for every person you meet, coming out is a process. Some queer people are more visible than others, and every queer person’s journey is different, but coming out is a continuous process. Reading Krabbenschmidt’s process, I believe, will be healing and informative for queer people going through similar processes.
Fred: An Unbecoming Woman is a sharp, humor-filled book with a lot of insight about queerness, a rich excavation of the self, and a good first attempt at memoir. The pop culture aspect makes it current and relevant, and many of the anecdotes about anxiety will appeal to younger generations fed by social media. But more importantly, Krabbenschmidt is rewriting the book on what queer stories look like, and what queer visibility looks like, and this is vital work that desperately needs to be done. This book will certainly be impactful in its scope of changing what it means to come out, and what it means to be a woman, becoming or unbecoming.
Publisher: Rebel Queer Dinner Party Press
Publication date: June 3rd, 2022
Reviewed by Joanna Acevedo