The Choice Is Real by Jayson Keery

The Choice Is Real is a rare poetry collection that had me constantly humming in agreement, awe, and joy throughout my reading experience. Jayson Keery’s skillful voice and sharp humour elevate biting commentary on transgender experiences and the complexities of being seen while living comfortably in one’s own skin. This new release by Montreal’s Metatron Press is one of the strongest in their catalogue and one of my favourite poetry books of the year.

The book opens with one of two versions of the titular poem, chronicling the complicated process of dressing against one’s self. The speaker puts on a costume to present as “normal” for the day,

… Struck 
and drafted into a 
flaccid flame 
brigade of 
neutered fashion.

This disdain for social expectations of gender presentations continues throughout the book, with one of the final poems reprising the title: a found language poem from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The queerness of the little mermaid story—Hans Christian Andersen’s known queer experiences, the transformation of one’s appearance to fit into a more fulfilling presentation, and the personal sacrifices necessary to pass among society—is at the center of the book. 

Keery weaves other childhood symbols through the poems, referencing other Disney movies, Maurice Sendak, Barbie, Mr. Rogers, theme parks, and Greek mythology, to explore early feelings of queerness. These references offer glimpses into how a child’s identity and future self are moulded by external pressures, from media, from family members, and from strangers; but the speakers also resist these pressures. Many poems reflect on their fractured relationships with family and social expectations while biting back at the indicators of their innocence—self-pleasuring as a child in a Burger King ball pit is “the type of memory that shivers / tinsel when touched.” 

While revisiting a queer girlhood, we encounter youthful experiences from the mature speaker on their journey through self-discovery. Poems set in adulthood grapple with being comfortable with one’s identity but still feeling out of place, even in queer spaces. Continued returns to the conflicted child within this adult make clear that their life is not divided into “before” and “after” their transition, nor were they born as a set identity. The book unites queer sorrow and joy to tell the story of a journey that has far from ended:

And the word feels good.
 The choice to speak it is great.

Highlighting my favourite lines was difficult—every page rapidly became almost entirely yellow. I couldn’t devour The Choice Is Real quickly enough, and strongly recommend it to readers interested in the mythologies and magic of queerness.

Jayson Keery is a writer, editor, and arts coordinator from Boston who currently resides in Western Massachusetts. They completed their MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

  • Metatron Press, Spring 2023
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 81 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1988355346
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1988355344

 -- Website

Zoe Shaw is a writer, editor, and administrator based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. She is managing editor at carte blanche literary magazine. Her major interests are in gender and sexuality, ecocriticism, and the elegy in British Romantic poetry, which she explored in her master’s thesis at McGill University. @zoestropes on Instagram. Her website is