Trumpet was a novel written by Jackie Kay in 1998. It was the first novel she wrote, and won the 1998 Guardian Fiction Prize.
Trumpet begins with the death of Joss Moody, a highly successful jazz musician, and documents the different reactions that society has to the revelation that Joss was transgender, transsexual and biologically a woman. Kay separates different people’s perspectives in to sometimes very small chapters, ranging from those who knew Joss intimately –his wife, Millie –and those who only met him after death, such as the funeral director. As well as these chapters dedicated to social reaction, the main plotline returns constantly to two characters, Millie and her son Colman. After being harassed by the tabloids about Joss, Millie returns to their holiday home in Torr, Scotland. Once finally alone, she reminisces her fond memories of Joss as well as their history, including how they first met and how Joss ended his life. This plotline is connected to Colman’s by Sophie’s letters, almost blackmailing Millie in to co-operating with the book Sophie hopes to publish on Joss’ life. In their home town of London, Colman struggles with the acceptance of his Father’s secret, and in anger agrees to be Sophie’s ghost writer. Eventually, Colman comes to accept and love his Father, foregoing the writing.
The novel begins in London, in 1997. However, the memories that are explored throughout take the reader back in time before this. There is a focus on Millie and Joss’ early courtship, which takes place in Glasgow in the 1960’s. With this setting, Kay approaches and questions the traditional approach to gender and sexuality: that each gender should dress as their sex dictates, and conduct a heterosexual relationship. A major theme Kay also explores is identity, outlining the struggles that racial and gendered stereotyping place on the Moody family; Joss is now judged on his DNA rather than his talent, and Colman struggles every day in society as mixed race. Kay stated that she was inspired to write Trumpet by the life of Billy Tipton, an American Jazz musician. Billy was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton, but assumed male dress when performing on stage. Soon, he was living as a man in his private life as well. Like Joss, it was discovered post-mortem that Billy was biologically female. His previous partner, Kitty Tipton, wanted Billy cremated to keep it a secret, but was persuaded by the media to go public. Many newspapers published Billy’s story, and his family made television appearances.
The book was received as an insight in to transgender life without the psychology behind Joss’ original decision. It is an iconic novel that explores identity, what it is that makes a person individual, and how one truly reveals oneself to the world. It is now studied on many courses that examine gender and identity.