A Room of Her Own

Recently, a transwoman wrote to me casually that all she ever wanted to do was be a ________. As a child, as a teenager, as an adult, she (then he) was intent on that goal. My first impulse was to think that I’ve never had that kind of calling, that kind of goal, but then – a few days later – I realized that’s not entirely true, either.
The problem with wanting to be a writer is somewhat like discovering you’re trans. You’d prefer anything else. You’d prefer a magic wand of a “cure.” You know it’s going to cost – socially, financially, familially – so it takes a while to admit to yourself who you are and own it, as the kids say. It’s as if something in you knows not to say it out loud, not to commit to that secret yearning in the corner of your heart.
I’m still waiting and hoping for my calling to be an accountant much as Betty is still waiting to feel comfortable living as a man. We may as well buy lottery tickets if we’re already playing odds like that.
I know exactly why I never knew, much less articulated, my urge to be a writer. I grew up working class, and writing was not on the list of career choices. It wasn’t a job. It was a luxury of rich people, the earned perk of a family that already had a generation of college educations and healthy business professions. My older sister was the first in our family to graduate from college, though a few of her siblings, like me, followed after. She is a banker. One brother is an accountant. Another runs the regional area for a supermarket chain. Another is a psychologist. In a nutshell, they all chose practical careers.
They make me feel like the dreamy, impractical baby of the family, which is, in a sense, what I am. During a recent family discussion (read: argument) my brother asked my sister why I didn’t have a full-time job. To her credit, she answered, “I don’t know, but why haven’t you written a book?”
His critical questions aside, I’ve been learning a lot about the publishing industry. While holding my breath (and pulling my hair and stamping my feet) through the negotiations around my next book, I’ve wondered why I’m in this profession at all.
I write because it’s what I do. I’ve kept a written journal since I was nine, which is about the same time I wrote my first short story (Called “Rainy Day,” it was a two-page ripoff of Madelaine L’Engle, of course; I’d just read A Wrinkle in Time.) I had to get married in order to be able to write full-time. The feminist implications of having marriage deliver this wish don’t please me.
Writing is about time.

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.”
Rudolph Erich Rascoe

I’m lucky to have a husband who understands that even without a job, I’m working. Betty is a voracious reader, who actually enjoys having a writer for a wife. Still in all, what are the real problems of being a woman writer – even a married one?

    Here are some things to think about:

  • Only 9 out of 52 winners of the National Book Award for Fiction are women.
  • Only 11 out of 48 winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction have been women.
  • Women writers won 63 percent of the awards but less than 30 percent of the money in awards and grants reported by Poets & Writers. (January/February 2003 issue)
  • In 2002 all but one of the Pulitzer Prize finalists for Fiction and Poetry were male.
  • 94 percent of all the writing awards at the Oscars have gone to men.
  • Only 25 percent of the advisory members of the National Endowment for the Arts are women.
  • 68 percent of total art income in the U.S. goes to men and 73 percent of all grants and fellowships in the arts go to men.
  • (Source: A Room of Her Own Foundation)

The Humanities are supposed to be woman-friendly, too! I can’t even imagine what the stats are for women in the Sciences; I almost don’t want to know.
It’s a bit easier to understand why “I want to be a writer” never crossed my lips as a child, isn’t it? It is for me. Some days I’d still like that calling to be an accountant, maybe just for a little while, so that when I’m 40 or 50 I can quit accounting and write full-time without caring who the writing awards and grants go to and maybe even fund a few of them myself.