So do I get to be a private person, too?
That’s the thought that’s been going through my head lately, since a partner in another online group for partners I belonged to recently commented that she was feeling hesitant about reading She’s Not the Man I Married because Betty stepped in to defend me on some occasion on the message boards.
& I was a little surprised, for two reasons: (1) because the idea of someone deciding I’m not independent enough or that I’ve hidden behind Betty’s skirts (as it were) kind of confounds me in general, considering the criticism I get more often is that I’m such a ball-buster who is exploiting Betty for the fame & fortune, and (2) because it never occurred to me that others wouldn’t recognize that while I have a public life as a partner & as an author, I’m also still also just one of a gazillion partners of trans people who is trundling through this experience.
That is, I never thought I’d hear it argued that because of things I said on the boards (or things Betty said, in my defense) would come to color someone’s opinion of me as an author/advocate.
Surely I understand there’s an intersection.
I read a little piece by Audacia Ray about the whole public/private issue that she wrote not long after our reading together at McNally Robinson:
One of the questions this raises is to what extent a writer should jump into the fray when her work is being discussed, especially when its being misinterpreted. I know you arenâ€™t â€œsupposedâ€ to read/obsess over reviews, but with the Internet and especially Technorati and Google alerts, its really hard not to. Mmmm, instant.
Which has come up for me, now & again, but in this case, it wasn’t my work being discussed; in general I think I’ve only ever “jumped into the fray” unless a criticism was particularly egregious or mean-spirited. But in this case, it was my behavior, and Betty’s (or our dynamic as a couple), that was mentioned. & I’m still kind of floored by the idea of being seen as someone who lets her partner fight her battles for her, but also by the idea of someone bringing that up in the context of my books.
So, what say you? I feel like I’m a little between worlds, that type of oldschool writer who expects smart readers to be able to make a public/private distinction, and a high-tech writer who pays attention to what people are saying.
By now you’d think this experience had burned me often enough that I’d quit putting my fingers in the fire, but I do still need support, as a partner, & I do still get a great deal of that even while just reading/lurking in online communities. Now I’m thinking that that loss, if anything, would be the greatest sacrifice I’ve had to make as a result of the books: I ended up writing them, after all, somewhat as a result of getting kicked out of so many groups, & now to feel like I have to remove myself – well, it’s a sobering thought. But I’d really rather not have my work devalued because I was having a bad day on the message boards or in other online communities I’ve been a part of. But I suppose what I’d rather not have happen isn’t often up to me.
I’m suprised, too, at how wounding it felt to have a fellow partner dismiss me so summarily. Surely what I need is thicker skin, but then my writing would suffer. I don’t think my writing would be as intimate if I were to be a bit more aloof, and I don’t think I’d be as much help to people if I kept everyone at an arm’s distance. The most important writing advice I’ve ever read is Dorothy Allison’s, who said you should wear your skin as thin as you can. Some days that’s harder than it sounds.