On Not Writing

I’ve been working on Book #3. Recently I’ve been calling it Giving Him Up. My anniversary post was part of that writing. So are other little pieces of what’s on this blog (“Hyenas” comes to mind, as does “Just Like That”) but blogging is like a journal, not like writing. Writing is where you really want to piece something together that makes it feel like a whole thing, not a flash, or a tweet, or even lightning. It should feel, a whole work, like a really good thunderstorm from start to finish: darkening sky to cleaning up felled branches in the sun the next day.

There is a lot of writing out there – people speaking various truths, like the one I’m about to publish by the ex wife of a trans woman who assaulted her. There is a lot that needs to be said, and in her case, by people whose experiences are otherwise covered up in other people’s commentaries and the real story of the thing gets lost. What you want is to get to the real story, the uncomfortable one – not the ideological argument, or the rush to judgment; not the gossip, but the compassion.

And living here I realized I have ingested something like shame in a way I’ve never known it.

When I wrote the first two books, I was surrounded by old friends, family, the trans community – even though it wasn’t called that then. I ran a support group online and then, of course, the boards, where I had a lot of good input and a lot of love and a lot, a LOT, of really smart critique. That is, I lived in universes where I felt supported, not judged; I hung out with people who wanted me, and my marriage, to succeed, and I didn’t imagine a world where I could feel judged for having a feeling.

But as our marriage has grown, some of the feelings I’ve had are not as generous, perhaps, as they once were. Maybe before I was the hero of my own story, even if I was judged as less than feminist or, my very favorite, as just “getting it wrong” by impatient activists. But I knew all of that – I worried some people, and pissed others off, but I have had so many people thank me for so many years for helping them in some way or another that I am finding it difficult to remember that to say what you mean in order to tell what happened is a Very Difficult Thing.

It is one thing to write an anti hero’s story, as Bechdel did with her father, and another to write yourself as that anti hero.

I don’t yet fear people thinking I’m a horrible person. That’s familiar territory. I have been criticized by activists and crossdressers, ex wives and feminists. But my secret is that I believe we are all horrible people: most just have the good sense not to mention it in public.

And that’s what I fear: not being judged for who I am and what I’ve done or how I feel. I fear being judged for not having the good sense to keep my mouth shut about things that I am supposed to feel ashamed of. There are so many people telling stories their mothers and neighbors would ask them not to tell, but they find a way. I just can’t find mine: I don’t own the kind of rebellious antagonism of “I’ve fucked all the people” kinds of memoirs or the “I’ve struggled and carried on” autobiographies, either. I don’t have that placid, New Englandy, “here are the unfortunate things I’ve found in the attic of my soul” detachment, nor the “we must do something about this” determination of the muckracker and activist. What I have is a lot of hurt, a lot of tired, and too many excuses for who and what I am.

Getting there. Or spinning in circles. I’m really not sure which yet.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

2 Comments

  1. Ms. Boyd,

    I think you should be commended, personally. I don’t agree with all of your views, but at least you had the courage to write about your experiences and express the deep, often painful, feelings associated with living or interacting with (or being a) a trans person, and you did so with compassion. I recently read your second book and noted the publication date, so I imagine you have had to deal with many life changing experiences both good and bad since. The fact that you are still holding your head above water and carrying on is a testament to your strength and your goodness as a human being. I wish you the best and hope that whatever trials you face now pass and allow you to go on with your life.

  2. Helen,
    I certainly am with you when you discuss the difference between blogging and writing. Even if there is a permanent record somewhere out there in the empyrean (or as we now call it, ‘cyberspace’) it isn’t held to the same standards as a book. A blog, like a letter can reflect a passing mood; one can blow one’s stack and not necessarily be held to it a few days later, at least if no one else on the Web has felt directly attacked. A book is different, it expresses a considered set of thoughts, and apologies or retractions are taken much more seriously as full retreats, which invalidate much else of what one has written, at least in that book.

    I’m sorry you’re having such difficulty getting down what you want to say, or that it’s just so painful saying it. FWIW, I don’t think anyone who was ever honest with themselves—and that would include any serious writer worth a damn—has ever felt that they were living in a dream relationship, that they didn’t often wish some things were radically different, and that there weren’t some things (perhaps everything) they wouldn’t permanently change if they could. Non-writers may interpret it as betrayal. To anyone who cares about literature—and yes, personal memoirs are a form of literature—it is the essential honesty which distinguishes truth from prettified fantasy.

    I’m sorry you’re going through such a painful period of reflection and reassessment at the present. I’m sure it hurts like hell to put it down, and it will hurt to know that certain people will read it and judge one ill. The alternative is to remain silent. For a born writer, that’s intolerable.

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