Category: books & writing

‘Gabo’ Flies Away on a White Sheet While Hanging Laundry

Posted by – April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died and left us with an outstanding legacy of beauty and politics.

“Making Trans Parents Visible” – co-authored by me

Posted by – March 18, 2014

So this is cool: the article I co-authored with a colleague (Beth Haines) and a former student (Alex Ajayi) has been published in Feminism & Psychology, and is now available online.

Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the self-reported parenting challenges of 50 transgender parents based on an online survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans parents in the United States. Many trans parents transitioned after forming a family, whereas others had children after or even during transition. They coordinated their transition with parenting responsibilities, and carefully managed their visibility in parenting settings to protect their children. This analysis focuses on the challenges that trans parents faced at the intersection of their parenting and trans identities. Although trans parents share many of the concerns of cisgender parents, they also face unique challenges that must often be navigated without extensive support. Revealing these challenges increases trans parents’ visibility in society, and could help therapists and school administrators become more sensitive to the intersectional identities of trans people and the stressors unique to trans parenting.

Some of the other articles from the same special issue on trans include:

  • What makes a man? Thomas Beatie, embodiment, and ‘mundane transphobia’
  • Trans men and friendships: A Foucauldian discourse analysis
  • Who watches the watchmen? A critical perspective on the theorization of trans people and clinicians

Neat.

Amiri Baraka’s Gone (But Never Forgotten)

Posted by – January 10, 2014

What an amazing man, an amazing poet, an amazing speaker: I saw him speak a long time ago at CCNY & was blown away.

Thank you, Mr. Baraka, for being fearless and for always speaking truth to power (even if and when I didn’t agree & you horrified everyone). (Or, as one person said about “Somebody Blew Up America” on youtube: “I hate this poem. I love this man.”

Blues People is a must-read.

Interview with Yours Truly

Posted by – December 21, 2013

I haven’t done one of these in forever and a day, but here’s a brief interview with me by a very lovely crossdresser named Vivienne who asked me a bunch of questions. I answered most of them.

Here are the questions I did answer:

  1. It’s been several years since She’s Not the Man I Married was published. For those of us who don’t know the latest, could you give us a brief update on where things are with Betty’s transgender journey? … Does this mean hormones and surgery, or something short of that? Legal gender change?

  2. I completely understand your desire to write My Husband Betty, but did you realise or suspect at the time the impact it would have on you? Did you foresee that it would become part of your identity, at least your public one? And is that OK?

  3. What are your plans for your next book?

  4. What else do you write about which isn’t to do with gender? From my point of view, you seem like someone with a point to make, and I suspect you would have made it in a different area if the cards had fallen a little differently. I just wonder what that area might have been.

  5. I admit to feelings of envy when I read your books and realise how open you are to the idea of Betty’s transgender status. I suspect that a question you get asked frequently by crossdressers is: “How can I get my wife to be more like you?”

  6. But my question to you is this: has your acceptance of Betty ever led to problems? Have you been the subject of hostility for your views? …Why do you consider yourself a pain in the ass?

  7. What’s the most difficult thing for you about having a trans husband?

  8. What’s the best thing for you about having a trans husband?

  9. What advice would you give to a woman (perhaps a wife) whose partner has just told her about his crossdressing for the first time?

  10. A theme of my blog has become my (qualified) acceptance of the Freund-Blanchard autogynephilia model. I wondered what your current view about this hypothesis is (you touch on it in My Husband Betty, but I wondered if your views have evolved). … Old men? You mean scientists? Or perhaps priests?

  11. Most crossdressers insist they are straight men attracted to women. Yet some gay men crossdress. What’s your take on that?

  12. What famous person would you most like to meet and why?

Do go read the whole thing. It’s a very smart blog.

Author’s Authority

Posted by – November 26, 2013

In 1963, Bruce McAllister, a 16 year old high school student, decided his teachers were full of it when it came to symbolism in novels. So he wrote a bunch of authors and asked if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work.

Here’s what they said:

Jack Kerouac: “No.”

Isaac Asimov: “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?”

Ray Bradbury: “No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural.”

John Updike: “Yes—I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.”

Norman Mailer: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

Ralph Ellison: “Symbolism arises out of action…Once a writer is conscious of the implicit symbolism which arises in the course of a narrative, he may take advantage of them and manipulate them consciously as a further resource of his art. Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous is added.”

He also asked More

RIP Doris “I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one – it’s a royal flush” Lessing

Posted by – November 17, 2013

Really, writers don’t get any funnier or more cantankerous than that, do they? Here’s another nice piece where she talks about writing and mentions that the “trick” of writing is hard work (amongst other things).

Alison Bechdel!

Posted by – October 14, 2013

Tomorrow, Alison Bechdel is speaking at Lawrence as part of our convocation series. We’re currently teaching Fun Home in Freshmen Studies, so it’s a very, very cool thing that she’s coming to speak, and I am very much looking forward to it.

I spent my young 20s reading Dykes to Watch Out For in The Voice – and that was at a time when I was regularly clocked as a dyke and friends were coming out around me, so she is very much part of my own personal queer history.

A Trans Only Workshop with Lynda Barry

Posted by – September 27, 2013

What Transpires?

A Trans and GenderQueer Writer’s Workshop with acclaimed author and artist Lynda Barry

It’s for everyone who loves to write or do spoken word or draw or any other medium of expression, and who identifies with some version of trans. The idea isn’t for writing about being trans, but rather, to see what will happen when 15 gendercreative people get together to create from various parts of of our brains, under the amazing guidance of Lynda Barry.

Tuesday, 6-8pm, Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, 2013
at the ImageLab in Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, Madison, WI

The two-session workshop is free of charge.

Applications due October 14th.

For applications or more information: Finn Enke, aenke(at)wisc(dot)edu. Please put “Transgender Writer’s Workshop” in subject heading.

Call for Submissions

Posted by – September 23, 2013

Call for Submissions

Transgress Press is publishing an collection of wisdom, Letters For My Sisters, written by and for trans women and co-edited by Andrea James and Deanne Thornton.

The anthology will be published as part of the press’ Letters series and is envisioned as a companion piece inspired by Letters For My Brothers (edited by Megan M. Rohrer and Zander Keig), a collection of wisdom written for/by trans men. For more description of the series (and other titles) go to,www.transgresspress.org.

The editors are interested in letters that are:
• Written to yourself or others at the start of your transition.
• Discussions of why transition was the best choice.
• Things you found out about yourself through transition.
Other relevant topics on transitional wisdom in retrospect will be considered. Just follow these guidelines:
• Letters should be 1,000 words or fewer.
• Be searching and fearless.
• Be honest about your mistakes and heartaches as well as your surprises and joys.
• Consider writing about things you did right as well as things you could have done differently.
• Do not specifically name service providers, good or bad.
• If you include people in your life make sure that they approve (in writing) or use aliases not real names.
• Humor is greatly appreciated, but we are not seeking vulgar or sexually explicit material.
• Include your name and title for your letter. If you do not wish to be identified, we may publish your work under a pen name, but we will require that you verify your identity.

The ideal letter will be about you, but it should be something to which others in the community can relate.

For more information, or to make a submission, please contact:
Deanne Thornton
Email: sister_letters(at)icloud.com
Phone: 620-332-6638

Or check out TS Road Map for more details.

Period.

Posted by – August 26, 2013

Madelaine Ashby, the scifi writer, has a great blog post about how to write about periods. Why? Because they take up a fuckton of a woman’s life is why.

In 20 or so bullet points, she sums up some of the things male writers may not know about periods, and which my wife, who doesn’t get a period, said she didn’t know, either. So for my male readers, or my trans female readers, or for my readers who just want to have that “oh, so I’m not a weirdo” moment when it comes to their own periods, read on. These are some of my favorites, but the whole list is worth reading.

  • PMS is a real thing. But really, the fact that a woman snaps at you (or your character snaps at someone else) just before or during her period has nothing to do with her period, and everything to do with the simmering pot of rage she keeps a lid on for the rest of the month. She’s angry at you because you fucked up during a time when she’s bleeding and in pain. Your timing was bad, but so was your fuckup. If you want people to not be angry with you, consider not fucking up.

  •  It’s often easier to just sit over a toilet for a while.

  • … Not least because you’ll be doing some epic shitting, because all the muscles in your lower body got the “let go” message at the same time.

  • Some people really love having period sex. Sometimes period sex will only work (i.e. lead to orgasms) if you’re in one position and not another. Experiment. Take notes. Put down some towels.

  • Sometimes you’ll crave sex right before your period arrives. Usually this happens when your skin looks like pizza and your breasts are really sore. And you’re like, “What the fuck, body?” and your body’s like, “I don’t know. It was worth a shot.”

  • Getting your first period does not make you a woman. It makes you reproductively available. Your womanhood is not measured by your ability to reproduce sexually. (bold mine)

  • If you miscarry, or you have trouble conceiving, it’s not because God hates you or your body is wrong or the universe is telling you that you’re an unfit mother. It’s because conception is actually really difficult. It’s about as difficult as sending a small missile down a tiny opening at the end of a narrow trench. A direct hit, and only a direct hit, can initiate the chain reaction. May the Force be with you.

Please note the one I’ve put in bold, trans ladies.

Guest Post: Trish Mifflin

Posted by – August 22, 2013

Trish Mifflin recently wrote a short review of the book True Selves that she posted on our community forums, and I thought it was worth posting here for others to read. Do you agree? Disagree? I know this has been a very important book for many people, but I’d love to hear more about what people think of how it has, or hasn’t, held up. – hb.

True Selves Revisited – by Trish Mifflin

When people are trying to learn about transgender issues, they’re often referred — by IFGE  and others — to a 1996 book called True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism for Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals, by Mildred Brown and Chloe Rounsley. It’s gained something of a reputation as a “Rosetta stone” for explaining transgender issues to people.

I’ve owned True Selves for years, but for one reason or another, I never got around to reading it, until last week, when — on a whim — I pulled it from the shelf and started going through it.

Well. To put it nicely, I don’t think it holds up. I guess, being generous, I would call it “quaint.”

To put it not-so-nicely, I think it’s a terrible book to give to anyone who has a loved one who is transgender, or to someone who may be transgender, transsexual, gender-queer or otherwise non-binary conforming.

True Selves — and I know I’m oversimplifying here — pretty much says that unless we’re seeking genital surgery, we crossdressers (I’m one) and gender-queers are disordered people with sexual fetishes.

And if we are seeking permanent gender re-assignment, True Selves tells us we will have strife-filled, heart-breaking, miserable lives.

These are not exactly the messages I would want to give my family and friends if I wanted them to understand my feelings. More

Neil Gaiman on Art, Work, & Happiness

Posted by – August 20, 2013

This is for my wife, who loves Mr. Gaiman at least as much as I do.

This is my favorite bit:


People keep working in a freelance world because their work is good, they’re easy to get along with, & because they deliver the work on time. & You don’t even need all three. 2 out of 3 is fine:

People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good & you deliver it on time.

People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s is good & they like you.

& you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

Because it’s true.

Gendered Book Covers

Posted by – August 10, 2013

Wow. If we take the gender flipping meme to publishing, then what of book covers?


Yesterday, author Maureen Johnson had a great idea. She tweeted “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, “Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy” – and so came the idea for a challenge for her 77,000 followers. A challenge that she called Coverflip. Below, she explains more.

And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.

Go look at the slide show. It’s pretty staggering.

Jamison Green in Seattle 8/1

Posted by – July 15, 2013

The one and only Jamison Green will be speaking at the Seattle Public Library on August 1st at 6:30 PM.

He is, far and above, one of the brightest lights of the trans community: author of Becoming a Visible Man, of course, but also one of the co authors on HRC’s guide for trans health care. In the early 1990s, Jamison worked for the passage of San Francisco’s Transgender Protection Ordinance, one of the first of its kind in the country. He lead FTM International for most of the 1990s and has been a board member of organizations like WPATH, which he now serves as president.

He is a gem, one of our most amazing activists.

So if you’re on your way to Gender Odyssey, or in Seattle for whatever reason, do go hear him speak. He’s funny, he’s sharp, and he’s one of the warmest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

The Gender Book

Posted by – July 4, 2013

So have you seen this cool, fully illustrated gender book? It needs to be funded for it to be published, but you can read it online for now.

I haven’t read it yet, but soonly.

RIP Richard Matheson

Posted by – June 25, 2013

I’m not a real science fiction junkie, but I am a Twilight Zone nerd; those shows were some of the first ways I started thinking about things in a more complicated, maybe even existential, way. & Matheson wrote some of the best of them: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (which was in both the TV series and in the movie), The Invaders (one of the very few TV shows with no dialogue at all), Little Girl Lost (which is basis for Poltergeist), Death Ship (super creepy, and starting Jack Klugman), and to me, the very special Once Upon a Time, which starred none other than Buster Keaton.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites, A World of Difference. It brought what Pirandello was after to the American TV audience, imho.

You can watch all of the episodes he wrote or which were based on his stories for free on hulu.

Five Questions With… Joy Ladin

Posted by – June 18, 2013

I had the chance recently to ask Joy Ladin, the author of Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, a few questions. What followed was a conversation about transition, marriage, separation, spirituality and religion.

1)      I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more about theology, and specifically Judaism, in your story. Is there a reason you shied away from addressing the issue of transness & religion head on?

I don’t feel I shied away from talking about transness and religion; I talk quite directly about how Judaism, particularly the Torah, and Jewish communal norms, affected my sense of my gender identity when I was growing up, and the course of my transition after. But my intention in the book was to talk about trans identity and its consequences in very personal terms, rather than to reflect about general issues. As I say in the book, I grew up in a family that barely practiced Judaism; being Jewish was an ethnicity, not a religion, for us. I was religious, but I more or less invented the Judaism I practiced, based on my reading of the Torah and scattershot study of Judaism. I wasn’t interested in theology; I was interested in God, with whom I have had an intense relationship from early childhood to the present. Since the book was finished, I written a number of pieces that are part of the fledgling but growing discourse of trans Jewish theology, but I hadn’t done any of that when I wrote the book. What issues did you want me to address that weren’t in the book? I’d be happy to address them now.

** Fair enough. I guess because your employment was at an Orthodox school, and so many people seem desperate to disprove some of the Torah’s verdicts on gender and sexuality, I expected a specific take. I’d be curious to know what the themes are of the pieces you’re writing now about trans Jewish theology.

Traditional Judaism doesn’t directly address transgender identity. There is the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy, which I discuss in my memoir, rabbinic prohibitions against doing anything that would impair male fertility that are taken by many Orthodox rabbis as prohibiting male-to-female transition, and a brief discussion in the Talmud about how to integrate intersex Jews into Jewish law and community. Strikingly, the rabbis WANT to include intersex Jews, and reinterpret the law to make that possible. Yeshiva University made Orthodox Jewish history when it allowed me to return to teaching after transition, but that was clearly in response to secular law rather than a desire to be a trend-setter in terms of Orthodox Judaism. However, there are many trans Jews living in the Orthodox Jews. Most are in hiding, but many are “out” to their rabbis, who are privately empathetic. I have recently heard of one Orthodox community whose rabbi has explicitly welcomed a trans member, and the Orthodox world is in the midst of an intense discussion of how to respond to LGBTQ Jews in their midst who can no longer be quietly ignored or exiled. There are now several organizations, including Eshel and Keshet, of which I am a board member, working toward full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish world.  I think it’s a time of difficult but positive change. My work on trans Jewish theology is still preliminary, but you can hear some of my thinking in this podcast of my talk to rabbinical students and their teachers at the Jewish Theological Society, and read some in this essay, written for the first Jewish Trans Gathering last fall in Berkeley, CA. I discuss the intersection of trans and Jewish identity more generally in this podcast of my conversation with Lilith editor Susan Weidman Schneider at last fall’s  DC JCC Jewish Book Festival.

Also, there is this conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns which took place at the Encountering Sacred Texts panel at the 2012 Philadelphia Trans Health Conference – in conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns: Part 1 and Part 2.

2)      Betty has commented that she thinks she wound up an actor in order to find some kind of man she might be able to be (but didn’t). I’m wondering if the conservative gender roles assigned by religion now seem like a bulwark against your own sense of gender incongruence.

As I discuss in the book, I found in teaching literature as a profession – a vocation – in which I could feel close to people in a way that seemed to me to temporarily transcend gender. As I said in the book, I’m not and have never been an Orthodox Jew, or a practitioner of any conservative or traditional form of Judaism. I commute to the Orthodox world, because I teach at an Orthodox Jewish university, but I don’t live the way my students live, and my gender identity and expression have nothing to do with theirs, or with Orthodox Judaism’s gender roles. I’ve never looked to Judaism for guidance about my gender identity or expression either when living as a man or now that I’m living as myself. More

Faulkner on Salinger

Posted by – June 9, 2013

“I have not read all the work of this present generation of writing. I have not had time yet. So I must speak only of the ones I do know. I am thinking now of what I rate the best one, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, perhaps because this one expresses so completely what I have tried to say. A youth, father to what will — must — someday be a man, more intelligent than some and more sensitive than most, who — he would not even have called it by instinct because he did not know he possessed it because God perhaps had put it there — loved man and wished to be a part of mankind, humanity, who tried to join the human race and failed. To me, his tragedy was not that he was, as he perhaps thought, not tough enough or brave enough or deserving enough to be accepted into humanity. His tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there. There was nothing for him to do save buzz, frantic and inviolate, inside the glass wall of his tumbler, until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.” – William Faulkner

When he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there. My god that’s gorgeous.

Lorde & Baldwin

Posted by – June 2, 2013

Here is an amazing thing: a conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin.

The incomparable Audre Lorde says:

There is a larger structure, a society with which we are in total and absolute war. We live in the mouth of a dragon, and we must be able to use each other’s forces to fight it together, because we need each other. I am saying that in our joint battle we have also developed some very real weapons, and when we turn them against each other they are even more bloody, because we know each other in a particular way. When we turn those weapons against each other, the bloodshed is terrible. Even worse, we are doing this in a structure where we are already embattled. I am not denying that. It is a family discussion I’m having now. I’m not laying blame. I do not blame Black men for what they are. I’m asking them to move beyond. I do not blame Black men; what I’m saying is, we have to take a new look at the ways in which we fight our joint oppression because if we don’t, we’re gonna be blowing each other up. We have to begin to redefine the terms of what woman is, what man is, how we relate to each other.

It’s worth reading, and re-reading, and re-reading again.

Five Questions With… The Collection (Pt. 2)

Posted by – June 1, 2013

Here’s the second half of that interview with a few authors of the anthology The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, published in 2012 by Topside Press. The Collection is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Fiction and was selected by the American Library Association on their 2012 list of top LGBT books for adult readers.

(Here’s the first half, if you missed it.)

Why is transgender literature important to you?

Casey Plett:  Because I love books and I’m trans! Duh!

Red Durkin:  It’s actually really simple: every culture has stories. That’s one thing that fundamentally distinguishes us as a species, I think. Literature possesses an incredible power to influence the way a group of people sees itself and is seen by others. I think trans people are at a point where they need this validation. We’ve been maligned and mischaracterized for too long. We deserve a change.

Imogen Binnie: Because it sucks never to see people like yourself represented anywhere! I’ve been reading all the time for almost thirty years and a lot of books have resonated with me for a lot of reasons- for example I have been disappointed with the world and found it reassuring to see that reflected in novels. I have been dazed and had trouble feeling feelings, and it has been reassuring to see that reflected in novels. But very few novels- if any at all- have resonated with me in a way that reflected myself as a trans person with a three dimensional life. In other words, whatever pleasure, joy, frustration or reassurance I have felt in a text has been mediated through the fact that I have rarely if ever been able to directly identify with a text: these texts are for cis people, not for trans people, and so I usually the best I can hope for is to identify as best I can with a cis character. Like, has anyone addressed, in fiction, the subtle ways that being trans can complicate the experience of falling in love with a cis person? Where are the class- and gender-conscious bildungsroman about trans women? Where are the stories in which the trans woman characters are different at the end from who they were at the beginning- not counting those where they’re different at the end because they’re dead?

How do you see your work fitting (or not fitting) in with trans literature?

Casey Plett: I really don’t know. I hope it does fit in in some way and I hope that trans people read my stuff. Beyond that, I dunno.

Red Durkin: It’s hard to say, really. I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that the work I create is trans literature, but I don’t know where that puts me among other writers. I’m not writing for teens, if that makes a difference.

Imogen Binnie: Ideas about being trans among trans people have been evolving really fast for the last, like, ten or maybe twenty years; eighteen-year-olds who grew up on social justice tumblr are a literal generation after of the groundbreaking work of Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, and others who put together the original framework for the way we conceptualize ourselves as trans now. It’s amazing and I feel like that body of work- the stuff people are saying about gender and queerness and intersectionality and identity and oppression on tumblr, which seems to have migrated from livejournal, and which also shows up on WordPress and blogspot and places like that- is more relevant to the lives of most of the trans people than, like, John Irving’s last book that probably had a trans woman in it. And while my characters themselves have not tended to be particularly invested in that culture of progressive trans politics, I think my work as a whole, like thematic stuff or whatever, the questions I’m interested in, are very much a part of and in conversation with that body of thought.

What challenges do you see trans writers facing in the writing world? What challenges do you face? Any suggestions to address those issues? More