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 I’ve been working with badass Bradley on revisions for The Complicated Geography of Alice and I just cut the following chapter from the manuscript. It’s always wrenching to tear stuff out, so I’m sharing it here to soothing my psyche. Honestly, it’s more about my general distaste for the carrot and stick method of providing services to needy people than it is about Alice. Still, there are little bits of her – of us – in here that still make me giggle. 

 

Grandma Jo has been trying. I’ll give her that. A couple of months ago, she let me drag her to a PFLAG meeting where Alice’s support group leader Elizabeth spoke on transgender awareness. It was basic stuff, and I’d hoped it would be enlightening. Mostly though, my mum sat and stewed about a man in the group who had been rude to her in some other venue. She is trying to change her language to appease us, but it’s becoming clear that she has no interest in changing her mind. This is just a phase that her grandson is going through and she’s going to wait it out patiently, pretending all along that it’s no big deal.

For this reason, I’m surprised when she invites Alice and I to join her for High Tea at a local homeless shelter. The event is a benefit for the women’s program at the shelter, which provides temporary housing, healthcare and education opportunities along with financial and spiritual advising. The thought of making food and shelter conditional upon the acceptance of spiritual advising makes me queasy, but I try to set that aside because Alice is excited to have been invited to such a gloriously girlie event. Especially by Grandma Jo.

When she arrives to pick us up, Alice has just finished applying her thirteenth layer of lipgloss and I’m still struggling to run a comb through my hair.

“You both look so nice,” Grandma Jo says as Alice dashes past her towards the car.

“SHOTGUN!” she shouts, diving into the passenger seat, leaving me to climb into the back. On the ride to the bad side of town, my mother explains everything as she is prone to do.

“Now there’s going to be tea, sandwiches and desserts, and then a fashion show. Do you remember the women in my bible study group? We’ve got a whole table to ourselves.”

We arrive at the mission, disembark and meet our little circle of ladies in the parking lot. My mother’s Bible Study Lady Friends are the kind of women who arrange casserole duty for grieving families, send encouraging little notes to one another with bible verses written in them, and structure the bulk of their gossip in the approved “prayer request” manner. They’re nice enough, some more so than others, but a generally congenial group.

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Santa Cruz Pride Festival 2013

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Radical Faeries SCMouse and I returned to Santa Cruz yesterday with our friend (and Ashlie’s step-mother) Mary for the Santa Cruz PRIDE parade and festival. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, though 2008 was hands-down my favorite year. “In The Name of Love” is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice which captures that experience. Ever since, I’ve returned each year to celebrate and mourn. The festival always takes place in the first week of June, near Ashlie’s birthday but this year, it was ON what would have been her 21st birthday.

It always feels like a kind of homecoming, passing the Leonard Building (no longer the home of The AIDS Project, but still handsome and familiar) on the way to Pacific Ave., where the streets are lined with familiar faces and every imaginable color has exploded into the street. I always cry. I always laugh. And now, I always see her there.

Down at the end of Pacific this year there was an open air / impromptu dance circle. I stood and watched them for a long time, letting myself see her there – silly, grinning and dancing in the midst of the strangely beautiful crowd. It is always good to see friends, however briefly, and reconnect with my hometown. But I come back every year because I can still feel her here – where she is happy and laughing even as she dances away from me.

{Photo Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the Radical Faeries. Ash was too. But it’s Mouse who snapped this shot and for whom the gracious fae are smiling.]
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Stuck“A father for six years, a mother for ten and for a time in between, neither, or both … a parental version of the schnoodle or the cockapoo…” Jennifer Finney Boylan’s parenting credentials are unusual to say the least, and her newest book Stuck In The Middle With You; A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders is extraordinary.

The book explores Boylan’s experiences as both father and mother to her two sons and as daughter and son to her own parents. Within that framework, she examines parental roles on a wider scale. The naked adoration and accompanying holy terror shared by most parents is evident and immediately relatable.

The flow of the book is broken up by three sections of conversations with other writers (Richard Russo, Ann Beattie and Agustin Burroughs among others) and a handful of other parents with extrordinary stories to tell. I expected this format to be jarring but found it quite the opposite as she weaves these conversations into her own narrative with a deft hand and they inform the bigger picture rather than detract from it.

I’ve read all three of Jennifer Finney Boylan’s memoirs. My mother-in-law gave me a copy of I’m Looking Through You; Growing Up Haunted shortly after Ashlie died and we both read on through She’s Not There; A Life In Two Genders. Boylan’s quirkiness and honesty coupled with her ability to paint a picture so clearly that you can smell the coffee and taste the waffles solidified her as one of my literary heroes. That she, like my daughter and a number of dear friends, is transgender, is incidental.

Stuck In The Middle With You builds upon the foundation of Boylan’s earlier books, but doesn’t depend on them for context. Those who have read her previous memoirs will enjoy catching up, while those who are reading her for the first time may well be motivated to delve into the backstory.

I expected this to be one of those books I’d recommend to a small circle of friends – specifically my trans friends who are, or hope to be parents. As it turns out, Stuck In The Middle With You is one of those books that I’d recommend to every parent I know.

Throughout the book and explicitly in the afterward (a conversation with Anna Quindlen, Jennifer and Deedie Finney Boylan) the question arises whether Jenny’s personal transformation has effected her children negatively. In the deepest part of every parent’s heart, a similar question burns – How will my children survive my own failings or complications?

For me it is a question which will remain unanswered – unanswerable. Would my daughter have had a penchant for pharmaceutics if I didn’t drink so much? Would she still be alive if I’d paid more attention and guessed her true gender sooner? Does my son have a chance in hell of surviving this family and going on to thrive in the outside world?

Every parent has some fear they keep under wraps – that this thing or that thing in their lives will negatively affect their children. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about and yet Jennifer Finney Boylan dares to openly address hers, allowing us to do the same. She is not a parent with all the answers but she’s asking the right questions and that’s half the battle. This may well be her most intimate book and I recommend it with all my motherly heart.

[Buy it HERE and check out Jenny Boylan HERE.]

 

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I’ve been twiddling my thumbs this week, waiting for the beta-readers to finish their beta-reading so I can get back to the revisions on the book. In the meantime, a new story bloomed and I dove in head-first, hoping it would keep me from obsessively checking my e-mail, awaiting feedback. That said, here’s a sneak peak at the new project, tentatively titled “Dancing The Macarena With Jesus“. It is, of course, a super-rough draft so please keep that in mind as you go.

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It is finished. Ok, so finished is probably the wrong word, because there is still much to be done: chunks to cut, bits to add, fleshing out in some parts and simplifying others. But with more than 80,000 words behind me, I’ve reached the end of the first draft of “The Complicated Geography Of Alice” and the end is somewhere I’ve never been before.

The popular school of thought on such things is to set the project aside and work on something else for a while. Weeks, maybe months. I haven’t touched the manuscript for six days and yet I can think of little else.

I’m distracting myself with two books, Stephen King’s “On Writing” and a friend’s unpublished novel which is thankfully engaging enough that I can get lost in it for an hour or two every day. Still, the story is nagging me …glaring errors that must be corrected, the lack of continuity from the 1st to 362nd page, the where and how of cutting out approximately 20,000 words … there is so much still to be done.

Other writers have recommended that I work on some new project while this one distills, but any other story I could imagine at this point wouldn’t feel important in the way that this one does. There’s a sense of urgency that I can’t shake. There is a world outside my door in which transgender children and their families are struggling to make their way through a society and a system which are not yet ready to fully support them and I cannot help but hope that in some small way, this story, our story could help.

Perhaps it is arrogant and self-important to believe that what I have to say will make a difference. So be it. I would rather finish what I’ve begun only to find out that I was wrong, than tuck the manuscript away and move on when I might have been right.