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I’m distracting myself with two books, Stephen King’s “On Writing” and a friend’s unpublished novel which is thankfully engaging enough that I can get lost in it for an hour or two every day.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.
Yesterday, while wandering through the wonders of the internet(s), I came upon an essay by Stephen Ira which was (specifics aside) a critique of media portrayals of trans people. The article gnawed at me all day and by this morning, once I was able to untangle my internal response, I realized I feared that in writing and sharing our story, I am furthering that narrative.
“This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering. Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism. Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying. But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.”
I am acutely aware that I come to this with my own privilege and I struggle to walk a fine line, speaking about though not for my child and the trans people in our life. I write about doctors, psychiatric professionals and school administrators, those who who were helpful (the few) and those who weren't (the many). I write about family and friends, those who rose to the occasion with unexpected acceptance, and those who could only see her as some kind of Other, whether a soon-to-be victim of violence, a mentally unstable child or a slave to sinful things. I write about her friendships with older trans women and about the emerging generation of trans people we knew, living lives full of hope and promise.
As I wrote two years ago in a sharp-tongued memo, I do not believe that Ashlie's gender brought about her death. In this way the narrative of “The Boy Suit” is perhaps false, but the larger story, the one I wake up every day intent on pounding out piece by piece, is one that I hope addresses in some ways, the cissexism that Ashlie and those like her face.
Despite the desire to remain an ally to the trans community, the fear nags at me that perhaps I am doing more damage than good. No defense of my work should undermine the experiences, ideas and reality of the very people I seek to support. It is a fine line and I suspect that I will continue the struggle to find myself on the right side of it.
I've been writing for an hour first thing every morning this week and it's been a productive process, knocking out a chapter every day. What's interesting is that this morning process seems to jump-start my creativity for the rest of the day. I'm going about my business and little bits of story just pop out. They're out of order, incomplete and utterly unadorned but they're story nonetheless and I go running back to the computer to get them down before they flit away again. As evidence of this process, I give you a piece of “The Ginger” which spilled out inconveniently in the middle of cooking this afternoon…
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Just put the fucking words on the fucking page. Like this. Line them up and keep going until you have a whole row. Then do it again until there are two whole rows. Throw in a few bits of punctuation for good measure. Shut off all the other shit in your head and just keep doing this. Even if the only thing you can think to write is stupid. Banal. Utterly unimportant. Even if it is the voice in your head that is shouting commands like a Drill Sargent on some blisteringly hot tarmac. Just keep repeating the motion and don't stop. For chri'sake, don't stop. If you stop you will fall. If you stop you will die. Just keep moving your fingers.
Let the voice of the Drill Sargent drown out all the other voices in your head. Especially the one that sounds like your mother, who sent you the newspaper clipping of the nice lady who wrote some sweet fairy tale books when her child died because that's what nice people do. Polite people honor their dead with happy little imaginary stories that everyone can read and enjoy and get just a little misty-eyed when they read the jacket cover or the dedication page. Nice polite people do NOT dig in to find and expose the truth, family secrets, the ugly bits. They bury the hell out of that shit and whitewash everything until all that remains are a few cheery anecdotes.
Shut that voice up right fucking now, because it's of your own making. Your mother didn't actually say “Why can't you write happy little fairy tales like THIS woman did?”. YOU did. And even if she did, why the hell should that rattle you so bad you freeze up? So bad you need to invent a fucking Drill Sargent and a blistering bootcamp scenario to force your fingers to the keys. The only person stopping you from writing is YOU. And the only acceptable excuse for NOT writing is that you're too fucking dead to do so. Last time I checked, you're not. So do it. Put the fucking words on the fucking page. Like this …