Folks don’t have to bring it up a dozen times; I get that this is one of people’s top questions for me. After all, there are a lot of books out there that depict the author’s life in some fashion, and not all of them are memoirs. Certainly very few of them are about people who are gender nonconforming. If we presume I was going to write something and not just make my way through life–which is a big assumption, granted–then there was a specific decision-making process at work here. I picked this story and told it in this way. Perhaps people see memoir writing as narcissistic in the lowest common denominator. I hope my book doesn’t strike readers that way, not the least reason because I attempted to describe a story that allows for everyone else’s story to be told. Nothing in this book represents anyone else’s experience, and in that way, I hope I’ve done something that stretches beyond vanity. Here’s where my motivation lies:
1. I didn’t see transition stories told with humor–So much about the process made me chuckle, from trying to find a method that worked for binding, to encountering people who presumed gender-based stereotypes about me (which true, didn’t always elicit a laugh), to the ways in which companies “marketed” products to trans people as if we are some captive audience. When I started thinking about the accumulation of these moments and personalities, I realized that gender expectations are ludicrous. They’re offensive and impoverished and problematic, but holy cow they’re funny, too. So of course transition and being any flavor of gender nonconforming is a struggle, but I knew those books were out there already. What I didn’t see when I looked around was a memoir that highlighted the usefulness of a sense of humor.
2. I believe in mentoring in all of its forms–I wasn’t one week in Walla Walla before someone senior in the hierarchy at my wife’s institution asked me to meet with a trans youth. My first reaction was that I wasn’t anywhere near trained to do such a thing over such an incredibly sensitive topic, but then I wondered, if not me, who? I knew that at least I wouldn’t tell this individual to transition this way or that, or trivialize whatever feelings were coming up, and so on. Once we developed a rapport, I felt invested in his future, whatever course of action he wanted to take. In part because he was so incredibly quiet, I began telling him snippets of my own experience, which he could take or leave as he saw fit. Nothing of my story was a commandment for him. And the idea of writing down the entire transition, for anyone to read and digest to meet their needs or interest, was born.
3. The more we share stories with each other, the more we care about each other–I sound hopelessly idealistic, I know. (See my post on optimism.) Humanizing works, though, at least for those who don’t have a huge stake in remaining adversarial. I understand that for non-trans people, it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around the idea of changing something so central to themselves, but perhaps transition is not entirely different from the experience of standing up for oneself, or going against the grain of culture more generally. And memoir means that there’s an actual person beyond the pages of a book or blips on the ebook screen. Somebody personifies this journey–and I say that absolutely despising the word “journey”–and that can bring home the need for more acceptance, even if we can’t all walk in the same shoes.
4. It was a project I could champion above all others–I write other things, certainly. Many other things, heck, probably too many. Genre fiction, short and long form. Food writing. Investigative journalism on Yelp’s shady business practices. But this project, which I call “the little memoir that could,” this project has a special place in my heart, and not because it’s my story. It may represent an earlier version of me, but the issues it brings up like self-doubt, getting stuck in a bad relationship, fearing for one’s future, and the like, are common experiences. Laughing at needing a sex change is on one level, laughing at having a need, period. And as debut books go, a humorous memoir about a being trans is strangely perfect for me.
5. I needed to tell this story so it would shut up and let me work–I’ve said before that stories for me are like precocious toddlers pulling at one’s trousers. Look at me, look what I can do, lookeeeee. The memoir yanked a lot harder than the other stories at the time, for most of the reasons already given. It is the case that even when I spontaneously came up with other story ideas–fictional ones at that–they were quick to step aside so I could get to the business of writing and revising. Yes, the memoir was my alpha dog.