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Questions Nobody Asks Me About My Novel

cover for TUTTOne of the reasons I enjoy interviews about my writing (other than the most ridiculous ego-tripping reasons, of course) is because it gives me insight into how people are interpreting my work, which is often something new or that I wasn’t creating intentionally. Sometimes an interview veers in an unexpected direction, and then I’m joyful as I get caught up talking about texts and narrative and form and extrapolating into popular culture more generally. But often there are pieces of the story that I think are glaring for readers but that never come up in conversation. So for my love of talking about textuality and literature, I thought I’d go over a few aspects of The Unintentional Time Traveler that haven’t come up in any of my Q&As.

The protagonist’s name(s)—I could answer this self-imposed question in a few different ways. First, “Jackson” is an intentional play on patrilineage, which the character winds up disrupting by choosing at the end to spend a lot of time as Jacqueline instead of in the time of Jackson’s actual life. But more important to me was the iconic use of the name “Jack” as it appears in scads of children’s literature: nursery rhymes, Jack & Jill, Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack Frost, Jack Sprat, etc. It’s almost at the level of generic marker for boys. So I wanted to create a narrative that took the mainstay name and immersed it in a novel that was focused on LGBT themes and characters. I want to see our stories and our lives within this greater mythology and literature, not apart from it. Jack was the perfect moniker to use to make this kind of a statement. And Inman is the name of a family I know from Washington, DC, but it’s also a great double entredre.  Read More…

On Male Privilege

Today’s post is guest authored by my old friend Shiloh Stark.

I know male privilege because I went from not having it, to having it.

At different points in my life, I’ve been perceived as a girl, perceived as a boy, perceived as in-between. As straight, as lesbian, and as a gay male. I’ve always been the same person, but the Rubik’s cube of my life was extra jumbled up there for a while. Each different setting, though, uncovered a new lesson in how gender works.

When people perceived me as a straight, white, heterosexual teenage girl, every time I took a walk alone, in the back of my head, a part of me worried that I might be raped. It was more present than a fear of being mugged, and carried more dread. I don’t know if all women feel that, or if it gets better over time — I just know that it was the kind of feeling you actively try to discredit, and can forget about for stretches of time, but that you can’t shake.

When I cut my hair shorter and donned more gender neutral clothes, people saw me as a lesbian. Occasionally a man would shout “dykes” when I walked down the street with a girl. I still worried about being sexually assaulted, but the tenor changed: the concern was that some straight man would feel compelled to “teach me a lesson.”  Read More…

Twitter for Writers

A few folks have asked me about Twitter over the years and how such a terse medium can be helpful for writers. What content can one even get communicated in so few characters?

The answer is: a lot. If we stop thinking about Twitter as the site of traditional content that takes eight hundred or more words to convey, and start thinking of it as a touchpoint and springboard or longer form pieces, then the possibilities open up. There are scads of great posts out there on growing followers, how to identify good accounts to follow, and so on, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few of those, as introductory Twitterverse items.

The thing for writers (or anyone, really) to do to get started on Twitter is to set up a profile, find people who are already on Twitter who you know or by your interests, and start generating content. Let’s take these in turn. Read More…

The Rhetoric of Trans According to Popular Culture

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide and violence toward trans people.

This week the Williams Institute at UCLA released further analysis from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted a couple of years ago with the National Task Force (formerly NGLTF). The point of analysis? Transgender suicide attempts, which the survey found had occurred in forty-one percent of the more than 6,000 responses. This would mean that suicide ideation—thinking about suicide or considering suicide—would be even higher (but these data weren’t captured in the survey itself). The Williams Institute analysts, Ann Haas, Philip Rogers, and Jody Herman (a dear friend of mine), looked at other correlations in the data in order to find any drivers for suicide attempts. You can read their full analysis at the link above.

In the context of this month’s completely inappropriate article in Grantland.com, in which an aspiring sportswriter outed a trans woman and in which that outing led to her suicide, it was declared by Bill Simmons, Grantland’s Editor-in-Chief, that they should have known better than to run the article in part because trans people have “an appallingly high rate of suicide.” I would argue that these carefully analyzed data show the reverse emphasis to be true—that transpeople are exposed to repeated instances of rejection, alienation, harassment, threats, and violence, and that suicidal ideation and attempts are a direct consequence of such stress. In other words, transgender and gender non-conforming people suffer from an appallingly high rate of abuse, including invasive journalism, as it turns out.

Given these data, I feel compelled to trace out some of the narratives and rhetoric around transition and about the trans community that lend to this sense of disrespect, vulnerability, and hopelessness. Read More…

Requiem for Journalistic Integrity

Last week, Grantland.com, which is ultimately controlled by ESPN, ran a story ostensibly about a well designed golf putter and its inventor. The actual story was about much more, namely the counterfeit credentials of the inventor, Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, which led the author of the piece, Caleb Hannan to discover that she had a transgender history. The very beginning of the piece frames the tone, as Mr. Hannan writes:

Strange stories can find you at strange times.

He remarks that in his early investigation about her revolutionary putter design, he couldn’t find any photos or videos of her on the Internet. Because of course women should be plastered all over the Web, but no matter. He digs. He’s an earnest, unknown journalist (so new, he’s never heard of the word “communique”). But I get it. Mr. Hannan finds out that actually, “Dr. V.” didn’t earn a doctorate at MIT, and actually, she didn’t exist on paper before 2000. And then, after he’s told us how brazen she was to get her club design past the world’s top club maker, he tells us that when he tried to contact her, she was obfuscatory; please focus your piece only on the design and not me. The author goes on to describe her in turn as quirky, with a strange vocabulary, a history that was both colorful and absent, and an extremely tall physical frame. Mr. Hannan may not have known it as he was researching this story or writing it, but the piece screams transphobia in its insistence on and obsession with her differences from his expectations for women. He wants them knowable, archived, ordinary, and visible. Dr. V. is none of those things, and so he persists in his probe. Read More…

Why I Wrote The Unintentional Time Traveler

The short answer, of course, is “Because I wanted to.” Last summer at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writer Workshop in Los Angeles, someone asked Sarah Schulman how she figures out if she should “trunk” (meaning put aside) a book project. She may have blinked once or twice before answering, but her response was her classic curtness:

Why would I start any book I didn’t want to finish?

Well played, Ms. Schulman. And of course, it makes sense for a veteran writer and focused activist to say something along those lines. I try to write with confidence. Fortunately, it comes more easily during book number 5 (with two earlier trunked books in a forgotten computer somewhere in my house) than in my first foray for long form. Now if an idea kicks around in my head long enough, I grant it some kind of existence, either as back story, short story, or full-fledged novel.

So it was with The Unintentional Time Traveler. I’ve wondered and pondered my past history as an epileptic for a couple of decades now, trying to process what it meant for a person who didn’t know any differently at the time. I also love time travel stories, everything from H.G. Wells to Dr. Who. The more I tried to come up with reasons to write this story, the more reasons I identified, as if some kind of narrative fission was happening.  That was also a sign that this was a story worth telling and never ever trunking. So here are just a few ideas behind the book: Read More…

Everett’s Annual Crystal Ball Predictions

I’ve made some semi-serious predictions for the past few years, often involving Sarah Palin (but not this year, darn it!). As in previous years, I’ll stick mostly to political stuff and some popular culture territory. So let me go out on a limb once again and make a few bold statements that are probably not true but whatever. Nothiing is really true on the internet, right? Except Buzzfeed.

brain in a football helmetIt’s the beginning of the end for the NFL as we know it—Between the increasing evidence that even high school football causes irreversible brain injuries, that crowds are thinning out at team stadiums because ticket prices are too high, cities pushing back against the extravagant costs of building new playing fields, and a slew of bad publicity that players and coaching staffs are mean even to each other, we could be seeing the end of the machismo of this monopoly group. Just yesterday, Jovan Belcher’s mother filed a lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs that they knew he was ill from repeated head injuries well before Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself last year. This is not even the beginning of a wave of suits against NFL clubs, given that the NFL just settled a class-action lawsuit in 2013 (which left many people unsatisfied) for hundreds of millions a dollars, nor is it the start of gruesome violence committed by former and current players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As one NFL official put it in the recounting done by Frontline last year, “If only one mother in ten decides she won’t let her son play football, that’s the end of the NFL.” Read More…

Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2013

BeyonceTwo weeks until 2013 is in the dust bin with all of the other expired calendars from years past. So much has happened, including a drawn-out government shutdown, the death of Nelson Mandela, and the Lady Gaga/Muppets Christmas special, among other low points. On the bright side we’ve also witnessed the breakout hit Orange is the New Black, Wendy Davis’s filibustering prowess, and a thrilling conclusion (or even a conclusion) to Breaking Bad. It’s been a year of oh…forget it, don’t let me descend into platitudes. Here’s my best and worst list for the year.

Best Stuff

New Kickass Women in Congress—Yes, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren were elected at the end of 2012, but they took office this year. And already they’ve gotten involved in issues that have been twisting in the legislative wind for years now.  They sent a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services to end the ban on gay men donating blood. They’ve also taken on big, systemic issues, maybe most notably with Senator Baldwin co-sponsoring a bill to end to phone tapping by the NSA, and Senator Warren tackling banking regulation, the lack of which got us into the 2008 financial crisis. They’re happy to let us think that this Congress is unable to get anything done, because that’s just when they’ll squeak through urgent changes under the radar. Read More…

What’s Wrong with Transgasm.org

UPDATE: Jody and Buck have ended Transgasm before it even started, due to pushback from the trans communities. On their site they now call people with critiques full of “hate.” My question is, if Transgasm couldn’t last one week under pressure, what was this project really about?

Somewhere between the endless Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, health care reform, and frequent trans community infighting, it had to happen. I mean, it couldn’t go on forever that the huge disparity in supply and demand for gender identity-related surgeries didn’t motivate someone to come up with a scheme touted as the solution to all of our troubles. Yes, there have been top surgery parties for years, and the swath of crowdsourcing applications seems to continue unabated, but these are at the initiative of the person seeking a surgical procedure. On Friday last week, Buck Angel and Jody Rose launched Transgasm.org, which sounds like a porn venture, but has nothing to do with the “gasm” spectrum.

Transgasm markets itself as a positivist campaign to fund trans-related surgeries. From their site:

Transgasm.org is an organization that will fully fund surgeries in the FTM and MTF transsexual communities and help to create income for the transsexual community, its supporters, and for anyone else who identifies the way they choose to identify.

Still following?

Putting aside the conflict and issues with definitions like “transsexual” and “the way they choose to identify,” there are some clear points in the sentence. Things like “fully fund” and “organization” are specific terms, even if “anyone” and “create income” are not. And the vagueness in the FAQ for the site, which is supposed to be the page where questions are clarified, winds up being real cause for concern. Here are the issues I have with Transgasm.org: Read More…

The “Passive-Aggressive” Note Thing & Just How Problematic It Is

TRIGGER WARNING for conversations and content about rape culture and sexual violence and intimidation.

In the midst of the Thanksgiving gratitude Facebook posts, reminders that the holiday is an aggrandizement of genocide against Native Americans, and pictures of turkeys, a little story about airline travelers made the viralways on social media. It detailed the hostilities between a producer of The Bachelor and a private citizen in seat 7A as their flight, delayed, sat on the tarmac.

Elan Gale, the Hollywood producer, opened with a tweet that seemed humorous at first:

screen capture of Elan Gale tweet

It’s sarcastic and not particularly sensitive, but it goes to the frustrations and anxieties that many of us have when traveling in an airline system that hasn’t been passenger-focused in a long time. But thinking about it more carefully, there are only some people who can afford to travel by air. Some others of us either take the bus or the train, drive a shorter distance that doesn’t break our budget, or stay home. So already this is a conversation between relatively entitled people.  Read More…

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