Tag Archives: memoir

Easy to Remember Instructions for Clueless Guys

This post is filled with triggering stuff about sexual assault.

Okay, so there’s this guy. He’s about my age, from my home town, and in 1984, the summer before I started high school, he was up in my bedroom while we goofed around listening to Pink Floyd and wondering what to do. The upshot here is that our long friendship collapsed in a sexual assault and after he left to walk home, I was left wondering what the hell had just happened.

I took a very long shower. I told nobody about it, but that fall, some part of me asked the guidance counselor if I could join the women’s group therapy meeting. She didn’t ask me why, just said yes, and there I was, holding my uniform skirt to my knees and listening to the awful things in the lives of my peers, wondering why I was there. Repression is a strange thing. I’d blocked out most of what had occurred in my bed the summer before, but close friends asked if everything was okay. I’d picked a high school (I was in the parochial system, not in public school) that most of my friends hadn’t selected, so it was up to me to make new pals and to keep in touch with my besties from eighth grade. As with other people my age in the mid-80s, the phone was my constant companion. I had a cord that stretched down the hall, and luxuriously enough, I had my own number and a phone in my own room (thank you, elder sisters, for paving the way for me).

The story of what happened to me (as opposed to the reality of what happened to me) warped inside my mind, as objects will when submitted to extreme pressure and stress. I told people I’d lost my virginity willingly, I used food to cover up my fear and anguish, and believed that adding another 20 or 30 pounds would limit my appeal to other people. Instead many boys figured I’d be the easy play, so I became more choosy about which after school clubs I should participate in, and which friends would be safe. (Read: Not many men made the cut.) Read More…

How the Promise Keepers Killed My Masters Thesis

Promise Keepers logoI’m a little tongue in cheek here, emphasis on cheek. Call this a cautionary tale; as it is, it’s taken me 18 years to write it down anywhere, and that is saying something for a dedicated memoirist.

There’s a lot from my early twenties that I regret, or would at least like to see in do-over. On the other hand, my many, many mistakes have brought me to my life at 42, and with a supportive, charming partner, my adorable child, and burgeoning writing career I can’t say making youthful mistakes has doomed me. But long before I learned that being respected was more important than having people like me, I enjoyed a litany of self-made errors.

Let’s take graduate school. The very reason I found applying to postgraduate work appealing was my extreme fear of entering the “real world.” This is frightening as a trope for college seniors, I get that, but in the past year I’d just come out, been gaybashed, accidentally broken my leg in three places and dealt with devastating news in my family, and trying to succeed outside of an academic institution seemed overwhelming. I’d gotten it into my head that I could stick around my now-familiar campus at Syracuse and continue to bloviate about cultural theory for another two years–and after that, I could go on and get my Ph.D. Anxiety attack solved.

Being a teaching assistant was thrilling, especially in the midst of an excited discussion with students, less so when I came face-to-face with their response papers. We were supposed to keep the curriculum contemporary in order to keep students engaged. More than one student rebelled against charged conversations about vivisection, reproductive rights, the electoral college, and the like, but I found my way through such ephemeral controversy. Even if I had to explain myself to the rhetoric and composition program director. Twice.  Read More…

Across the Continent in 5 Days

National AirportI’ve got one hour until boarding time for my flight to Chicago. Flying in and out of O’Hare is always a little nerve-wracking because it’s an airport that can kick you in the teeth if you haven’t planned well or aren’t on the top of your game. I shushed my friend Barbara when she assured me everything would go well today, because I hate tempting fate. Excuse me, I mean Fate. With a capitol F.

I might as well admit to my other big airplane flying superstition: I hold my feet off the floor when we land so I can have good luck for the next flight. I guess I can’t call it “paying it forward” if it’s for my own benefit, but I will point out here I’m not completely selfish because supposedly all the other people on the flight with me would receive my good fortune as well. And I know I’m being completely ridiculous, but the little kid me heard my grandpa tell me to do it when crossing railroad tracks and landing in a plane, and now I can’t shake it for planes. I keep my feet where they are when going over tracks because 1: it makes it too hard to keep driving if I lift them up, and 2: Walla Walla has a ton of railroad crossings in and around town.

This has been a great trip, save my pangs of missingness for the wee one and Susanne. She’s been kind enough to send me pictures of him throughout the day with a video here and there so I can listen to him babble. And thank modern technology for FaceTime on the iPhone–he smiles at me across 3,000 miles and my heart leaps just as hard as when we’re together. Read More…

5 Reasons I Wrote Bumbling into Body Hair

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: Read More…

Subtitle Limbo

Once upon a time the title to my memoir was the vague and mildly misleading, “Jersey Boy.” Then that awful movie came out, and the cringefest that is Jersey Shore debuted on MTV. I recognized that in addition to these two negative contextual cues, it didn’t really matter that I am originally from the Garden State, becuase the whole memoir takes place in Washington, DC, and only people who know me personally could remotely care that I hail from the mid-Atlantic state.

Worse, it didn’t say anything about what the book was about.

So I came up with Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of a Klutz’s Sex Change. That title spelled out everything I thought needed explanation. It’s a funny book. It’s about trans people. It shares the tone and a snippet of the protagonist’s voice.  Read More…

Doubt, Work, Struggle, Success: My Road to Publication

The joke between me and a close friend is that it took a relocation to a tiny town, a blown knee, and a national economic collapse to bring me back to writing, so I had better get serious and back to it. I am one of those people who turned away from creative writing as a career because it wasn’t practical enough, and my parents are nothing if not dedicated to middle class pragmatism.

My exile from writing began with excuses—I needed to experience the world and grow as a person, I was busy working, I wasn’t any good at making words happen—and then blossomed into a series of non-starter short stories, some of which I finished poorly and most of which I left to rot on a 3.5-inch floppy disk. By the time I turned 30, I felt miserable about how I’d treated my writing life and I turned, once again, to my journal. I wrote a series of new stories that decade but not for a moment did I presume I was an authentic writer anymore. Read More…

The Road to Publication. . .

still from the movie Airplaneis riddled with nausea. Well, at least in my case. After all of these years of sprained joints, broken bones, bouts of mono and shingles, I can’t say I’m surprised when acute illness or accident pops up, especially when it’s least convenient. Just a couple of years ago I had to flee the Census worker’s orientation with a sudden case of stomach flu. Seems like many times when I’m finally celebrating something terrific, like my own wedding, that’s exactly when part of my body gives out, like my left knee. I know I’m enacting a confirmation bias here, but I still worry there’s some grand curse on my bones and where they meet up with sinew and muscle.

So after something close to 20 rejections on my memoir, right about when I was thinking of self-publishing it just to get it out on the market, I received an email from a publisher I’d met at this year’s Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association, back in early August. He said he’d like to talk with me about where they are in the process of considering my memoir.

I spent 10 minutes rereading the three sentence email.  Read More…

Rainy day excerpt

This is an excerpt from Bumbling into Body Hair that I may strike out entirely as I get my word count down to more publisher-attractive levels. But I thought I would share it here out of the goodness of my heart, and because it was a troubling moment within the LGBT community. One of the places I had the hardest time transitioning was among my queer peers, which shouldn’t have been the case.

Jeffrey and I were late to bowling. By the time we got to the alley, there were only five minutes of practice left. This was also annoying because in each of the previous weeks in this new league we’d joined, they ran behind schedule on the practice and start of play. Not so this week.

No sooner had I sat down to put on my shoes than the president of the league was sitting next to me. Buddy was a round, older, very smiley man who was every bit as laid back as the last president of the other league was over-engaged. I liked Buddy.

Buddy looked serious. “Everett, can I talk to you about something?” Read More…

Bumbling in my own voice again: chapter 28 podcast

This is a section of my memoir from chapter 28. It runs about 20 minutes long. If you like zombies and gross anatomy, this chapter is for you.

Things I have won

I am a fan of the contest. I just plain like the concept that for the trouble of sponsoring my own entry into it, I have earned the privilege of getting X chance in millions of winning whatever thing it is that I covet. It’s a tiny taste of exhilaration, made all the smaller by my intellectual understanding that I’m probably not going to win bupkus. But in the years of me entering contests, I have walked away victorious a few times. It’s like a siren’s song, drawing me back, distracted by whatever bauble or accolade is dangled in front of my head.

A stuffed snowman. In 1983 I won a stuffed snowman, hand-knit by some other 8th grader’s mother. The real hook for me was the black hat on its head—inside, curled into itself, was a second scarf, in a different color, and you could change them out. Sweet! A snowman you could dress! For a kid who didn’t give a fig about Barbies, this was for some reason extremely appealing. Tim, a big bully of a kid, had bested me earlier in the school year in a campaign for class security guard—I don’t know how he beat my motto, Shoot for the Moon, Vote for Maroon—and had, upon the afternoon of his victory speech, insisted everyone passing him in the hallway should bow to him. Oh, how my fellow classmates rued their collective decision then! Tim saw me buy a raffle ticket for Mr. Snowman and like an arrogant parent, unrolled a loop of raffle tickets like baby pictures out of his wallet. I would never win, he said. Ruffled by his heckling, I capitulated and bought one more ticket. This doubled my chances of winning, I figured. Ah, 8th grade math. When the principal called my ticket number over the loudspeaker, I squealed and ran down the three flights to get my prize. And I’m positive I loved that changeable snowman far superiorly to Tim, would he have won.

Mill Road Camp Camper of the Week. I have no earthly idea how I earned this prize other than the counselors gave it out on a rotating basis and I just hit my number one week. I didn’t even enter or otherwise make my interest known to the day camp staff. I was just wasting my time perfecting my tetherball skills. Mad skillz, I say. But I still have the brick red banner with white lettering.

I have won roughly $200 in bowling league money. That I have bowled in a league at least 6 times reveals my sad-ass bowling skills. Even the last team in most leagues will walk away with something at the end of the season. But it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having the coolest shoes in the league. Which I have.

A Panasonic stereo and 25 CDs. This was the strangest contest to enter in my personal history with contests. Sponsored by Dodge and Mothers Against Driving Drunk, or whatever it is they’re called, entrants had to guess how many CDs (in their cases) would fit inside the M.A.D.D. Music Mobile, a van that apparently was roaming around my college campus, hunting for drunk drivers, or something. That really sounds like an unsafe practice, but okay. I went upstairs to my dorm room, called 800 information (there was no Web, people!), and got the number for Dodge headquarters in Detroit. After a series of phone calls, I had the cubic dimensions of the van’s interior. I also, at the time, owned 12 CDs. I pulled two away so I would have an even 10, and I measured the cubic area, did some rough math—math keeps being so important! damn math!—and then went back down to the lobby to put in my guess. I’d all but forgotten about the contest when I got a letter in the mail, saying I’d gotten first prize. I’d missed the grand prize, which was oh, a sports car, but what would I do with a sports car in the snowiest place in New York? Crash it into the Music Mobile, probably, or a Delta Delta Delta on her way back from a drunken formal.

Employee of the Year. This award took me a bit by surprise, and without a doubt meant the most to me of all the things I’ve ever had the pleasure of winning. The vice president announcing the award at the annual dinner did the traditional, “let me tell you about this person before I give you the name” thing. I’m fond of that approach, actually, and not just because it reminds me of Sesame Street’s version of This Is Your Life. I had my suspicions that I’d be getting the award, but it was still great to get called up to the podium and accept it. Sometimes I think it’s silly to get so excited about a wood and brass plaque, but well, I worked hard to have that on my office wall.

It’s with this short but fun history that I entered the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association literary contest, submitting my affable memoir last spring. I’d known upon entering that finalists in each genre category would be notified by early June, so when 6/15 rolled around I presumed I was not among them. But opening my email yesterday, I saw an email from PNWA with the subject line, PNWA Literary Contest: Congratulations! My very first thought was, “well, I guess I’ll see who the finalists are, since I must not be one of them.” Imagine my surprise when I read: “Dear Everett, Congratulations!” Say what? Holy memoir, I’m a finalist!

Susanne wanted to know why the blood had all gone out of my face. I told her, rereading the Web site details about the contest, that so far I’d won a “Finalist” ribbon to put on my conference badge when I show up at the event in July. I bet it’s red. I love a nice, red ribbon and I have no idea why. As it stands, there are 8 finalists in each genre category, and a first, second, and third place winner. So I have a 3 in 8 chance of winning something beyond my lovely strip of satin. Whatever happens, I’m excited and thrilled.

Contests are damn fun.

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