Latest from the Blog

Spinning Plates—Raising a Family & Writing Books

Two toddlers, one with limbs like Plasticman, the other in the throes of potty training uncertainty, one partner with a busy academic career, the other attempting to navigate the policy morass that is post-Affordable Care Act implementation, a year into a house purchase that has seen no fewer than half a dozen small renovation/replacement projects, and it’s no wonder I am struggling to stay on top of my writing schedule. Even my weekday schedule itself is upside-down: now that both children are in preschool in the mornings, my late afternoon writing time has evaporated.

But here’s the thing about being a writer—I still find time to make words appear on the screen. I might not meet my goals in a given week, but writing is something of a flexible career. That story I wrote last year finally found a home over at Expanded Horizons. The back burner project left languishing in the recesses of my brain suddenly jumps forward and then I have an essay ready for a market. The followup to my memoir, a mess of incorrect chronology and meant-for-journal-only prose at long last feels emotionally available to me, so I can restructure it and add to the 44,000-word count. If I’m lucky my editor will tell me it’s not total trash when I eventually email it to her. And then I can get back into the sequel to my YA novel and finish the first draft (I’m at 52,000 words on that one so far).

If this looks like my work is all over the place, it is. I haven’t even mentioned the speculative piece I’m working on for an anthology submission, the pitch I’m trying to write to get a column in a market for the 2016 election, or the adult novel I’ve been working on for three years that needs a research grant so I can delve into an archive on the east coast. (Please, NEA, please.) I’ve missed a couple of deadlines in all of this chaos, but that’s okay—if I can’t make the submission date, I must not have been that interested.

Call it all Writing While Gemini.


It’s two days later since I started this blog post, and here I am at a desk with a vanilla latte inches away from my thirsty self, and a computer under my fingerprints that is beaming its 99% battery charge at me with something like glee. My four-hour writing window is here, so toodaloo, friends. My process is messy, encumbered with all kinds of nonsense and scatterbrainedness, but it works for me … mostly. Would that we all find our productive processes wherever they may be.

The Pointlessness of Blogging

I started this blog, lovingly named Trans/Plant/Portation to refer to my gender identity, my then-imminent relocation to the other side of the continent, and the travelogue that I’d be writing about as we drove across country (and through part of Canada). I was volunteering to give up my day job, figuring that after fifteen pretty successful years in the workplace I’d land something new and interesting shortly after unpacking my last box in our new house. Instead I blew out my left ACL three weeks prior to our trip, watched the global credit economy implode, and didn’t find work for another two years.

Everett contemplates a volcano

Somehow, the blog that was supposed to be my fun-filled journal for friends turned into my stop gap, my virtual solace-finder—one of my only outlets for my extroverted personality. Susanne was worried for me, I could tell, but she had her own anxiety regarding acclimating to her new college environment. She had to start her faculty career and sort out the myriad characters at work. All of a sudden everyone we knew was Susanne’s coworker—fine, insofar as coworkers go, but not a group to whom one can express their concerns about their Very Recent Moving Experience.

Also, the new house reeked of cat urine, the walls bulged, and the upstairs tub occasionally leaked into the kitchen, via the spotted ceiling. Read More…

Friday Fiction: Running from Zombies

I think this is a cute story (as zombie stories go), but it’s never going to sell to a market, so I’m publishing it as part of a brand-spankin’ new, occasional series of Friday fiction pieces. I hope you enjoy reading it.


Ezra walks like a drunk sailor, or how I think a drunk sailor would walk, because like I have never seen one but I’ve heard that sailors drink a lot and drinking makes people stagger around the way my little brother does, but whatever, Ezra stumbles around the house all the time. Mostly he clings on to furniture if it’s near enough to cling to, but some of the stuff that Mom Two buys on her antiques shopping sprees is really tippy, so then I have to rush up to Ez and make sure that he doesn’t bonk his head or break some fancy Louis XIV chair in the process. It gets tiring, but the extra allowance is worth it. Plus he’s cute, and so when we’re out somewhere like the arcade or the hipster park where everyone beautiful plays lawn Frisbee or whatever the hell it is, people come up to us all agog and shit because Ezra is teetering around, saying “arararar gagagaga Amuhwee” which is some apparently adorable pronunciation of my name, Emily.

Yes, our parents gave their two children E names. It is so awesome being us, let me just say. Actually my original name was not Emily. I had to convince my parents that I was really a girl. It wasn’t easy to get them to believe me, but they’re more or less okay with it now, and I have learned all kinds of ways to be a more patient person. The universe gave me my parents so I would learn how to get what I need, and then it gave me Ezra so I would continue to work out my core muscles. Thanks, universe, for looking out for me.

The phone rings. It’s my friend Iggy who is also trans and a year younger than me. He left his extremely crappy high school because of constant bullying. Iggy is funny as hell lately because he finally started hormones after years on the blockers and now he texts me every time a new chin hair appears. Seriously. I have like 126 texts from him, all about freaking chin hair. Guys are so weird. Read More…

The Seemingly Impossible Problem of the Small Screaming Child

crying Lucas babyThe story about the diner owner screaming at a toddler who’d been whining and crying while waiting for her pancakes is all over my newsfeed. I’m a little astonished this is difficult to assess. It’s a classic situation and there is actually a load of literature on how different responses net different outcomes with regard to small kids who are crying/having a tantrum/whining/etc.

1. It is well catalogued that a stranger screaming at a screaming or crying toddler may quiet the child down momentarily, but it is the worst response to take. Why? Because:
a. The child may have a good reason for crying (in this case, hunger), and the screaming at the kid doesn’t change their biological need to cry in response to their need.
b. The child may have already exhausted other tactics of communication, may come from an abusive household, or may have difficulty communicating another way (e.g., the kid may be autistic), and the stranger’s screams may only serve to trigger or frighten the kid, or worse, add to the child’s trauma. Rule of thumb: If you’re the bigger person, you have more power, so use it kindly.
c. Ironically, you’re teaching the child that screaming is a terrific response to frustration. So the kid shouldn’t scream but the grownup can?
d. It’s also been shown that being nice can defuse these situations even better than yelling. “You must be really hungry, huh? Would you like these crackers, honey? How growly is your belly right now?”

2. All human behavior is temporal. It changes over time, is dependent on things like mood, learning, wakefulness, context, and so on. By all accounts this child did not enter the diner screaming, she worked up to it. If she exhibited calmer behavior earlier, then she was capable of de-escalating back down to it. Unfortunately for her none of the adults in the room helped to calm her or chose to meet her needs. So the pancake takes forty minutes? Give her a small bowl of applesauce, or some freaking crayons. But identifying this–or ANY–child only via her screaming is to dehumanize her, and I will not concede this point. The kids who take the most crap for their behavior are the ones who aren’t as traditionally “cute” looking, or whose parents are marked by some presumed defect. We do not single out screaming kids just for their screaming. Go back and read the way the diner owner talked about the whole family, and see the code: this is how she justifies screaming violently at a human being. And she’s totally lost the perspective that she was once a child, and that there was probably a moment in her life when an adult was unkind to her, and that she felt something negative from that experience. She has just pushed that onto the next generation. And this child will carry that moment forward in time with her now. What could have been a temporary moment of frustration is now an echo that will last for a while.

3. Just as small kids aren’t always screaming, parents aren’t always horrible or always terrific. Let’s not label them as such. I think I’m a pretty good dad, but I’ve had my poor moments, of course. People base their approval on this woman’s yelling because they have an issue with who the adults were as parents. That is very presumptive, and frankly, not rational thinking. If somebody had an issue with the parents, they should direct their communication to the parents. In all likelihood the owner ignored what was going on while it was escalating and began quickly getting resentful, so by the time she acted, she was also not responding rationally or carefully. Maybe she’s frustrated at having such a busy diner, or too small a space for her to work. Maybe lots of things, but what’s clear is that these weren’t regular customers that she knew, so she felt free to label them and scream at their child. Sometimes I bring my kids to breakfast restaurants and they’re not always perfectly behaved, but if the owner came and screamed at them they’d have two crying boys on their hands and one very upset parent (two if Susanne were with us). But come on, there is no defense to yelling at a small kid when who you’re really angry with is the adult at the table.

4. Small kids are among us, they’re a part of our culture. They’re also very vulnerable. They don’t always know why the grownups around them are tired, or frustrated, or mad, or sad, but they will often ask and they are great at giving comfort. These are the people who will support us all when we are in our senior years and need all kinds of care. I still find it amazing how fast human beings develop from only having one cry to having several that mean different things, to finding words, to forming sentences, to using language to think about the world around us. If children are merely a temporary inconvenience to you, I think your world view is lacking. To me, children are a joy and a fascination, and I get a lot out of interacting with them. When you have an opportunity to be kind to a kid, please try and take it and pass on the good will that has been shown to you.

Also, 40 minutes for pancakes is absurd.

Dear Ms. Burkett: It’s Not About Brains

I finally read the opinion piece in last Sunday’s NY Times (I’m not going to link it, but it’s easy enough to find) by Elinor Burkett, ostensibly about Caitlyn Jenner’s trans coming out in something of a media onslaught, but which quickly descends into a diatribe against all trans women (and some trans men, but more on that later).

Look, I agree with you about brains. I don’t think men’s and women’s brains are much different. But along that thought:

1. Just because a specific trans person says they believe in any particular thing, doesn’t mean all trans people agree. Remember your oft-referred to women’s studies training—no community is a monolith.

2. Just because a trans person says something with which you disagree doesn’t mean you ought to go whole hog in throwing the entire community under the bus as trampling on your womanhood and need to be kept on the margins of culture because you personally are so offended. To reverse your example, my cis gender partner Susanne has identified as female her entire life and she disagrees that there are male and female brains, but SHE DIDN’T JUST CALL CAITLYN JENNER A MALE PRIVILEGED FAKE WOMAN IN THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES. Because all women have different opinions from each other. Isn’t that nice?

Now then, let’s move to your understanding of experience, since it seems to be a bridge too far for you to honor someone else’s life if they didn’t walk exactly in your steps. There is zero accounting for race or class difference in your brand of feminism as articulated in your opinion piece. You think you get to exclude trans women from the extraordinarily broad range of femininity and womanhood because for some portion of their life they lived as men or boys? Well I have a news flash: EVERY WOMAN’S EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT. (As I said on Facebook, if you want to see the differences in your experience as a woman from someone else’s, just go swimming in a pool in Texas.) Your experience is different from Black women, from women who come from a socioeconomic class not immediately preoccupied with career advancement but with keeping food in their cupboards, from first-generation immigrant women, from disabled women, and hell, from women with endometriosis, since you brought up period flow. (You don’t scare me talking about period flow, even if you used in such an incredibly disingenuous way.)

The wonderful, powerful thing about womanhood is that it is entirely capable of including all of these disparate experiences. It grows and flexes and rises up to meet the challenges of every modern age that has asked it to change. When capitalism asked women to enter the workforce, they did, and although there were men who mocked the riveter Rosies, they were still women. When lesbians came out of the shadows of culture and said they were their own community, there were people who railed against them, but they insisted they were still women, EVEN AS they themselves eschewed the 1950s brand of femininity that they said had previously kept them in the closet. When women in the 1980s said they wanted to break the glass ceiling and sit in the executive board rooms across America, they were labeled Feminazis, but feminists stood up and said they’re still women.

So now it’s 2015, and feminism has pushed from all angles at the notion of womanhood and here you are, drawing some ridiculous line in the sand? Now? In 2015? Ms. Burkett, that argument is over. It’s gone. You’re reaching back to the same threads of reductive hate that you yourself have fought against. It doesn’t matter that your veiled invective is aimed at a different sub-population of women, you’re still fighting against yourself as you make arbitrary and intellectually impoverished swipes at trans women. Feminism has moved on from your little corner of thought, and it did so a long time ago.

I agree talking about essential male and female characteristics is unhelpful. I wish Caitlyn hadn’t said she thought her brain was different, but it’s not a point to use against her entire identity. Many trans people are looking for validation, especially as they begin transition, as an anchor. How does a person REALLY know they’re trans? For me, I wasn’t sure for something like the first five years. It is so out of left field that I thought I was losing my mind—how could I possibly be a man? After all, I’d hit all of the so-called milestones you included in your opinion piece, the inconvenient menarche, the chronically underpaid paychecks, the fear of assault, plus I was tall and large, which oh my gosh, didn’t jive very well with some people’s notions of womanhood! Can you imagine! So when it started becoming a thought in my mind, and then a fixation, and then an obsession, that I might live as a man, that I might actually IDENTIFY as a man, I wanted some kind of evidence. There is none. At the very least, our culture hasn’t been working on helping individuals figure out their gender identity and presentation, or more precisely, it wasn’t a cultural project back in my day (I grew up in the 70s and 80s). So please forgive my fellow trans travelers if we sometimes latch onto an idea or concept that doesn’t jive with your version of feminism. It’s not a justification to say that we’re not real people in these lives we’ve worked hard to live.

One more thing: every time you point to a biological marker, like uteruses or penises or menstrual blood or breasts, you’re doing the same thing you’re critiquing PLUS you’re making trans women feel bad ALL OVER AGAIN about the limitations of their bodies. That’s not only unfeminist, that’s cruel. And also, you’re missing out. Trans women, no matter how long they lived before they transitioned, they didn’t experience male privilege in the way you think they did. Just as I didn’t revel in the joys of womanhood—each marker of my gender only served to make me confused, aggravated, or depressed. And through this experience, many trans women I know developed a terrific insight into gender that today’s feminism finds vital. Quite of few trans women friends of mine also have the sharpest wit, great senses of humor that are amazing to witness as, say, you’re sitting around complaining about your limited paychecks with the girls. Feminism, womanhood, identity, and the world are so much larger than your vision. They’re more generous, grand, and inclusive. They’re pushing progress in ways I never thought I would see when I was a fresh out of the box lesbian in 1990. I’m excited to see this new world unfold and I wish you would join us in it.

But madam, you have a LOT of reading and thinking to do first.


P.S.: If someone is working on reproductive rights, do you really care what their gender identity is, or whether they have a uterus in their body or not? I mean, ALEC is out there doing everything it can to stop abortion and choice in the US, how about we work with the folks who are showing up? For Pete’s sake.

This Quote from Michelle Duggar Says It All

“She [Michelle Duggar] said the fondling devastated her and her husband and made them question whether they had failed as parents.” —Michelle’s comment to Megyn Kelly of FoxNews, on the revelation that her son Josh molested four of her daughters and his babysitter

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents. Not when Josh initially molested his sisters and his babysitter, but when you learned about it and didn’t move to prevent more abuse.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you let the abuse continue for sixteen months without getting Josh treatment and without getting your daughters specialized counseling–in fact, ANY counseling–to deal with the trauma they’d experienced.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you sent Josh to work for a home renovator and then called that treatment.

Yes, Michelle, you failed as parents when you focused only on Josh’s so-called redemption while utterly dismissing what happened to your daughters.

But Michelle, you failed as PEOPLE when knowing all of this you paraded your family on national television proclaiming your vision of family as perfect and superior to so many other families who didn’t erase their own children’s trauma. You failed as PEOPLE when knowing all of this you took to the recording studio to make robocalls in a critical civil rights vote, demonizing trans women for the VERY SAME ACTS your son performed that you so callously disregarded, even though he’s done them against YOUR OTHER CHILDREN, and even though there is no evidence that trans women are ipso facto pedophiles, nor even pedophiles AS OFTEN AS STRAIGHT MEN are. You failed as PEOPLE when you covered up your family history in order to make millions off of your ruse of a family unit. And you failed as PEOPLE OF FAITH when you warped what Christianity means for millions of people with your simplistic, reductive, nonsensical value system that is really just a cover for rape culture, misogyny, patriarchal order, and emotional abuse.

I don’t believe in Hell. And the good old Roman Catholic Church even disavowed purgatory a decade ago. Good thing for you, because I’m sure rotting in your graves will be a lot kinder eternity for you than where you’d otherwise someday go. You and Jim Bob are the worst kind of parents and people I can even comprehend.

EDITED TO ADD: I was texting with a friend about this and he said, “I imagine [the survivors] will need counseling and emotional support.” And I said, hell yes:

First, they were abused, period. Second by their brother. Third, more than once. Fourth, the parents after learning about the abuse did nothing to help them. Fifth, they had to go on national television for eight years and act like everything was hunky dory. Sixth, they had to nod their heads and take it emotionally whenever mom or dad or big brother went on public tv to talk about how great they were as christians and how they needed to stop the child molesting gay and trans people.

Honestly, Just Write and Stop Worrying

I am no stranger to anxiety. Anxiety may even be something of a close friend, but it’s one of those friends who talks on and on about themselves during your coffee date together and maybe you don’t even realize it until you’ve hugged and you’re walking home and then finally you think, “I didn’t even say that my dog died/I’m breaking up with my partner/I got a new job/something momentous and totally wortpart of an interview I did with PQMonthly as a winner of their Brilliant List awards programh mentioning.” I’ll put it this way: I hate my way through my relationship with anxiety, one miserable unwanted thought at a time.

That said, I am a product of no fewer than half a dozen terrific therapists and my neuroses are down to a dull, annoying grumble in the back of my head. I recognize frenemy Anxiety as soon as it pops itself into my consciousness, and sometimes I can stamp it out even when it’s bumbling about in my semi-conscious, because things like my body will send up an alert, and then that decade of therapy kicks in, and well, if I have to Goldberg Machine my way to functionality, so be it. It’s working for me. I’m even past the point where I tell myself to fake it till I make it. Read More…

Ridiculous Ways Viewers Think Mad Men Will End

Don Draper holding a fedora in one hand and a briefcase in the other, standing on steps at the side of a TWA plane.Mad Men has been a strange, amusing series, replete with historic moments like JFK’s assassination and the moon landing, full of smoking and daytime drinking, and loads of human foibles, chief among them our ability to compartmentalize (and I’m not just talking about Dick Whitman). Beyond the character arcs and season-long plot points are some meta-analyses of the show that have kept me watching, fascinated. I’ve posted before about how I see Dick/Don as a kind of trans narrative but there are other interesting interpretations of the show, like the limited ranges of success, nay, life, for women in the characters of Betty, Joan, and Peggy (and how they differ from what we know will be the options for Sally), the clash of generations over cultural meaning and production (“What is the Carousel?”), and ultimately, where is meaning itself? That’s the question Dick/Don has been asking at least since he accidentally blew up his commanding officer in Korea, and perhaps since his youth at the brothel after his mother died. While Dick/Don in last night’s penultimate episode seemed to be finally coming to terms with an answer for himself, we the audience are in full-plummet mode as the series finale looms. Read More…

Child detained at Lego store

When do we decide that humans have autonomy? When is a person capable of making her own choices? Why do we imprison ten-year-olds for crime but not let a nine-year-old walk through a store by himself? Our culture’s understanding of age and agency is twisted.

Author Interview: Audrey Coulthurst

I had an opportunity to speak recently with writer friend and colleague from the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Audrey Coulthurst, about her new two-book deal with HarperCollins. I also wanted to find a way to communicate with the public about how much Audrey likes horses, so hopefully by the end, her potential readers are clear on that.

Audrey wearing a unicorn mask in the foothills of LA

Not exactly a muse, but close.

Congratulations on your publication news with HarperCollins! What was your path to publication?

Thank you! My path to publication was fairly straightforward. After the first draft of A Hidden Affinity was complete I spent a long time finding critique partners and revising. As part of that I participated in the Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writers Retreat. Studying with Malinda Lo and having a group of very talented writers discuss my work was a true gift.

Once I felt the manuscript was as strong as it could be, I entered a couple of online contests and got some agent requests through those. Then I began to query in earnest, and then a few months later my fabulous agent pulled my query out of the slush and offered representation. We made some more revisions and then she sold the book.

I should probably note that while this whole process can be summed up in a few paragraphs, it took a very long time. The first draft of A Hidden Affinity was written in 2010. Read More…