Like many writers I know, I took a meandering path to this writing profession, starting out confident and then dedicating a long decade in quicksand—I think it’s called self-doubt—after which I think I found myself in the center of the earth, and let me just say, it’s hotter than I thought it would be down there. During this long break I suppose I opted to have a sex change, and then I realized that I needed to write about my transition. I didn’t want to relate a tale of anguish and grief. Instead, I focused on the ludicrous situations that popped up as I navigated through gender roles, gathered information on doctors, civil courts, and resources, and klutzed into whatever manhood I now find myself. Where I have ended up as a writer is not where I estimated I’d find myself, but I understand now that all of my wanderlust has made me a much better storyteller. And along the way, I’ve identified my audience in young adult readers, in whatever stripe of gender and sexual orientation (or questioning place) they may be. I now have a good idea of my goals as a writer of transgender and queer experience.
1. Write believable characters who aren’t all about being LGBT—Nobody is simply the sum of the aspects of their identities. When I write out character sketches for my characters, I make sure not to prioritize their queerness; I may begin by thinking about how much they hate their trumpet practice time, or what vegetables they despise, or whether they wake up before their alarm clock sounds, anything to make them more layered as people. That doesn’t mean the LGBT isn’t significant. To the contrary, I’ll spend time working through those issues, writing up back story about how they identify, when they first thought about being L, G, B, and/or T, and what emotions they feel about being different. Are they defensive about it? Do they use humor to deflect attention from it? Who have they told about their feelings? Because I want my readers to be able to identify with the protagonist and other characters, I try to get as good a fix as I can on the whole perso, with specific attention paid to where and how they fit into the LGBT world.
2. Write against type in character and situation—In my humble opinion, there are enough narratives out there about how awful life as a queer teenager or young adult can be. I’m not espousing a rose-colored lens on the world here, but I don’t feel the need to recreate The Well of Loneliness, either, with all due respect to Radclyffe Hall. I’m interested in young trans women characters who are smart and sassy, young trans men who don’t reinforce macho stereotypes, gender bending characters who won’t be pinned down, and gender nonconforming kids who help illustrate where the boundaries are between expressing one’s gay or lesbian orientation, and one’s gender identity. I don’t need to write the transsexual as serial killer or Ms. Lonelyhearts, especially not for a YA audience.
3. Envision novel universes that help push an exploration of LGBT issues—My latest novel, which is nearing its last revision before I peddle it at summer conferences features a time-traveling epileptic teenager who shifts genders as he slips into Prohibition-era Kentucky. Jumping into the body of a girl is the last thing he thinks he needs, but by the end of the book, he makes some interesting choices after growing as a character. I was interested in making orientation and gender so fluid in the narrative that it would even be difficult to assign a pronoun to the protagonist. And I hope that the action-adventure tale brings a playfulness to the more grounded LGBT questions and keeps the reader absorbed while they have a chance to rethink issues of queerness.
4. Give LGBT readers someone to identify with—I remember contorting myself around mainstream YA novels when I was an adolescent, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was often left alienated or disappointed. It was hard not to see big parts of myself in books by Paula Danziger, Judy Blume, and others, especially when friends gushed about how great they were. I turned to science fiction and fantasy, which at least created worlds in which I could lose myself. What if YA books hit all bases? Great story, great characters, great lessons, and inclusive of LGBT and questioning youth? I want to provide all of that.
I’m excited for the opportunity to explore some of these questions here at GayYA over the next several weeks, and I hope to see dialogue in the comment threads. I post over at my own blog, Trans/Plant/Portation, write popular culture commentary at I Fry Mine in Butter, and in June and July, will return to Bitch Magazine’s blog to look at the early campaigning for President. Because as part of my indirect writer’s path, I focus on all kinds of things. Thanks for letting me spend some time here, and howdy.