Notes from my talk at Western

Opening remarks

 

[Read the back of Meanwhile, Elsewhere]

 

[Something about how the back of this book felt like one of those stupid things you’d say or suggest at a party like “What if a book did THIS” except this one time I had this experience of just, like, doing that and it ruled. Those ideas you have with your stupid friends at a stupid party or by yourself laughing to yourself in your room, those are real, and sometimes you can make them be reality, and the things you like in books and movies and TV and whatever, lots of them started like that. The link between “This is a cool idea I have” and “this is a thing I think is cool that shows up in books or movies” there’s no process in the brain that’s different about those things.]

 

Hi everyone. I really appreciate you taking your time out of your day to come listen to me. Thank you to Western for hosting me, thank you so much to Aaron Schneider for inviting me.

I just want you all to know—when I was a student and I went to lectures like these, I had such a hard time paying attention. I’d go see someone speak and I’d think like wow, I’m really interested in what this person is saying—and then I just couldn’t stay focused and I’d forget it all. I saw Jennifer Egan speak when I was in grad school and I was like wow, that was fascinating, a week later, I couldn’t remember a fuckin’ word she said. Anyway, the point is, I’ll be posting the notes of this talk up on my blog later, so if that’s useful to you, there it’ll be, it’s just caseyplett.com

 

So I used to work at this big bookstore in New York City called The Strand. It’s the second-largest bookstore in the United States and most of their books are used. It being downtown Manhattan, they bought an enormous number of books from people coming in off the street daily. Hundreds of books a day, probably topped a thousand on Saturdays.

During this time, I was working really feverishly on what I thought would be my first book. And I was really attached to this idea of a book as a permanent thing, a thing that existed for a long period of time, as a solid thing that could change people and minds and the world. Of course books can do that very thing, but I was fiercely and romantically attached to the idea that my books and the booked I love might be able to achieve such lofty goals.

At the Strand, I worked on the floor, shelving and helping customers. One day I was shelving in the history section. American history. And I was dawdling, flipping through a book from the ‘50s, a book I’d never heard of, and that I since can’t remember. And I just thought like fuck, all the hopes I have for my own work, and all the praise I assign to contemporary writers that I love so dearly—by law of averages, we’ll almost certainly all be forgotten in 50 to 60 years. The books we love and that we may write are all going to end up in a bookshelf like this as curiosities with only traces of people who remember them and talk about them. That’s if we’re lucky.

But the physical weight of being surrounded by such a large left-over quantity of hopes and dreams was really powerful, the tangibility of being in a room with thousands and thousands of books of which only a small percentage someone my age might’ve recognized. It was moving because I knew that decades ago they had probably done so much before they came to rest here. What I’m saying is I really felt something truthful in my bones about the ephemerality of literature, and how, perhaps, I could be a part of that, even if time would likely sweep it away, perhaps long before I leave the earth.

I was on a panel with my friend Kai Cheng Thom, who’s written incredible books. Check out Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars and A Place Called No Homeland. And Kai Cheng mentioned something about how writing is still worthwhile even if it’s just your friends reading it and liking it. Which is an experience I would say I’ve had as well, there were many years where I was just pounding away at my blog or doing readings at bars for strangers before my books came out, etc…and those were powerful experiences. I know it’s a little hypocritical of me to say this, having been lucky enough to be a published author for so long, but I sometimes think we as writers and readers hold up this idea of being published as being real, as if it means you’ve been granted permanence, when my experience all as a writer and bookseller and someone who works in publishing would say that isn’t quite the whole truth. And I’ve been thinking more about ephemerality, and how that can maybe be a liberating concept for us as writers and readers.

I think about permanence too, and I gave a talk this March about how I loved the permanence of books so I certainly don’t have this all squared and figured out, but the ephemerality of our writing is something I’ve been thinking about more often, and that I think is kind of beautiful.

 

 

Read from ASGtL: 5 min from “Portland, Oregon” (Some mish-mash of between pages 93 and 102)

I chose this story to read from because in some ways it’s my favourite story from this collection for a lot of reasons, and it’s also a story that over the years always surprises me to have touched people in a way I wouldn’t have imagined. In the story (sorry, spoilers) the girl Adrienne works all the time but she’s still always broke, so she starts a job driving escorts at night. And it makes her money but the nature of the work and her lack of sleep and her increasing addiction issues start kind of loosening her grip on reality, and this is all seen through the eyes of her cat, Glenn. (Sidebar: You may be able to cut this a bit depending on what you read)

I started writing this story when I was 19 years old, in my second year of university. I wrote it for a class, and I’m still kind of amazed by the fact that eight years after that class, that story ended up in a book and people liked it. It felt like I got to introduce the world to some old friends. Though I majorly revised that story a lot over the years, to be sure.

What got me started writing that story was two things. The first thing was Adrienne’s apartment. When I was a kid, my dad was pretty poor and he moved around a lot, but there was this one apartment we lived in when I was like four five years old when he as on welfare. It was a basement apartment. It was shitty and messy and gross. And even though as I grew up my mom moved up the class ladder and we got out of there, that fucking apartment just has always stayed in my mind, the images of what it was like to sleep there, and eat there, and especially how my dad was both trying to make the best of things and also kind of sinking into his own sadness…those images of that apartment in particular just like, still lives in my fucking brain. And when I started writing this story 12 years ago, it was powered by those images.

I bring all this up just to make this point: That the odd soup that lives in your head, that you don’t see reflected anywhere in your real life, that soup is usually something to follow.

The other thing I want to mention about this book, as it was my first book, is that at the time I started writing it, I hadn’t meant to write a book of short stories, I’d meant to write a memoir. But I was working on that fucking memoir and I just lost steam half-way through and I just started hating that project, I don’t know, I just like, I stopped working on it because I couldn’t stand it. And the weird lizard part of my brain, when I sat down to write, was interested in these short little vignette stories. I guess I just say this to underline that like, sometimes you have a plan and sometimes you don’t have a plan. For this book (Little Fish) I had a plan, but for this book (Safe Girl) I had no fucking plan at all, I just kept sitting down and working.

 

 

Reading from Little Fish – 8 minutes (Scene with the four of them at Cousin’s, maybe the first scene? And then them getting ready for the party?))

 

I definitely like realist fiction for my own stuff, but I love daydreaming within it too. In Little Fish, there are similarities between Wendy and myself but two big things Wendy has that I’ve never experienced, one being living in one town her entire life, two is having a circle of trans women friends who kind of act as a cadre. I actually think that’s a really uncommon experience for trans women—to have the kind of four-girls-always-meeting-up-in-a-bar, almost like in a Cheers sort of way—but I liked to imagine it. I had a few friends like that in Winnipeg, though they’re not like any of the girls in the book, and we almost all never hung out together in masse like they do. So even though this book is a mish-mashed reflection of a lot of shit from real life, there was also daydreaming and wishfulness involved, there were pockets of wishes in here for things I didn’t see around me and hoped could be real.

I think sometimes there’s this idea as fiction writers that you’re supposed to make shit bad for your characters all the time, you know, like: Nabokov has this quote that’s like “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.” And I just think like nooo! I don’t buy that at all! Like obviously conflict is necessary in fiction but I think it’s important to give your characters joy, and good things, and sometimes the powerful engines of our imaginations can be given fuel by imagining better things that aren’t in the world that you get to live in. I really believe that.

And to go back to my first book (Safe Girl) for a second, the part of me that wrote Glenn’s character as a cat, to me, honestly doesn’t feel that different from the part of me that wrote this gaggle of girlfriends in this book (Little Fish).

Glenn—a talking cat—came about because when I was younger I was obsessed with writing these dialogue-heavy scenes between a guy and a girl who were platonic best friends. But I was also drawn to following this girl around who was isolated and living by herself and really lonely. And writing Glenn as a cat all of a suddenly let me live in a story with both of those realities. And you know, who hasn’t owned a cat and kind of wished the cat would talk with you, or feel like the cat understands you in a way.

I’ve never lived with a talking cat, but I’ve also never lived with the tight-knit group of women friends who get together in a room or a bar every week. One can exist in this reality and another can’t, but they both came from the same place of desire, and wonder.

 

 

Bizness

 

Ok so everything I’ve said so far has been about craft. But as someone who’s worked on the business side of the book industry for some years, I’d like to talk about the capital-B Business side of writing too, because I know it’s a murky weird thing and it’s opaque and I think also a lot of authors who’ve been successful in getting books out don’t always like to talk about it?

Certainly I know that like…you know, when I was in a writing program, me and my classmates would often ask our professors the Big Question, which was “How do I get a book published?” and we wouldn’t really get concrete answers. And in some ways, it’s not a question with neat or easy answers. On the other hand, they were are teachers, and this drove us crazy! Today, I work at Biblioasis publishing house, and I’m a publicist. Now, Biblioasis doesn’t publish my books, and I don’t acquire books or edit them, I just promote what other people acquire and edit. But I do have a window into how people get their manuscripts turned into books, both how it happens at my job and how it’s happened for my own work. So I’ll try to shed some light on a very weird process and I also definitely want to leave room for questions at the end.

First, the slush pile. Maybe some of you in here know what a slush pile is? Basically it’s the pile of unsolicited manuscripts that a publishing house receives. “slush pile” is the technical term for it, and in part this name comes from the idea that the number of manuscripts is so large, that in the days when they would arrive in physical form, there’d be enough of them that you could wade through them like slush. And the really unfortunate truth is, that the slush pile in most publishing houses has a very deep backlog, and very few books are considered that arrive that way. It’s not a fact I think people in publishing are proud of, but it is the truth.

Now I’ll tell you how both of my books got published.

 

[Talk about how you got your books published]

 

Both of those came about because I was going out and going to readings, trading work with people, involved in a community of other people who were making work, and that eventually led to me being able to put my work in front of someone who was willing to publish it in a book.

Now, I realize what all of this sounds like is. It sounds like “Oh, so it’s all who you know.”

And in a big sense that’s true and it’s hard to get around that. The thing that I have just described to you, there’s no way of separating it from nepotism. There’s a Venn Diagram between community and nepotism that has a lot of overlap.

A funny story, when I submitted this book to Topside Press, I did it through their submission manager, and Tom the publisher was like “You were the only one of our friends who actually used the Submission portal.” He was like “You’re so frickin’ polite you Canadian weirdo.” Which is kind of funny, but also kind of a sad comment about how this all tends to work.

Because of my job and because I’ve had success with this book, whenever I write my next book, I can almost certainly figure out a way to get it in front of any editor in Canada. That’s nice for me, and of course it’s also really not fair. Most editors in Canada are white, most of ‘em are straight, most of them are nowhere near either your age nor mine. And that has an effect on what editors look for and publish, it does. And besides even that, I mean, if you’re fortunate enough that your best friend or your spouse suddenly gets a job in publishing, well, that’s going to make it easier for you.

I do have an optimistic thing I have to say on that front though, which is that publishing has always been like that. And that there have always been marginalized writers, and writers who don’t necessarily have “Connections” who’ve managed to work their ass off hard enough to get past that and get noticed and get their work out there.

Which brings me back to what Kai Cheng said about how even just writing for your friends who see things is meaningful. I believe the biggest bulwark that writers have when it comes to the hustle, is finding like-minded people and, whether that’s doing readings, whether that’s submitting to literary magazines (who are, by the way, much more able to look more thoroughly at their slush piles, and at Biblioasis I know our fiction editor reads such magazines regularly), whether it’s putting together your own zine and doing fairs and shows, whether it’s reviewing books, whether it’s joining up with a bunch of people on the Internet into the same strange things you are. Community can be a loaded term in my experience, and it’s often not easy, but that’s what I’m getting at.

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Miriam Toews + A Gift Guide

I was blessed to be able to publish two long pieces this year on Miriam Toews, an author whose work has deeply meant a fuck-ton to me for a very long time.

Reviewing her recent novel Women Talking in The Walrus:
https://thewalrus.ca/when-is-it-womens-time-to-speak/

Discussing her backlist (especially A Complicated Kindness but all her other books too) for The Puritan:
http://puritan-magazine.com/pine-and-sparkle-in-the-moonlight/

 

I should also mention that All Lit Up asked me to write a book gift guide for the holidays and I kinda went off the rails and they were nice enough to let me. https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2018/Gift-Guide-Week-Casey-Plett
I talked about Gwen Benaway’s Holy Wild, Catherine Hernandez’ Scarborough, Mallory Tater’s This Will Be Good, Tamara Faith Berger’s Little Cat, and Kai Cheng Thom’s A Place Called No Homeland, and who those books made me think of and how they made me feel.

Spring 2018 Little Fish Tour

Hi friends,

I’m on the road for a lot of this spring, touring my new novel Little Fish. All my dates below are as follows, with links as necessary, etc.

Some of these gigs will cost $ to come to. If you’re trans and that’d keep you from coming and you’d like to come, please e-mail me? casey dot plett at gmail.

April 14: Hamilton, ON, gritLIT Festival (https://www.bruha.com/event/2963) – A master-class on writing and self-promotion ($20)

April 15: Hamilton, ON, gritLIT Festival (https://www.bruha.com/event/2944) – A reading with Kevin Hardcastle and Nathan Ripley ($8-$10)

April 25: Winnipeg, MB, McNally Robinson (https://www.facebook.com/events/1560495753998421/) – A reading with Amber Dawn and Joshua Whitehead (Free)

April 27: Montreal, QC, Blue Metropolis Festival (https://www.facebook.com/events/1622514131118441) – The Violet Hour – A reading with Kamal Al-Solaylee, Amber Dawn, Daniel Mendelsohn, and Joshua Whitehead, hosted by Christopher DiRaddo ($5)

April 28: Montreal, QC, Blue Metropolis Festival (https://www.facebook.com/events/796262327227010/) – Outside The Margins: Community, Representation and Resilience – A panel with Amber Dawn and Catherine Hernandez, hosted by Leila Marshy (Free)

April 29: Ottawa, ON, Ottawa International Writers Festival (http://www.writersfestival.org/events/spring-2018/this-is-us-with-casey-plett-amber-dawn-and-joshua-whitehead) – A panel with Amber Dawn and Joshua Whitehead, hosted by Amanda Earl ($20)

May 3: New York, NY, Bluestockings (https://www.facebook.com/events/610393959307010/) – A reading with Amber Dawn, Megan Milks, and Joshua Whitehead (Free)

May 8: New York, NY, McNally Jackson (https://www.facebook.com/events/1829583774011182/) – A reading with Cat Fitzpatrick and Jeanne Thornton (Free)

May 23: Vancouver, BC, Vancouver International Writers Festival (https://www.facebook.com/events/180760762652838/) (Free)

May 31: Toronto, ON, Glad Day Bookshop – A reading with AMAZING PEOPLE TBD (Free)

 

Notes From My Talk at Drake

Hi everyone. I just did a talk at Drake last week and I promised I would post my notes of it on my blog later. So that is what I am doing now!

 

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I just want you all to know—when I was a student and I went to lectures like these, I had such a hard time paying attention. I’d go see someone speak and I’d think like wow, I’m really interested in what this person is saying—and then I just couldn’t stay focused and I’d forget it all. I saw Jennifer Egan speak when I was in grad school and I was like wow, that was fascinating, a week later, I couldn’t remember a fuckin’ word she said. Anyway, the point is, I’ll be posting the notes of this talk up on my blog later, so if that’s useful to you, there it’ll be, it’s just caseyplett.com

 

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First, a story. I recently re-united with an old and close friend from when I was younger, whom I hadn’t spoken to in many years. We were talking and catching each other up on all the shit that’d happened to us since we’d been estranged. As we were talking, she brought up a memory from about a decade ago, which was before I started taking hormones, and when I identified at the time as a genderqueer boy who liked to wear girl clothes, and nearly 100% of people perceived me as a cisgender man. In my friend’s memory, we were taking the light rail transit together and I was in a skirt. There were these guys on the train who started giving me shit, pointing and laughing and jeering, calling me names and shit. And I just stood up and quietly said “let’s go over here” and moved to the other end of the car and she followed. My old friend, she’d brought up this memory, years after it happened, and she said “I always felt bad about that, that I didn’t say something, I didn’t stand up for you.”

 

The thing is: I don’t remember this happening. It doesn’t even jog a memory or anything. It’s just not up here.

But of course, I completely believed my friend—because this would’ve been such a common experience for me back then. (Including the part about a friend saying nothing.) It was a formative experience for her, but I think such individual moments of garden-variety harassment have blended together in my mind, such a part of daily life it didn’t warrant registration in my memory for future use. Have you ever had a boss who always loses it and yells at people? So often you can’t remember every single instance? It would’ve been like that. Yet: when someone harasses me today because I am a transgender person, and I’m very blessed that it happens much less, it really eats at me.

 

My old friend told me about this a year ago. I’ve thought about this a lot since she did. I’ve realized that for a long time, my prime fear when I went out in skirts or dresses was that I was going to get physically hurt for doing so. A mixture of luck and systemic privilege meant it didn’t happen, and every it didn’t happen, I filed that as a win. No matter what guys on the train were saying to mark me, no matter how scared I felt. I even wrote a couple years later in a column for McSweeney’s “I was able to do this without much worry for my safety.” But honestly, while that might have been true in retrospect, at the time I just felt scared and lucky.

So for a long time, the pointing and jeering didn’t necessitate any entry into my long-term memory. And I think hmm, I probably don’t really understand what that’s done to me. Furthermore, I feel like I my memories of that period of my late teens to early 20s are less vivid, murkier, less available then, say, when I was in high school. Because I have more journal entries and photos from high school, and I had more friends in high school. That period is farther away in time but it’s less lost.

 

So why am I bringing this up? Because I can’t help but wonder what else I don’t remember. What used to be so commonplace that I don’t recall, both trials that I braved and trials I whined about and needed a shitty hand-hold all the way through. When memory fails in a non-linear fashion—what does that mean for a writer?

 

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Turning to another topic. Imogen Binnie, author of the novel Nevada, talked once on how a book’s stasis might be particularly powerful in the world of the Internet. She said:
I have this idea for something I want to create, and I think, will this work best as a poem, as a song, as a short YouTube video… there are so many media that you can do things in, and I think that books have really specific strengths … Nevada came out like two-and-a-half years ago, and people keep discovering it, but it keeps on being the same book, and so somebody who read it two-and-a-half years ago can talk to someone who read it today.” She said this isn’t the case with the Internet, because“you’ve got the timeline, and stuff falls to the bottom”.

The Internet’s an irreplacable venue for writing and reading, and I definitely grew up learning to write on the Internet to a large degree. But to take her point further, a person who interacted with a book in 1969 is interacting with the same book fifty years later. There are lots of static art forms like movies and albums etc, but for writing…I think of ephemeral blog posts that can be taken down or the creator just can’t keep it online anymore—which has happened to a lot of trans writing, like the Questioning Transphobia blog, or the Transactivisty blog, or the Trans Girl Diaries comic, or even just LiveJournals that have by now been deleted or locked for very understandable reasons. Thank God the Wayback Machine exists, which archives a lot of the Internet’s lost material, but still there’s so much that’s hard to find and often not in its full form. If you’ve got the luck and privilege to get a book out there, there is still something more lasting about it. I’ll also say, you know, like—with a book you can’t take it back? You can’t edit it, you can’t delete it, you can’t go back and attach caveats to it, if you fucked something up it’s just out there.

 

Similarly, though, no one else can take it away from you.

Speaking of Imogen’s book, the novel Nevada. It came out five years ago—five years ago this month, actually. It’s about a young trans woman named Maria in New York City who has a life that’s a little bohemian, a little boring: Working retail and in a stale relationship. Then suddenly, her girlfriend breaks up with her and she gets fired. So Maria steals her girlfriend’s car, blows her savings on heroin, and then drives out West.

 

And there, Maria meets this young guy named James who she’s sure is a closeted trans woman, but their connection doesn’t go as she plans, her efforts to mentor this young person blow up in this raw and awful way.

 

Before then, I’d never read a novel by a trans woman that was about being a trans woman. To me, it was a very painful book, filled with realities about how you can be a trans woman and transition and think you’ve figured your shit out, but being trans can still fuck up your life in ways you don’t understand. Most intimately, it’s about how two people who have been marginalized in similar ways are just completely unable to speak to each other. It’s also just conversational and easy and such a fun fucking book to read. An excerpt:

 

So they became friends, they ate lunch together, it was a new relationship, even though it wasn’t

supposed to be a make-out relationship. They talked about stuff, he explained stuff to her—he loves to

explain stuff—and she was like, oh my god, here is a person who knows the real smart truth about

transitioning! Gender truly is a construct!

 

Eventually you can’t help but figure out that, while gender is a construct, so is a traffic light, and if you

ignore either of them, you get hit by cars. Which, also, are constructs.

 

They fucked in a Burritoville bathroom.

 

He managed to kind of fuck her with a packer in a tiny, dirty yellow bathroom downstairs in the

Burritoville on Second and Sixth. She managed to keep her skirt on the whole time and not let her touch her junk. She certainly didn’t come. Maybe he did. There were greasy patches on the mirror and since the bathroom was so small she pressed her face against it while he kind of fucked her, and then when they left there was grease all over her cheek. It was hard to wash off. She was like, cool, punk rock, degradation, kinky sex, how queer and great. That was her sleaziest moment. It seemed like, from then on, she’d be building a body of work about the interesting sex she’d had, but those stories never really materialized. That time at Burritoville, that was pretty much it.

 

            She’s thinking, I think I just don’t get sex, while she shoulders her bike and starts climbing stairs.

 

Maria’s life was both not my experience and totally my experience. (Also, sidebar: Though the passage of Nevada I read earlier might indicate otherwise, Maria identifies as a dyke and dates and mostly sleeps with women.)  I cry every time I read it. And I got to read Nevada early on, a few months before it was published. It was an intimate, lone experience I’ll always carry with me, feeling like I was understood in a way I hadn’t thought, of a need met I’d never been able to verbalize. Then, some months later, it was published, and among a small group of trans women there was a burst of excitement and amazement that a book like it was possible. This basically all took place on blogs and social media. There was even a Facebook group called “People Who Need to Talk About Nevada by Imogen Binnie.”

If you go to Goodreads, many of the top reviews are trans women from early 2013, saying things like
imagine my delight when people on the message boards I belong to started talking about a new book that finally “got” it. Words written from the heart of an eloquent trans woman who was able to finally express all of the things we’d been struggling to get across… (Chloe)

It’s a pretty intense feeling when you start reading a book, and you realize that for the first time in your life you can relate to the narrator in a way you’ve never related to one before. … to see such an integral part of my identity reflected in a character, to have her say/think things that made me feel jubilant, pensive, or just completely fucked up, was an amazingly powerful experience for me. (Joey Alison Sayers)

 

Reading usually makes me fall asleep, even when I’m really into it. I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning reading this book and I’m too wound up to sleep even though I finished it. I’ve never liked anything the way I liked Nevada. I swear I’m not being paid to say that. Holy shit. (Red)

And I also, bee tee dubs, wrote on my blog:

 

I spent most of [two days] reading the book in bed, lots of it drinking whiskey and/or crying and/or grinning and giggling like a dumbass. … It’s a weird feeling to read shitloads of fiction all your life, and then read this book, and realize it’s the first book written specifically for someone like you to read it.

 

There is more than available. So much of the response after Nevada was published, the violent-feelings-explusion this book prompted is, perhaps relatedly to Imogen’s earlier point, lost to locked and deleted Facebook groups and accounts and Twitter feeds. One reaction that did get put in a book, two years later, was in Jamie Berrout’s Otros Valles where she talked about how this chorus of praise generally came from white trans women. So I also don’t wish to say either that communal response in 2013 was some perfect all-inclusive wonderland for all trans women, and I do want to emphasize the following personal sections of this talk are only meant to speak for myself.

There was a strange point not too long ago where if you went looking for books about transgender people, you would find them, and there were dozens…but they were near-universally either a) books by cis people or b) memoirs that were by trans people but hewed to a fairly normative line, that they were born with this Terrible Thing, and then they transitioned, and it was Hard, but Worth It, and now they’re just a nice Normal Person. An exception that comes to mind is Leslie Feinberg, whose book Stone Butch Blues is a very meaningful novel. But generally, if  you went to seek out books on trans subjects specifically written by trans women, the cisgender authors and the normative memoirs were literally the only things there.

 

A lot was messed up about that huge body of writing—and for the first kind particularly, I’d recommend Trish Salah’s Lyric Sexology No. 1 for a creative and incisive response to it. But what affected me particularly about that huge body of writing was the absence of what it meant to be a trans woman attracted to women. For a long time, it was decreed by psychologists, academics, doctors, radical feminists (who we would now call “TERFs” or trans-exclusive radical feminists) that transsexual women attracted to women were at best, not really transsexuals and just cross-dressers or something, and at worst, were rapists and perverts. For a long time, if you wanted to get medical treatment, they wouldn’t give it to you if you didn’t tell them you were only attracted to men, you were invalid from the get-go. For a number of significant years, I believed my attraction to women meant I couldn’t be one, and I can’t begin to tell you how doorless and lonely that felt.

 

By the time Nevada came out, I’d transitioned and I’d realized that was all bullshit. I knew, at that age, that trans women were unquestionably women, and trans women could sleep with women regardless of the state of their genitals and still be unquestionably women. I knew that smart and well-intentioned trans women could also do really shitty things, and I knew they could be kind and pissy in the same hour, and I knew that just like any other person going through their day they had their own plethoric array of beauty and weirdnesses and faults. I knew that trans women didn’t have road maps for their lives the way many other people did, and that as a trans woman, I would have to create a life for myself that the world wouldn’t understand or give me precedent for.

 

Intellectually I knew all that. But it was still deeply powerful and wrenching to see similar experiences presented in a novel. Though I’d written plenty about being trans at that point, nothing about Nevada had occurred to me as possible. I didn’t realize a creative and beautiful and sad book about transsexual stuff could exist in the same way as my other favourite books. And furthermore, the point I really want to make, is that I never consciously thought that to myself “Gee Casey, books are great, and you should be a writer, but this deep dive into messed-up trans women shit is off-limits for novels.” Reading Nevada was not like a repudiation of barriers I had previously and consciously denied myself— unlike, say, the actual act of transitioning—Reading Nevada was more like a Plato’s cave moment. Now, in 2018, there are plenty of corners of literary culture echoes these concerns, that understand why literature that speaks to different marginalized experiences can have certains kinds of power. But this was the first time this had personally happened to me.
Imogen wrote the first draft of Nevada in 2008 and years later re-wrote it in 2012 before it was published in 2013. That summer, she did an interview with Dan Fishback, who asked her:

 

Even though you have a real community of trans women in your life, did you experience the process of hiding out to write Nevada as a form of, like, imagined community-building?  Like – did you conjure, in your mind, a sense of trans woman community beyond what you experience IRL, and did your relationship with that community change as you wrote?

 

Part of Imogen’s response:

 

If I’d been thinking ‘Man, wait til the community sees this, this is really gonna shake shit up,’ I never would’ve been able to finish it. I would’ve sat in my basement garage bedroom in Oakland where I did most of the work on this book, listening to Converge albums and fantasizing about being smarter than I am and getting rewarded for it. [thinking about an audience] just makes me feel self-conscious and like somebody else could probably do a better job so maybe I should just be quiet and wait.

I empathize with Imogen on this. For me, when I’m alone in my room, trying to put truth on the page in an interesting and emotional way, I’m not thinking about the ways writing might be able to “build community” or “change the world” or whatever. I’m just trying to put some truth on the page in a way that I can live with myself afterward.

 

And as for Imogen, my guess is she couldn’t have predicted the ways that her book would mark a turning point, that it would come out on the precipice of this cultural shift in mainstream notions of transness—not only because it happened to get published at a time that people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock suddenly became famous and were unapologetic and incisive in the politics they brought with them, but also because it coincided with a time where a LOT more trans women were coming out, many of whom took value from a book like that and went looking for cultural objects made by trans people.

So it became a bridge in this way I doubt, in 2008, Imogen could have understood as she was writing. I know she did hope it would do some of the work it did, but I don’t think she could have imagined it being a part of the world we have now at all.

You know, I wrote this story once called “Other Women” for an anthology called The Collection: Short Fiction From the Transgender Vanguard, which on its release was the first thing I’d ever written to end up in a book. Towards the end of the story I wrote, the main character has sex her high school best friend, and that sex turns non-consensual, and eventually she leaves in a fight and goes and sleeps with her friend’s roommate. I’ve since had trans women come up to me and say that story did something for them, and I’ve seen that story talked about in the context of trans women experiencing sexual assault. Those trans women readers telling me this means the world to me, it really does. It really does.

 

But, I didn’t write it thinking that would happen. I just had this story I had to get out and I felt so alone writing it but I just had this force in me telling me I had to do it. From wherever the fuck my own mix of experiences and creative inspiration comes from. And when I did think of how the story might be received? I didn’t imagine good things, I thought trans women readers would hate it, I’d thought they’d think that I was giving us a bad name.

 

Now, like I said, it means the world to me that it didn’t shake out like that. But my takeaway from that experience wasn’t to focus on how my writing could be good for the world, my takeaway was that focusing on that wasn’t helpful.

The point I wish to make is that so much of the exciting stuff books are capable of, the cathartic and intimate and world-changing power that specifically fiction and personal essays and memoir might hold—to me that power is not necessarily harnessable or predictable in the act of writing. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but thinking of how my writing might collide with the world doesn’t help me, and maybe it doesn’t help you either, and if it doesn’t that’s okay.

 

Thinking about a reader—a person alone in a room who feels like I do, that helps me. Thinking about “the world” is like ahhhhh! No.

 

Now, this is not to say that when we are publishing work, we shouldn’t consider how the world will react. I do believe publishing work is not free of moral considerations, I do believe in sensitivity reading, and I do believe in being conscious of politics and ethics when one is finishing a work and preparing it for publication. So maybe this is all just a larger and me-specific rant on that old Stephen King line he got from an editor, which is: “Write with the door closed, re-write with the door open.” I do think there’s a lot of truth in that. So I guess what I’m trying to share is that for me the course of writing something relies heavily on itinerary. That whether I’m writing a short story story or an essay or a novel, that for me the first parts of that journey involve shutting out the world, and the last parts involve letting it back in.

 

Again, maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but when I’ve tried to figure out how to write out the weird messed-up stories and dreams and pains that come from my head, that’s the only thing that’s worked for me. And further, I think one of the most exciting things about being present in your writing, about writing what’s burning inside of you, getting out the things you don’t understand, that trouble you, that excite you, that keep you up at night in ways both horrifying and delicious, is that, like Imogen Binnie in her basement in 2008, you don’t understand how your writing might end up a bridge, a marker of what was happening in a certain point in time. You have no idea what your writing might do, and I think that’s lovely.

 

Which brings me back around to where I started, about my own failures of memory, and what that might have to do with being a writer.

 

So I want to make one last point. When I was younger, I often heard young people needed “experiences” to write, which was basically a way of the speaker expressing that the experiences they found younger people writing about inadequate. Or some such bullshit. I’ll take as an example Michelle Tea, one of my favourite writers, a queer woman who’s written a lot of memoirs and autofiction. It’s wild to go back and read trade reviews of her books from a couple decades ago, like Valencia and The Chelsea Whistle and see them slag her, but then see that they love her current stuff like Black Wave and Against Memoir. On one hand, from a craft perspective, sure I can see how her more recent books are more tightly composed, on the other hand, she’s in many ways still talking about the same things!

 

So in some ways I’m just bringing that up to kind of shake my fist against the curmudgeons who told me the “young people need experiences” thing years ago. But to bring it back around to what I began talking about, about getting harassed with my friend on the train: If you’re old enough to come to a lecture hall of your own volition, you’re old enough to not be able to fathom all the shit that you’ve got forgotten. Amnesia isn’t linear. I wish I’d written more in my late teens when I was twenty-twenty-one, even if it never got published, whatever, I wish I had those insights now into what I was experiencing then. Like had I done that then, it would be helping me write stuff and make sense of my world today, in a smarter, kinder, and more accountable way. I hope that makes some sense. I promise there are worlds of beautiful words inside of you, and you don’t know what they’re going to mean, and that’s okay, and I hope you write them.

 

Ok, that’s all for me.

 

?

About a year ago, I re-united with an old, close friend I then hadn’t spoken to in six years (Maybe she’s reading this—hi friend! Feel free to dispute if I fuck this story up.) Over a short time we gradually caught each other up with the many things that had happened to us in the interim.
 
As we were talking, she brought up this one time we were in Portland on the MAX together (this would’ve been ~2007-2009) and some guys started giving me shit for wearing a skirt. Pointing and laughing and jeering etc. I just stood up and quietly said something like “let’s go over here” and moved to the other end of the car. She told me, years later, that she’d always felt bad about this, that she didn’t say something, that she didn’t stand up for me.
 
The funny thing is: I don’t remember this happening. It doesn’t even, like, jog a memory or anything. Of course, I completely believe my friend—this would’ve been such a common experience for me back then, (including the “pals saying nothing” part) that it doesn’t surprise me individual moments have blended together. Obviously, when that kind of thing happens now, and it happens much less, it really eats at me.
 
I’ve thought about that a lot in the last year. I realized, among other things, that for a long time, my prime fear when I went out in girl’s clothing was that I was going to get hurt. Every time it didn’t happen (and though there were some scary moments, thanks to luck and privilege it never did/has yet, knock on wood) I counted it as a win, no matter what guys on the MAX or wherever was saying. For a long time, that stuff just didn’t have the effect on me necessary for an entry into the long-term memory. (Whereas I can tell you every shitty thing my parents said to me from that period, for example.) So it’s strange to think about, and go like: “Oh YEAH that was a constant experience for like a WHILE. Gee, that probably had an effect on me I don’t understand, eh?”
 
Why am I bringing this all up? For one, because I can’t help wonder what else it is that I don’t remember. What used to be so commonplace that I don’t recall, both the things I braved and the things I whined about and needed a shitty hand-hold all the way through. But beyond that, what unnerves me is thinking how this might work on a larger human scale, which traumas and gifts for which we might sustain mass amnesia and by default can’t name.

Coke

Of all the turbulent, dreading, apocalyptic thoughts I had in the immediate weeks following last year’s November 8, one very weird one kept crystallizing out of nowhere: I hate cocaine. I do. I hate how I can literally see the empathy drain out of a person’s brain as they do more of it, and I hate what it provokes in myself: Not just the compassion-decrease, but the stomach-lifting turning of night into day, how it makes three in the morning feel like three in the afternoon. It was looking at the picture in this article of that awful man’s shitty fucking mug that made me think this. For as much as I hate coke (and I guess maybe one of the understandable draws of it to many?) it always gave me the feeling of a world opening up to unlimited ersatz possibilities—it’s just that that scares and terrifies me, I guess; when I imagine unlimited possibilities it’s rarely any of the good ones. ETA: I don’t hate people who partake; I’ve got vices others hate for good reason myself. I just feel this way personally about the drug itself, for me.

I was working part-time in a porn shop during the election, and across from the counter where I sat were the dildos: Huge big honkin’ dildos up to 18 inches with unabashed hypermasculine ad copy. One of the huge ones was called “THE GREAT AMERICAN CHALLENGE” and a lot of them had “BUILT IN U.S.A.” with big American flags on them. BUILT in U.S.A, Not made, BUILT. Like made was too wussy a term but BUILT meant a hard-working average Joe in a factory personally assembled this 18-inch polyurethane cock with his own damn God-fearing American hands.

When I stared across the store from the register at these enormous flourescent-lit dicks in the initial wake of the election, they would always lead my thoughts back to Trump. Look, I’ve worked on all sides of the sex industry, and I’ve been a sex worker, and I have a lot of mental tune-out armour against misogynistic whorephobia and transmisogynistic junkphobia and the swarming rapey wall of male want every woman has to navigate…and yet, in November 2016, these dicks I had to look at for hours every day just etched things in me I can’t quite articulate or comprehend. The hypermasculinity, this aggressiveness, these slabs of plastic just immediately transported me to a world of bright 3 AM teeth-grinding sun of being sure you are right, about everything, about everything being subservient to a man’s cock, about banging more hot girls, more hot skinny pretty fucking girls, everywhere, about more and more and bigger and bigger and bigger in a long unlit night that feels like the day, the cold feeling like warmth, other people meaning nothing, the wind meaning nothing.

One of the last shifts I worked, in January, an older man called to tell me, in the most sober-sounding, unprank-ish voice, that he was coming down to the store in 20 minutes to put his huge penis in my mouth. Of course he didn’t follow through on this, but I hated what I immediately knew: That I would be jumpy for a bit anyway, that fear would reawaken and bubble things that have happened to me, and also soon enough that bubbling would quiet down and go away and I’d forget about it. Which is what happened. I’ve been sexually assaulted by a stranger, funnily enough he didn’t alert me on the phone beforehand.

I guess this man hated women so much that making this call to a stranger did something for him? Like I guess it scratched an itch. He had a reason and it must have been satisfied, I guess. I don’t know. The shop got a LOT of prank calls, uniformly from dumb kids thinking it was hilarious to ask about dildos, but this guy was different, I felt that sense of it right away.

He did not remind me of Donald Trump, of grabbing women by the pussy, but now that I think about it, just typing this, he makes me imagine the coldness of a Bannon or a Miller, whispering one calm threat over the phone, unseen, making malevolent calculations I couldn’t figure while in this warm Canadian winter void of natural light a distractedly brightly lit 18-inch cock proudly built in America burned a hole in my eyes.

From Chandra Mayor

“My mother’s answers to potlucks was invariably a giant vat of chili made with a pound of ground beef seasoned with pepper from a shaker, a giant tin of tomatoes, and a couple of tins of pork and beans. Add cayenne, stir, serve. That, however, is the wrong kind of food domesticity for the queer/feminist crowd—failures again, my mother and I. The last time that I attended a Women’s Studies department potluck, I lost my mind with anxiety, went into some kind of altered insane state, and spent hours making fortune cookies, one at a time, burning the pads of my fingers pressing the hot edges together to make them stick. I filled them with tiny pieces of paper on which I carefully copied out quotes from feminist artists, poets, and theorists. They were a big hit. One prof held up her little feminist fortune and said, “Chandra, the paper is so beautiful! Is it rice paper?” The answer was that no, it was not rice paper. It was regular old computer paper, taken from my printer tray and cut into strips with my daughter’s safety scissors. It only looked like rice paper because the cheap margarine I’d used in the cookies had soaked through everything, making the paper translucent with grease. “Yes, of course,” I said, smiling, toying with my blistering fingers, shame and failure rising up inside. “Rice paper. Lovely, isn’t it?” And I vowed: never again will I try to be this kind of woman, for anyone.”

A girl I used to know

I used to have this friend Sara. She was quiet, she was an alcoholic, she loved drugs, she loved really weird stuff; she kept dead animals in her freezer. She was obsessed with dead things; she wished she was dead so she could be pretty. She was a little older than me, I forget exactly how much. Five-ish years maybe.

I met her in the fall of 2007, when I was re-trying to come out and make moves toward transition. I was 20. Sara’d moved up to Portland and in with a friend, which is how we met, and the first day we did I was wearing a skirt. She thought the skirt was pretty. She was animated about it. She squealed in a way that would have had me eye-rolling years later but back then was like water.

She worked at Victoria’s Secret downtown in the mall. The next time I saw her she said: “I have something for you!” And she put in my hands a pair of girl underwear. They were cotton white with red webbing on the sides, and pictures of apples sliced in half on them. I loved them. I hugged her. She squealed again. And that was it. And the next time I saw her she gave me another pair. Which she did sporadically every time she saw me for well over a year.

It’s hard to think clearly about that point in my life. I’ve started and deleted a few sentences that seem representative. I don’t know. I’ll try. I was living with my old dudely best friend from high school, going to classes, smoking a lot of weed, and feeling really sad. Sometimes I talked about being trans; no one was kind to me about it. A lot of people were mean, many apprehensive and condescending—and there were some people who were nice. Which I cherished. But there’s a difference between nice and kind. That’s semantics I guess, but it’s how I feel: Nice is the thing that won’t hold up against meanness and coldness and cruelty; kind is the thing that does. It’s not always proportionate to the effort a person puts in either, though sometimes it is. Apply that however you like.

I’ve written elsewhere about this period (my essay in Untangling The Knot, mostly) and I don’t know what good it does to type it all out again here. Let’s just say that even in Portlandia it was still not popular or cool in any liberal or gay circle to like trans women, let alone actively support and think about trans women, and there were literally no trans women I would meet and befriend for a while, none, period (Though that fall I would see Elena Rose perform this piece, which was so powerful and I will never forget it.)

I did know and befriend a lot of let’s-end-gender AFAB type folks, and they didn’t really know what to do with me crying about wanting to be “seen as a girl” or “just wanting to be a girl for a little bit”, which was the language I had at the time. Those folks were trying to get away from that—Imogen’s MRR column of  a bit ago about it touches on this exactly. (Queer Community’s still like that in a lot of ways, of course, but trans lady culture is easier to find now in a way that just was so, so much harder back then.) Whipping Girl had just come out, it definitely wasn’t close to penetrating my crowd; the idea that trans women would always be men had a lot of currency and the idea that trans women were women, unconditionally, full stop, was an idea virtually no one but trans women were espousing. It just wasn’t a thing. And I didn’t know any trans women, wouldn’t have an actual conversation with a trans woman until 2009. So. You know.

My other group of friends were high school hometown folks from Eugene, young Democrat types who were down with the gays but still weirded and grossed out by trans girls. I could run around in skirts and that was fine to a point (and I felt blessed for that freedom—still do, really), yet no one wanted me to transition and a lot of people I desperately loved said that loudly and meanly and nobody was there to tell me anything else.

It’s hard to speak plainly and unsentimentally about your womanhood being so unloved—I so badly, and not unconsciously, just wanted someone to tell me that I could be a girl and that being a girl was ok. I did a good job (for the most part) of acting bouncy and happy during that time but I was dying inside. That period of 2006-2009 was my own version of a James H time, I guess—I knew I was trans but I also believed I could never be a woman. I’m grateful it only lasted three-ish years! Yet I’ve still got a lot of bile and crud built up in me from living like that.

Whenever I talk about this point of my life, I usually do so in the context of being disillusioned with queer community and the pervasiveness of transmisogyny in liberal/queer circles/etcetc. But I’ve rarely talked about Sara. What she did for me was so kind, it was a kindness and love and validation I received nowhere else and I can’t begin talking about what it meant to me. I don’t know. It was never a production when she gave me new underwear, it was never creepy or condescending at all, it was always just “Hey, I got these for you.” Like it was the most natural thing in the world. Which, even in my emotionally blanked-out state, it was. She stole underwear for her cis girl friends too. (Which, it probably goes without saying, never slipped my mind for a second.) She wasn’t a gregarious or a performative person, and in public especially she was quiet and shy and nervous, she wanted to be dead. And I doubt she intended it to be this big a deal but she did this thing I’ve never forgotten. She vanished from social media years ago and I don’t talk to the people who knew her anymore. The one trace of her on Google is a student art show she did last year in another state; it’s nice to see she’s both making stuff and alive.

I’ve been thinking lately about social justice Internet discourse and the way we’re supposed to be allies/showing solidarity/etc. I’ve been thinking about the obsessiveness of *We’re Doing It Wrong Here’s Another Way We’re Doing It Wrong* articles and posts and tweets. I’m not thinking about toxicity or rage or judgement, though like you (I’m going to guess) I’ve felt call-out culture breed enough cruelty to want to Never Discuss Anything Again—see any of a dozen wise pieces from Katherine Cross but especially this one and this one. And I’m not thinking about performative politics, though like you (I’m going to guess) I’ve felt political posturing both offline and on get so gross and meaninglessly unproductive. And I’ve taken part in my own share of rage and posturing.

What I’ve been thinking about lately is how social justice Internet discourse promises a nourishment, gives us a goal and something to work towards, gives us a feeling of purification when we discover more things to cut out of our lives, more things to toss aside for being Wrong. It always reminds me of a feeling that a lot of secular people never understood about the intense religiosity I was raised with: The yearning I used to feel for purity, the desire for clear markers on how to be clean, holy, how to live a Godly life, a yearning by no means unique to religious people. It wasn’t born of rage nor posturing but genuine desperation.

If rage is one side of call-out culture’s coin, the other side is the promise of How You Can Be Better. The promise of easy guidance in this hopelessly shifting monster world of Hydra-like evil. The titles of those Everyday Feminism articles, so well-intentioned, always read to me like the worst magazine articles that prey on insecurities, or like the preachers my grandmother watched: “Popular Foods You Need To Stop Eating” “Turn To This Bible Verse In A Time Of Need!” “Oppressive Words To Remove From Your Vocabulary.” Right. Now.

My point is not that social justice Internet discourse is bad! (I think it’s easy to forget how much good it’s done, actually, but that’s another post.) And my point is not that cis people just need to stop reading Everyday Feminism and start blanketing their local trans woman with stolen panties (as fun as that could be for a week). I’m not sure if I know what my fucking point is. I just keep thinking about how, in our day-to-day personal messy-as-fuck human lives where we have to interact with other messy-as-fuck humans, where people are fucking and yelling and working and dying, it’s so easy to overlook who is not receiving kindness and why. And that lots of this “How To Be An Ally To Trans Women” stuff that has sprang up in the last couple years sometimes leaves me feeling really empty, feels so disconnected from the problem every human with a conscience is faced with: of how to be good to the complex people you come face-to-face with in your every day life. Does anybody else feel this way about stuff written about them? Anybody who sorts through People Are Trying To Ally At Me, not just trans women? I don’t want to be a 20-year-old in 2007 anymore—God, I don’t. But 95% of the time when people Ally at me, I still feel myself floating away behind glass until they stop. In the best case senario.

“It’s horrifying!” said the cis gay dude employed as a youth programmer at the LGBT non-profit who brought me in to do a workshop last year at a youth camp. He’d done some training thing in Toronto about trans women. He had the most concerned face. “I didn’t realize all these things about transmisogyny!” This was the summary of his thoughts on the subject. I would love to be gracious about that in an objective sense, think it was a net good he went to whatever that training was, that he needed something like that, that he was gonna be the guy working this job whether he was trying or not—and hey, maybe he’s doing good things for young trans girls right now and a minimal amount of harm. And maybe neither of those things is the case in a serious way—I wish I could be starry eyed about it, but knowing from the previous two years volunteering there how ignorant everyone in that organization was personally about trans women (and where, of course, no trans women worked) He said some nice and correct things but I still left it just feeling so oogy.

But regardless of thinking in the context of community, personally I was sick, realizing how little this man who was paid to watch out for us knew about me or my sisters, how little the specifics and intricacies of my stupid life would mean to him in this context, how anything I might tell him about myself or my experiences would only serve to plug into something from a workshop, what he thought he had carefully learned, as opposed to the fullness of one stupid breathing weird human in front of him, with her own unique sets of shittinesses and talents and needs.

==============

“Check it out!!” Sara said one night at a party at our place (we had a lot of parties). “I got you gay dancing sailor underwear!”

Yeah she did.

Red panties with gay dancing sailor
I hugged her and asked if I could make her a drink.

“Yes.”

“Light, medium, or strong?”

“Strong.” She was such a tiny girl.

I don’t know if I’ve really expressed myself clearly here. Eight years ago I was a sad mess crying out to be a girl but nobody knew how to deal with that. And then another fucked-up mess of a girl didn’t try to talk about it (even if she wanted to, she couldn’t have) and instead did stuff like give me gay dancing sailor panties. I will remember her more than many other people. She was just really fucking kind to me in the most unassuming and beautiful way. I miss her. I miss people like that.

 

 

2012, summer

Last night I went to Cari’s house for Game Night. It wasn’t unusual till the end. I put on a green sundress that I almost never wore. I hadn’t eaten dinner. Alex was going to come but she forgot and went to the beach instead. I hung out with Cari and Stella and their roommate Faith. Cari’s one of the register managers, Stella works in children’s. On the walk to her building, someone behind me yelled, “It’s a maaaaa-a-a-a-a-a-an!” I turned around and two guys were gawking in lawnchairs and the others around them were all hooting. Cari made us Dark and Stormys and we played poker, not for money, for fun. More Dark and Stormys and then wine. A lot more wine. We played BS too. I said I should leave by midnight, which didn’t happen. I’m going home next month, back West, to write and live with my mom after three years in New York. I’d never been away from her before this. I came out to her years ago and she didn’t like that but we’re better now. I miss her so much. I want to be a good daughter to her as much as I was any kind of son. I think by now she wants that too—I hope by now she wants that too. I want to come home. I miss her so, so much. Hanging with Cari and Stella was fun but somewhere it turned not fun. There was more wine and more wine and I mentioned the guys who yelled at me and then I asked them if they could walk me to the subway. Then we got started on trans stuff and I ended up being angry and bitching. I’m angry all the time these days, not angry as in blind-rage angry—testosterone angry—angry as in bitter and cold and cracked angry, Debbie Downer-angry. There was more wine. More and more and more wine. Cari and Stella walked me to the train. They said Please stay at our place but I wouldn’t have it. I was so drunk and I should’ve stayed but I had work the next morning and when I thought about waking up on their couch gross and sweaty and unshowered and ugly—so I hugged them goodbye. “One more time. Please stay at our place,” Cari said. The train was coming. Goodbye sorry! I blacked out on the Q all the way to Times Square. When I got there to transfer I really really really had to pee. The next train was coming in twenty minutes. I went up and up and tried to find a place to piss—Times Square all of places—but it was Tuesday and 2 AM so it wasn’t that crowded. I went into the entrance alcove of some office building on 41st Street and pissed. It was so stupid. Was it stupid? I was so tired by then. I got smart and took a cab home.

Lying in bed, sweating in the summer heat, my room gently whirlpooling around me, streetlight and car sounds fluttering in through the purple curtain over my window, I couldn’t remember faces. I was thinking of Cale, a manager at work, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t picture him. I knew the traits, I remembered blond hair, light eyes, but nothing. I tried Liz, the head floor manager. Nothing. Same thing. I tried my mother. I tried to picture my mother’s face. I couldn’t. I was too drunk. I was so drunk I couldn’t remember what my mother looked like. I was so drunk I couldn’t think.

Silence

Hey folks! A lot has happened since I came around to this place. For one, I took an oatmeal bath tonight and it was great. Like, GREAT. I was hoping it would help with my winter itching. It’s helped a little.

I also released my book, helped put on Writing Trans Genres, protested Germaine Greer at the CMHR, got two new tattoos, taught in New York for a few weeks, ran my love life through a blender, and went on two book tours, one of which literally went around the continent. I am back in Winnipeg now and have been pretty quiet (writing-wise anyway) for the last few months. I am working on another thing, and hopefully by the end of the year the thing might become a Thing. We’ll see. I have started reviewing books for the Winnipeg Free Press. I have an article in The Walrus coming out in April that was a blast to work on. I just published a short story in Rookie.

It hasn’t been as cold as usual here in One Great City, though it is -15C right now (-20C with the windchill). I’ve now been back in Canada for two years as of last Friday. What a time. The Wailin’ Jennys were my constant throughout 2014. Here, have a pretty song: If folk-y stuff and lady harmonies are your thing anyway.

I don’t have a lot else right now. I’m itchy again. Fucking oatmeal.

I wrote a book

Ok I keep meaning to write this post and not doing it BUT like, uh, I have a book coming out! It’s called A Safe Girl To Love and it’s a collection of eleven short stories about young trans women. Four of them have been published before and the rest haven’t.

http://www.topsidepress.com/titles/a-safe-girl-to-love

It’s $16.95 US and you can pre-order it at the link above and it’ll ship out in the next few weeks. If you’re in Winnipeg, we’ll have copies at the Writing Trans Genres conference I’m involved with (http://www.writingtransgenres.com) May 22-24, and I’ll also be doing a co-launch with Trish Salah at my work, McNally Robinson, on June 20. I’m also gonna be doing some touring in early June around the American Northeast with some pretty incredible other Topside ladies like Sybil Lamb, Imogen Binnie, and Red Durkin. Info on that is here: http://topsidepress.com/tour/ There’s a couple NYC dates and also Philly, Providence, Brattleboro VT, Hartford, Baltimore, and Cambridge (though I won’t be around for that last one, bummer). If you feel like pre-ordering one (and/or the other books Topside is releasing y/y?) it’ll help us fund the tour, so that is cool.

And then we’ll be doing a bigger tour in the fall! Around, like, the whole continent and stuff. September 2nd is also when the book’ll be available on Ingram and through distributors to put in stores.

Ok! Done my “I wrote a book” blog post! Phew.

America and Canada

Hi!

There are some kind of cool things I’ve been doing lately, and I will be posting about them in a semi-maybe-kind-of official capacity in a bit. But in the meantime, I just did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time…write a list of Canadian cities and their American equivalents.

Banff = Aspen
Calgary = Dallas and to some extent Phoenix
Nelson = Boulder
Edmonton = Denver
Victoria = Honolulu

Saskatoon = Omaha
Regina = Fargo
Lethbridge = Cheyenne
Timmins = Marquette
Thompson = Williston

St. John’s = Portland, ME
Vancouver = every major American West Coast city rolled into one

Montreal started out as our New York but ended up our Boston
Toronto started out as our Buffalo but ended up our New York
Winnipeg started out as our Chicago but ended up our Minneapolis

Short Stories and Voice

Well, I’m drunk, I can’t sleep, I have to work tomorrow, and I finally picked up and started reading Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God today, and all of this made me want to talk a bit about short stories. Part of this, btw, is because I’ve been finishing a book of short stories in the last few months, and am (HOPEFULLY HOPEFULLY) really close to soon saying “I finished a book of short stories.” So they’ve been on my mind a lot.

A few stories into reading Keret, I thought that it reminded me a lot of when I read Miranda July’s collection of stories. It reminded me so much of how I felt reading her that I Googled “Miranda July Etgar Keret” and it turns out they’ve done a collaboration together. Wowserz! So I guess it’s not just me. I liked July’s book, and I’m liking Keret so far, but neither of them (so far) have really struck me in my heart all that much? (with the very notable exception of July’s story “Something That Needs Nothing,” which really gets me every time for a few different reasons). And I like both their books, maybe it’s like they tickle me in every part of my body except my heart.

It’s not that they’re clinical like the way some super-talented writers are, where the story feels overproduced. I feel this way, say, about most of David Foster Wallace’s Girl With Curious Hair (though I love most of DFW), and George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation (haven’t read any other Saunders though). I guess the weird thing is about books like Keret’s and July’s, is that even though I really enjoy reading them, like really! I’m digging Keret and I dug July! They also remind me of books I love more?

A few months back I read All The Pretty Girls by Chandra Mayor (if you have never heard of her, just get the book now so your reading life can get better). I loved it to fucking bits and it took my heart out for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that it portrays the city of Winnipeg in a way that was very visceral and real to me, and particularly speaks to the world I lived in when I was a kid, which, until I moved back here, I had little else but my memories to relate to. But anyway, in Chandra’s book, the protagonists in her stories seem to be more or less the same woman. And it made me think: I love collections of stories like that. Hell, I just love authors like that. I thought about this a lot too when I read Amy Hempel, which I did very slowly and deliberately for a lot of last year. The voice of her narrator doesn’t really change that much, and I absolutely love that. I really don’t mind. It’s the collections of stories that span all gamuts of characters and internal people that honestly never quite hit home for me, that always feel to me a bit detached. As much as I love the above David Foster Wallace, for instance, his fiction only pushes on my heart in very specific and rare moments, and I wonder if maybe for this reason.

I also get to read with Chandra Mayor in a few weeks at McNally Robinson (I dunno if anybody from Winnipeg will read this blog but HERE’S THE EVENT PAGE JUST IN CASE) so that is kinda stupidly cool and exciting.

I thought about this especially when I re-read Miriam Toews’ Swing Low a couple months ago, her  spare, dark, beautiful book about her father’s suicide, told through his eyes in first-person. Her father, as a character, is so obviously different from Miriam’s usual fictional protagonists: a mid-century Mennonite schoolteacher from Steinbach, Manitoba struggling with bipolar, as opposed to the desperate broke sad apostate girls that make up the protagonists of her fiction. But her writing voice, somehow, to me, is the same. Like I can hear her voice behind the keyboard at the same time that I hear her father speaking. That book hit really hard and close to home the first time I read it (being in my grandfather’s basement in Blumenort, Manitoba at the time probably didn’t help). I cried again reading it this time, though not as much as the first time.

I suppose what I’m trying to say here, though it’s not really that revolutionary a thought, is that I never really connect as much with books when the authors have such a level of wizardry that no story feels the same from one to the next? When there isn’t a voice. That’s how I felt when I read Girl With Curious Hair. While the opening story’s ending just killed me, and the title story absolutely was genius enough to push beyond the Cleverness Mountain, the rest of it was like…it was good, very very good and I liked reading it…but I couldn’t really pick out a voice. Like it was a blast and it was thoughtful but it didn’t move me. I couldn’t really hear him as an author speaking to me (which I do when I read his non-fiction, I should say, which I mostly love quite a bit). And I wonder if that’s why I didn’t love it, like I do his non-fiction, or I love Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Another good example here is Junot Diaz, whose short fiction I finally read this past year, both Drown and This Is How You Lose Her. I mean, he’s done the thing where he’s just put the same dude, Yunior, as the same narrator for every story, but to me it works the same as Amy Hempel or Chandra Mayor: You can hear their voices so strongly and clearly. I love that. So who cares if a dozen stories with ostensibly different names and faces and descriptions swirl together into a mass. (Lorrie Moore is another good example of someone who pulls this off, I think.)

Why am I bringing all this up in a fit of whiskey haze and insomnia at 2:30 in the morning? *scrolls up* Etgar Keret, right. I guess I should really just finish the book. In the meantime, it’s -30 and balls-ass freezing here in One Great City y’all, and my radiator is overheating and I am sweating bullets, so I may actually crack a window. In the meantime, g’night.