Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Transgender Authors -- Identity and Writing

A good friend sent me this link to Lamba Literary, which features a discussion with the directors of a small press that has put out a collection of transgender fiction.

The interview hits on many fascinating subjects, including the directors/editors' desire not to include pictures of trans-people in the anthology to avoid fixation on "the body." There is so much of that -- interest in and pressure about passing and surgery.  The connection between "what you have" and "who you are" is so pervasive, both in and out of the trans community.

But, for me, the more interesting section of the conversation came a little over halfway down the page, when they discussed the sort of submissions they had received for the collection.  The answer: too many "suicide narratives and thinly veiled autobiography."

This made me harken back to a conversation I had with a trans-friend many years ago; we were discussing movies and books that had transgender main characters, and we both articulated the feeling that, while novels and movies and tv shows could now have characters who were gay without their being gay taking the central story line, that was not true of trans-folk.  If a character was transgender... that WAS the story.

So, this conversation amongst the Topside editors made the claim that trans writers need to learn how to tell their stories -- "there are no archetypes or narratives constructed for trans-people."  Agreed.  Kind of.  I do heartily agree with the notion that trans-writers need to try out form and content beyond the "coming out" and "oppression" sorts of narratives.  But I also think that archetypes and (grand) narratives are exactly that: they fit everyone.  There's the old fiction writing saw about how only two storylines exist: a stranger comes to town and someone leaves town.  Or something like that.  What's the matter with that applying to trans-folk, too?

Further down, the distinction is made between writing about "who trans people are... and what trans people are thinking."  This, to me, is much more important, a real call to action.  Transgender fiction must be beyond identity, beyond the body... and into the realm of desire, motive, idea.   But I'd argue that's just what GOOD fiction should be about.

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