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Rachel Wexelbaum brings something extra to her reviews. She is the curator of the LGBT literature collection at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and she uses her expertise in the field to add perspective to her reviews of LGBT books for Lambda Literary Review.
Thus her review of ‘Coming Out Can Be Murder’ (posted January 31, 2013 at http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/01/31/coming-out-can-be-murder-by-renee-james/) not only talks about the story of Bobbi Logan, it also reviews data that illustrate how marginalized transgender people are in American society.
One of her most gratifying comments about ‘Coming Out Can Be Murder’ begins with the observation that trans people are often dismissed and discarded by society and “these realities have often trickled down into stereotypes of transpeople as pathetic figures in movies and television shows. It is a pleasure to read a novel with an approachable transgender character who is neither a clown nor a stereotype,” she says.
Her comments about finding an LGBT character in genre fiction (i.e., the Mystery/Suspense genre) are especially interesting to me, since marketing this book has been especially difficult.
“Writing genre fiction about LGBT characters and issues is a challenge, as certain readers interested in the topic but not the genre may avoid the book,” Wexelbaum writes, adding that she seldom reads mysteries and would not have read this one had we not connected in a discussion of one of her other reviews.
In fact, many other intellectuals have rejected ‘Coming Out Can Be Murder’ without reading it because it was marketed as a mystery/suspense novel. This includes several leaders in the transgender community. Other reviewers passed on reading it because it dealt with transgender subjects. But there is an even larger bias books like mine have to overcome to be read: Most establishment reviewers won’t touch books from non-traditional publishers. The book trade lumps all of these titles into the “self-published” category, which is even more stigmatized in the book industry than transgenders are in American society.
All of which makes Rachel Wexelbaum’s willingness to review ‘Coming Out’ all the more remarkable, and her observations all the more appreciated. She concludes her remarks about the book this way:
“After reading ‘Coming Out Can Be Murder’, I may be more likely to browse murder mysteries in the future, if for no other reason than to find ones with LGBT characters and themes. At the same time, murder mystery fans not searching for LGBT stories will pick up ‘Coming Out Can Be Murder simply because of its genre. These readers will receive a lesson in empathy and transgender awareness where they may least expect it.”
Lambda Literary Review (www.lambdaliterary.org) is an on-line magazine dedicated to reviewing LGBT books, many of which would otherwise be ignored by traditional review sources. You can subscribe on-line without charge.
Nervous? Yes. My novel Coming Out Can Be Murder was being honored, along with three other books. As part of the proceedings, I would be doing a 10 minute reading in front of fifty or so people. For most of them, it would be the first time they ever heard a transgender person talk about what it’s like to be trans.
I felt unprepared, even though I had read and rehearsed my presentation countless times before walking to the front of the room. I was the second reader. The first was a gentleman named Kelly Farley, whose book, Grieving Dads, won the non-fiction prize for Indie (ie, self-published) books. His reading—and indeed, his entire book—was raw and powerful and unbelievably moving. We would buy two copies of it. As I walked to the front of the room, all I could think about was, good grief, what a hard act to follow….
It was a friendly group and as I started my introduction, I relaxed and disregarded my carefully penned notes. I introduced my book, the winner for Indie fiction, as a coming-of-age story about a Chicago transsexual dealing with the stigmatism of transitioning while also tracking down the man who murdered a transwoman friend and got away with it.
The passage I read was from early in the book, as Bobbi Logan reflects on the carnage of her career two weeks after coming out at work.
I’m sure this sounds immodest, but it was an electric moment for many in the audience and for me. The audience hung on Bobbi’s words right from the start. I could feel it. This was a moment of conception for them, the moment where they really understood what it’s like to be transgender, what’s behind the large, masculine person wearing women’s clothes and makeup, why we do it, what it costs us.
It was electric for me, too, because that is what I most wanted to achieve with the publishing of Coming Out Can Be Murder. I wanted straight people and gay and lesbian people and Republicans and Democrats and atheists and believers and people of all colors and ethnicities to read this book and identify with Bobbi Logan, to feel what it’s like to be Bobbi, to see what she sees and hear what she hears so that the next time they saw someone like me on a train or in a bar or at book reading they would find it easy to say, “Hi, some weather we’re having, eh?”
When the readings and presentations were over, a number of people bought my book and asked me to sign it. The other authors were busy too, and conversation flowed free and easy. Some was about the transgender experience, some about the loss of a child, some about small town Iowa, the setting for Temple of Air, Patricia Ann McNair’s winning entry in the Traditionally Published Fiction category. Several of my friends from the transgender community attended and shared in the laid back atmosphere. It was a great time and a great experience.
I am reading my signed copy of Temple of Air now and marveling that anyone can write so lyrically and yet so powerfully. I will consume Grieving Dads very slowly because it takes me to a place that is darker and more frightening than any I have ever been. Nothing is worse than losing a child and Kelly Farley doesn’t sidestep any of the horror that is part of that journey.
My next read will be Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, the much heralded short story collection by Christine Sneed. Christine was the judge who chose my book for the Non-Traditional Fiction award, which is just as humbling as the award itself. Ms Sneed’s critical acclaim as a writer is the stuff the rest of us only dream of. By rights, she should have a massive ego and be careful about associating with Indie writers like me. But instead, she is warm and personal. This is good because now, when I read her book, I won’t have to swallow my jealousy at her poetic use of the language and her story telling gift. I can just enjoy the brilliance of a friend.
Writing aside, I am learning from all this. I came to realize that joining the Chicago Writers Association several years ago was a great piece of blind luck for me. I’ve never been to any of the CWA functions, but I joined a group of writers meeting regularly to critique each other’s work. The group was extremely influential in my book, from the character development to the plot lines. The writers were very helpful when I was trying to evaluate some very strange criticism I got from a university professor (not from an Illinois university).
The group was headed by Randy Richardson, who is also the president of CWA. He was working on his own book, Cheeseland, which was published last fall. It is a tense, gritty story about two boyhood friends dealing with a secret tragedy from their past as middle age adults. Randy kept me and many other Chicago authors informed about CWA events, including the awards competition. He also has a job and a family and should probably write a book on multi-tasking someday.
I have also learned I need to get out more. I’ve always feared the social side of writing because it seemed like it could be a trap—for some, talking about writing is easier than doing it. Now I realize it’s the opposite for me, and talking with other writers is the best way to learn about the many things I don’t know about book publishing.
And I learned once again the powerful impact of human relationships. A half-dozen or so of my friends from the transgender community made their way to the event just to support me. One lady came from Indiana, and everyone had to deal with the frigid weather and paucity of parking places. And my beautiful wife was there for moral and spiritual support. She has always been there, of course. She read and edited all of the many drafts the book went through, she critiqued my readings and cast the telling vote on which passage to use at the event. Most of all, she has accepted me as I am.
Renee James’ first novel is one of two finalists in CWA’s “Non-Traditional Fiction” category, which is open to print-on-demand and self-published books. Winners in each of four categories will be named by December 1.
The CWA competition is the second in which “Coming Out Can Be Murder” has won Finalist status. Last summer, the book won Finalist honors in a ForeWord Reviews competition for first-novel authors.
“I am very flattered to have my work recognized by the Chicago Writers Association,” said Renee James. “I know CWA is a vibrant, active group of writers who have the highest standards for writing. This is a great honor.”
In naming the finalists, CWA president Randy Richardson said, “The idea of the awards is to bring attention to books that are truly deserving. I applaud not only the finalists but all of those who entered the competition. They are all deserving of attention. Unfortunately, we can’t award all of them.”
Learn more about “Coming Out Can Be Murder” and author Renee James at www.reneejamesauthor.com.
Lexie Cannes is the stage name of a transwoman activist who is an actress and film maker as well as one of the country’s leading bloggers on transgender topics. “The Guerrilla Angel Report” is an unrelenting source of transgender news from around the country and around the world and Lexie is followed by thousands of people inside and outside of the trans community.
I feel incredibly fortunate that Ms. Cannes would take the time to read and review Coming Out Can Be Murder–and even more fortunate that she liked the book.
While I hope her review of Coming Out Can Be Murder encourages people to buy the book, I also hope that anyone who reads my material will take the time to review Lexie’s blog site. She is an exceptional journalist and her blog is a definitive look at the state of the transgender community today.
Book review of “Coming Out Can Be Murder”
– a murder-mystery written by a trans woman
by Lexie Cannes
THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — In short, thumbs up! Written by Renee James, a trans activist from the Chicago area, ”Coming Out Can Be Murder” cleverly introduces murder-mystery readers into the lives of transgender people. People curious about everything trans would not do wrong to start here.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of fiction or novels, however, I found myself nodding along with the way how trans people are correctly portrayed in the book — for all practical purposes, the book is non-fiction in that regard. I liked how the author avoided trying to be 100% PC. Hardly anyone lives real life that way, and trans people are no exception.
There are tough moments in the book — certain passages may difficult for some to get through, but for many trans people, these things are every day facts of life — closing a book and putting it back on the shelf is not an option for trans people. The author doesn’t exploit trans people by turning them into creepy villains nor does she whitewash the lives of trans people. The level of realism in the book is quite high.
I’m giving “Coming Out can be Murder” a thumbs up!
Book publisher: www.windycitypublishers.com
Each Be-All has a life of its own in terms of personal experiences, and I knew this one would be special if only for the fact that the 2012 Be-All was where my novel was released.
It was even richer and more pleasing than I anticipated.
My Best Book Launch Ever
Well, okay, it was also my only book launch ever, but it was great! We had wonderful attendance, even though the time competed with a casino outing and a seminar on polite BDSM. My project manager, the lovely Francesca Amari, wooed conferees in by opening and closing the show with her spectacular singing…Francesca is a cabaret singer (a brilliant one) in her ‘other’ life.
The audience seemed to enjoy the readings and raffles, and Windy City Publishers president Lise Marinelli made the entire presentation go perfectly.
We sold a number of books and several people actually read them before the conference was over…oh be still my soaring ego!
My heartfelt thanks to all who attended and all who helped with the event.
Honoring transgender veterans
My book launch wasn’t the only emotionally stirring event—there were several. The most remarkable of them was a special luncheon ceremony to honor military veterans from the transgender community.
One of our number, Ashley, conducts honor ceremonies for veterans as part of her job. She presented the program, complete with color guard and music.
The ceremony produced many memorable moments included the sight of the transgender veterans standing simultaneously to receive group recognition. There were a lot of us! At least one out of four people in the room were veterans—and impressive sight when our federal government is still dithering about “allowing” LGBT people to serve in the armed forces.
In point of fact, when things are tough our country has trouble attracting enough people to serve without injecting gutter-level bigotry into the equation. Most of us in the ceremony served in our male birth gender and dealt with our gender issues later in life. It was an extra burden to carry, certainly, but we served honorably…some (not me) heroically.
An interesting footnote to that last remark: one of my sisters was cited for serving a second tour in Vietnam years after her first, to honor a fallen comrade. I can’t even imagine the courage and sacrifice this took…it would be like voluntarily re-entering a nightmare and staying in it for a full year.
Think about that lady next time you hear Rush Limbaugh or any of this country’s other draft-dodging cowards sound off on the fitness of trans, gay or lesbian people to serve!
Stirring the Ashes of Vietnam…Again
For me personally, the most moving moment of the conference came when Ashley welcomed home the Vietnam veterans in the room.
Many of us came home to a society that was variously hostile or indifferent to our service. People who supported the war sometimes regarded us as drug abusers and losers, while those opposed to the war considered us baby-killers. My personal experience coming home was that no one else in my circle of friends and business acquaintences had served and no one cared one way or the other about the war. So I had no one else to talk to about what I had experienced for the past two and a half years, including an 18-month stint in Vietnam.
Even though I had an easy and safe job, coming home from Vietnam was a very difficult transition. For several years, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to other people and had feelings of alienation for longer than that. I can’t even imagine what it was like for those who served in combat roles.
So Ashley’s welcome home to us was special. Surprisingly so for me…I don’t engage much in sentiment. Maybe because of my gender and service issues, I tend to maintain an emotional distance from ceremonies like this one. But even for me, it was nice. It felt good.
And the feeling kept growing as the presentation went on.
Ashley concluded the presentation by having us sing God Bless America. This is where it really got to me. Picture if you will an army-hating transgender atheist standing at attention in full salute singing a song that she always considered corny.
But going through my mind was the final scene of the movie The Deer Hunter…the close knit family and friends of the three young men who had gone off to war have just buried one of them. Still in their mourning clothes, they huddle together in a dim, dingy bar and grill after the funeral. The mood is strained, depressed. There is no traction for conversation. The owner of the bar and grill starts making scrambled eggs and hums to himself to break the tension. He hums God Bless America. Slowly, in small, broken voices, one after the other of the gathered friends begins to sing along…not as a Hollywood chorus but as a tightly knit community of friends who have come together in grief.
It wasn’t corny. It was the homecoming I never had. Most of us never had.
Until 2012, forty years later, standing there in a dress, trying to remember how to salute, singing the words, tears welling up, my mind playing flashbacks of The Deer Hunter, and the blizzard of names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the people I knew there, the trans people sharing the moment.
In a strange and admittedly corny way, I feel like I’m finally home.
And then a dose of reality…
As a trans person, I’ve come to believe that life is full of bruising missteps just to keep us appropriately humble.
Any threat of an ego trip in my life was cured by a very brief visit with one of our speakers, a high-ranking federal government employee who delivered a brilliant speech about her career as a transgender woman.
At the end of the session, I approached her to ask if we might have a copy of her remarks for the Chicago Gender Society newsletter.
“No,” she said. It was a rebuke, as in, how dare you ask. Not, sorry but I really can’t because of department regulations. Or no, it’s against policy. Or, no, I’ve had some bad experiences.
It was, no, you’re an ass for even asking.
The funny thing is, in any other environment, I would have assumed the unpleasant response was rooted in an objection to my transgender presentation, but that was not a factor here. She was warm and pleasant to everyone else.
I spent a lot of time puzzling over what might have set her off, but couldn’t come up with anything other than maybe she confused me with a journalist from a major news organization. I’ve given up solving that riddle while I wrestle with a more challenging consideration: which is worse, being scorned for how I look (ie, transgender) or what someone perceives me to be?
I probably won’t solve that, either, but fortunately I have a lot of government-hating conservative friends among whom drawing the ire of a government bureaucrat has sent my street cred soaring.
It’s good to live in America….
The Unabridged Chick book review blog is remarkable for Audra’s very thorough and insightful reviews. I asked her to review Coming Out Can Be Murder out of sheer admiration for the quality of her work. I was elated when she agreed to read the book, but also intimidated–Audra is very well read and a very accomplished critic, and if she found my book mediocre or bad, it would be bruising…
So when I read her review (copied below) I had all kinds of emotional reactions, from shortness of breath and weak knees to an episode of manic giddiness.
In posting Audra’s review link, I’d like to also encourage everyone to explore the Unabridged Chick site for great reading recommendations. Like other independent bloggers, Audra does a wonderful job of guiding readers to great books in the indie and small press segments of the book industry…and away from the success formulae of the traditional book publishers and establishment review media.
Here is the link: http://unabridged-expression.blogspot.com/p/books-read-this-year.html
Title: Coming Out Can Be Murder
Author: Renee James
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Chicago / Murder Mystery / Hate Crime / Transgender Women / Hair Dresser)
Publisher/Publication Date: Windy City Publishers (6/1/2012)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: Oh yes — this was a must-get-to-the-end-before-I-go-to-sleep read!
One-sentence summary: A transgender woman finds herself seeking the killer of a friend in Chicago.
Do I like the cover?: I do — it captures the thematic elements of the book and reminds me a bit of old school murder mystery covers.
I’m reminded of…: Achy Obejas
First line: She coos the words in his ear, her voice oddly androgynous, neither fully feminine, nor distinctly male.
Did… I rave about this book so much my wife took it out of my hands the moment I was done?: YES! At least she waited until I was finished this time!
Is… this is an exciting murder mystery for anyone, even though unfamiliar with the trans community?: YES! James uses Bobbi’s transition to help the reader understand Bobbi’s life and experiences as a transwoman, and I don’t think readers will be intimidated by not ‘knowing’ about transgender folks.
Do… I want to go to Chicago after reading this book?: YES! I love Chicago and books like this make me super excited to visit it again and/or move there.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you’re a murder mystery fan:
Why did I get this book?: I love Chicago, I do like a good murder mystery now and then, and the unique premise of this book got me from the start.
Review: This is another book my wife tore out of my hands because I gushed too much, too soon. We both adored Achy Obejas’ short story “Destiny Returns” from Chicago Noir and this book reminded me greatly of Obejas’ story: the wonderful use of place and the bright light shone on the experience of those on the margins of society. James’ novel is about a transgendered hairdresser, whose personal life is already emotionally tumultuous — she’s working on coming ‘out’ wholly as a woman without, hopefully, losing her job — when she learns that a friend, another transgender woman, is brutally murdered.
Concerned that police aren’t moving on solving the murder, Bobbi tracks the man believed to be the murdered, and unsurprisingly, this leads Bobbi into some serious danger. The story flips between Bobbi’s first person account and the murderer’s life, and it’s chilling (delightfully, deliciously, angry-making-ly). This is a political thriller in some ways, unintentionally, but by virtue of the fact that the murder of a transgendered woman is often under-reported in media and poorly investigated. I loved that nuance to this story — the violent death of anyone is horrible but James really lifts up the fears and anger from a community that often has to watch silently as society ignores the violence they face.
I loved the characters and James’ writing, and Bobbi passed my I-want-her-to-be-my-bestie test. She’s smart and funny, nervous and bold, scared and surprisingly strong, and very real. She’s also a sexual person with desires and lusts, and James doesn’t hide that. There’s some sex (PG-13ish, I’d say), and some romance, and I loved it all — and I was really delighted that James doesn’t hide Bobbi in anyway. The secondary characters were just as appealing as the main characters, and again, I was so taken with the mix of crime and social/political commentary.
This is a fantastic murder mystery — don’t be scared off by the focus on the transgender community. Even if you’re unfamiliar with what ‘transgender’ means isn’t a problem as James provides context and explanation. As Bobbi goes through the process of coming out as a transwoman and what that means, James brings the reader along the whole time, and I dare anyone not to be moved.
I am so eager to see James’ next endeavor, and I kind of hope Bobbi shows up again. She’s a heroine I’m rooting for, and James’ Chicago is a place I want to visit again. Give this book a try, especially this summer: this is a fun, quick-but-meaty murder mystery that is engrossing from the first page to the last.
$12.99 in paperback, $4.99 for Kindle. The book releases June 1.
If you’re in the Chicago area, please come to the official book launch on May 31 at the Be-All Convention, 3:30, Downers Grove Doubletree Hotel. There will be music and laughter and a chance to buy signed first editions for just $12.99.
With the national rollout of Coming Out Can Be Murder coming up (June 1), I am busy planning a book launch party for the afternoon of May 31 at the Chicago Be-All Convention (Downers Grove Doubletree Suites Hotel, Downers Grove, IL).
In addition to music and fun, the launch party will include readings from the book by two very accomplished actresses: Honey West and Silke Lienhardt. I’m going to publish a few of the excerpts we are considering for the readings. If any of them evoke a positive negative reaction for you, please share!
This excerpt comes from early in the story. Narrator and heroine Bobbi Logan has just learned that her friend and hairdressing client is the victim of a brutal murder. She is still anguishing over the news as she goes to a meeting of the TransGender Alliance group….
MURDER IS AN ABSTRACT concept to most of us. Violent crime is something that happens to people who live in bad neighborhoods, or to sex workers. Oh most of us in the trans world get verbally abused, even physically intimidated. But mostly these acts are blows to our pride. They make us feel like freaks, unwelcome, unwanted members of polite society.
Mandy’s death is a shock on many levels. She was my friend and I am grieving for her. I had no idea Marilee and Mandy knew each other but she must be the client Marilee was talking about on Saturday. And her death is a message to all us trannies: no matter where you are, who you are or how good you look, you are not safe. You will never be safe.
Mandy was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, trans or genetic. She was beautiful even before she transitioned and afterward she was beyond stunning. She was 5-5 with a willowy build, thick lush hair, an oval face, shapely legs. Hormones gave her a nice set of perky breasts and gradually feminized her facial features even more. Her voice was androgynous, a hint of smoky resonance at the octave where men’s and women’s ranges meet. She cultivated a breathless quality to go with it, and she had always formed words like a girl. I would have given anything to be her. Physically at least.
She came to Boystown as a teen. Knew she was trans all her life. Her family threw her out. She started living full-time femme right away and made a living tricking. She had been a hooker and a dancer in a tranny club for a couple years by the time she started coming to TransGender Alliance functions, which is where I met her. Even though we were a generation apart in age, she liked the way I did my hair and I ended up doing hers … and I have ever since.
We ugly girls think pretty girls have it made, but it’s not true. Mandy’s beauty gave her a doorway to life that wasn’t available to me and she took it. It meant good money and it was mostly easy. And when you’ve lived half your life taking abuse from men for being effeminate, having them finally lust for you seems like a fantasy come true. But once you start down that path, it’s very hard to go anywhere else.
Mandy wasn’t especially bright, but after a couple years in the sex trade she could see the limits of her career. By then she was starting to think of herself as a woman. She didn’t want to be a prostitute any more. When I met her she was trying to get off the streets. She did waitressing and worked retail. The money was awful, but she got by. She got help from boyfriends and some in the community said she still did tricks, but for bigger bucks for an escort service. She got her gender reassignment surgery a year ago.
We weren’t best friends. We were too different for that. But I was her hairdresser and a sort of older sister for her, and I thought she was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, so we had a friendship. A warm one.
For the past year or so she mentioned a special guy she was seeing. Handsome, rich, great in bed. Had her thinking about happy ever-afters.
Apparently Mr. Wonderful had some issues.
My thoughts are short-circuited by Cecelia’s loud voice. Two other girls have joined us. She’s holding court.
“I’m guessing she was with a john,” says Cecilia. “She never bothered to work on a career . . .” Cecilia goes on a monologue about the younger generation of transgenders, preoccupied with sex, drugs and rock and roll. She can be the transwoman incarnation of a right wing talk-radio host–an opinion on everything, untiringly judgmental, malformed physically and emotionally, yet somehow charismatic for those who lack self esteem or any trace of intelligence.
Cecilia’s jabber oozes off to the corners of my consciousness, then slips into the ether. Mandy’s image fills my mind. I always think of her as smiling and laughing. She had an infectious laugh. She livened up every room she ever entered.
She had a good heart, too. With her looks, she could have been arrogant, but I never heard her say anything nasty about anyone.
“You’re full of shit about Mandy,” I blurt out. The others are stunned at my brazen challenge to Cecelia’s authority. “She had a day job. She quit tricking a long time ago.”
I stare into Cecelia’s eyes. “Mandy was my friend. She never mentioned you.”
I move away from the group and find a seat at an empty table. I am beginning the mourning process. This has hit me hard. I need to find a private place to think. And maybe weep.
Kate Sosin and Windy City Times published an interview with me in the April 18 edition of WCT.
Windy City Times is the authoritative voice of the GLBT community in the Chicago area. The lively weekly provides the best coverage of GLBT news and issues in the area, and it’s coverage of the arts is among the best in the city.
You can read the published interview at http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/windycitytimes.php (page 12 of the April 18 issue). The original interview was done by email and artfully edited for brevity for publication. The full interview is below. Many thanks to Kate and WCT for the opportunity, and for their on-going excellence in covering the GLBT community!
The WCT Interview
“Bi-gendered MtoF (I live in both genders, was born male).”
“I’m working on the marketing launch of my first novel, Coming Out Can Be Murder. It’s about a woman in transition who gets involved in a murder investigation and becomes the target of a man who likes to use, then kill, trans women. Agents, big publishing houses and a lot of other establishment literati puke at the transsexual theme, so I’m publishing with Windy City Publishers, a smaller, local company with a deep commitment to diversity, and getting very involved with the marketing. The book goes on sale June 1.”
“I make my living as a free-lance magazine writer. I had a long career in magazines, as an editor and later, as an owner…all in my male identity. I’m at a point in my life where I’d really like to write fiction—for a living.”
In no particular order, I love dogs, grandkids, hiking, wilderness canoeing, hair dressing, reading, and hot baths on cold winter evenings. I still work out to stay fit and flexible, and retired from pickup basketball at age 60.”
When did you start questioning gender?
“I felt the first unmistakable tremors of the gender earthquake at age 18, as a college student. I buried the thought, but it kept resurfacing at long intervals as I progressed into adulthood. I didn’t admit to gender variance, even to myself, until middle age and didn’t deal with it until I was in my mid-fifties.”
Do you have a coming out story?
“I had been visiting transgender web sites on the computer my wife and I shared. One day, she looked at the history of site visits for some other reason, saw all the trans sites, and thought the cleaning people were messing with the computer. She was going to fire them, so I had to come clean. I didn’t like the cleaning people but you can’t let someone get fired for your lie, right?”
What is the best thing about being trans/ gender-variant?
“It makes everything harder, from interpersonal relationships to going to the bathroom. It’s like going to war—if you make it, it’s the most intense chapter in your life. Of course, if you don’t survive the experience, whatever else is good about being gender variant is somewhat academic.”
Who do you admire most?
“People who could have had an easy life and chose to take bigger challenges instead. Jimmy Carter, Oprah, the late Cardinal Bernadin (I’m an atheist, but wow, he came pretty close to achieving divine grace), and Jane Fonda come to mind. (Jane went to North Vietnam when I was in South Vietnam, but I always admired her for taking a stand, especially when I hear the bellicose bullshit of draft-dodging cowards like Limbaugh.)”
Do you consider yourself an activist? If so, how?
“No, but I try to support trans and GLBT causes and I’m active in transgender groups.”
What issues, if any, outside of the queer community do you care about?
“Preserving the planet, stopping the rising tide of creeping fascism in our society, educating our children and our citizens to appreciate the humanities and conceive of a world beyond materialism…the list goes on but doesn’t get any better.”
How do you explain the way you feel about gender to others?
“That’s what my book’s about. I got it down to 130,000 words and it only took a lifetime!”
In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing the trans/ gender-variant community?
“We are chronically, pathetically unorganized. Almost all the progress in our civil rights has been derived from the largesse of the gay/lesbian coalition. We need to find a way to be less self-centered and more invested in advancing our own causes—and supporting the work of the greater GLBT community.”
A short time ago, the book review blog Bookingly Yours posted a wonderful review of Coming Out Can Be Murder. Since then, Jenai has also conducted an on-line interview with me, which has now been posted at this link:
It was fun to do! I’m including an excerpt here–two of the ten questions and answers. Whether you read the whole interview or not, I encourage you to visit the Bookingly Yours site to get some great ideas for your next book selection:
Q. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I finally began confronting my transgender nature when I was in my fifties, after a lifetime of trying to ignore it or deny it. Part of the process was getting to know other trans people and contemplating whether or not to transition to the other gender. While I will never transition, the process got me thinking about the turning points in my own life. One came in my late thirties when I decided to re-marry and raise a family. I thought about what my life would have been like if I had decided to transition instead. That thought helped me establish real life priorities—I wouldn’t trade anything for my wife and children and grandchildren—and it also got me thinking deeply about what it’s really like to be a transsexual woman in today’s America.
I was travelling a lot on business then and started writing a fictional journal based on what my life might have been like if I embraced Renee completely back when I was 38 and single. I wrote while waiting for airplanes, on long flights, and in hotel rooms at night.
It was captivating. I got to maybe forty thousand words and took a long look at it one day and I thought, you know? this is really interesting. I thought Bobbi was an interesting character, way different that any character I’d seen in fiction, and different than the trans women profiled in the various autobiographies that have been published in the past. And I was especially struck by what a profound coming-of-age story Bobbi’s transition represented.
So I went back to the beginning a wrote a novel, using first-person, present tense so we could get a strong personal feeling of what it’s like to be trans and to be transitioning. And I decided to add a murder/suspense element to add structure and tension to the plot, and to create a background that brings Bobbi’s character into a sharper focus.
You can’t imagine how much fun it has been!
Q. How about the characters? Are they based on people you know?
I cursed Bobbi with a lot of my qualities—doubts, insecurities, a love of doing hair, a sensitivity to people and environment. It made it easier to develop her, but this is also an aspect of transgender people that seems to get understated in non-fiction. And it made for a more complex character and added complexity to the plot.
The other key people are inspired by people I know in the Chicago trans community. The two psychologists are painted from impressions I’ve gotten of several therapists serving the trans community, for example. Cecelia, my favorite character, is based on someone I know, but Cecelia is the potential for that person, not the person herself.
Another favorite character of mine based on a personal experience is Jo-Jo, the air-head trans woman who comes to Bobbi for hair styling late one night. She’s a minor character and my editor suggested I cut her out of the story. I kept her in for several reasons, one being, she helped define the spectrum of transgender personalities – we range from stupid to brilliant, just like every other sub group of society. Also, the scene conveys something heroic and true about the best hairdressers—they really can’t say no to someone in need, even when they should.