What publishing this novel has taught me...
The publication of this Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual, Or I Was Cursed By Polly Holiday has taught me a lot. After an absence, today I am returning to blogging to tell you about some of those lessons.
Mostly the experience has taught me that as far as we have come on Transgender rights in recent years, we still have a long way to go. On my tour, I learned that I live in a rarefied bubble that surrounds transgender issues. In spite, of Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner and hundred of other public Transgender figures, the seemingly collective celebration of their bravery, and the media’s portrayal of their journey as normal, there are more Americans than not who still have an incredible fear of trans topics. In the Bronx, one gay man asked me why I would support the group that most embarrasses the LGBT community. In Napa, a woman approached my signing table, not to ask about the book, but to tell me that she supported every individual’s choice, but that she had no wish to understand the journey of any transgender. I felt trans-people must experience acceptance the way I did in the early 90’s. In those days, it was much easier to be gay in San Francisco and NYC, than anywhere else. When I left those areas, hate for what I was instantly increased.
As these people spoke to me, I felt naive for not realizing that the media’s portrayal of transgendered celebrities as accepted might not equal to the reality of those not in front of a camera. Though the trend-makers are happy to work toward getting trans people accepted, the trends they are trying to make had not yet made headway into the rest of country. This is perhaps best observed in otherwise enlightened author Anne Lamott's unfortunate tweets about Jenner last month.
I have learned that few people can get past the novel’s title to learn that it is a journey about grief as told through 20+ yearsof AIDS experience. I was recently lectured on my choice to use the word transsexual in the title, as this word is considered to be out of date. Now most trans people prefer the word transgendered.
I did my best to explain that the transgendered character's part of the story takes place in 2001, when transsexual was the most popularly used term. Change in vernacular since that date, to me, had little bearing on the historical structure of the story, especially since only the group of those most affected fully understand the subtle change. It amazed me that the argument continued, I was summarily accused of setting the movement back with a work of fiction. More surprising to me was the two people chastising me were not transgender, but instead were both women (cisgender). They were chastising me on behalf of people with whom they had not discussed the book nor its title.
I have also been chastised for putting the word transsexual in the title of a book all. I have been told that since the book is more about AIDS then the transgender experience, I have attempted to capitalize on the journeys of both groups. Again the people making those accusations had not read the book, and had no understanding that the title actual does work in the story. It now seems that few people are willing to see the transgender movement as a civil rights issue equal to that of the LGB experience of the past three and a half decades, a subject I see at the book's core.
As for the business of publishing, I have learned that it is nearly impossible to sell a book that has a title that is as plot driven this one. If people have to get past the title to know what the book is, they pass it by. And less people are actually looking. I have also learned that many of my friends who used to be voracious readers have replaced the habit with binge watching TV. As a result, many of my oldest and closest friends have no yet cracked its cover.
I could not reconcile being emotionally satisfied but completely broke. In other words, I felt about 60% satisfied with the book’s outcome. Where I come from, 60% is a near failing grade. It been hard to reconcile the fiscal failure of the endeavor from the artistic and political win of its publication. In this conflict I lost sight of the issues that started this journey. I wasn’t sure what I had to say when I felt no one was listening. When saying those things was costing me more than I wanted to spend, relationship included, there seemed little reason to continue.
But when I received some reviewer feedback from those award entries, along with reader reviews, I was remind me that I have written a flawed book of which I can be quite proud. I recently met a man who liked my blog, and could not stop telling me how much it had made him rethink his own feelings. He said he noticed that I had stopped blogging and this surprised me. I realized that there was a group of people that were listening to what I had to say, and I had vanished from their lives to repair my fragile ego. Of this entire process, that may be my biggest failure, allowing my feelings to over-shadow the work. So my semi-regular blogging begins again today. As they say, time heals all wounds…