Provincetown’s Women’s Week is rightfully famous as a glorious gathering of woman-loving-women with a plethora of events, including a strong showing by Bold Strokes Books in more than twenty panels, readings, and signings. When it ended, I knew I’d miss the energy and flavor of the place.
Because I write romances that feature transmasculine leads, my work was a tough mouthful for some attendees to chew. Especially in the erotica readings, the abundance of nipples and clits doesn’t change the fact that the pronouns are she and he, not she and she.
In Heart of the Liliko‘i, just released this month, Ravi identifies as genderqueer and talks about his desire to avoid the trap of being either a fey man or a butch woman, when he feels like neither can encompass how he experiences his gender.
Kerala has a few odd moments over the aspects of Ravi’s transmasculine gender that are uniquely his, with his history of testosterone therapy, his top-surgery scars, and his soft, warm-hearted, giving nature. I knew that the women at the readings would have similarly odd moments, even internal struggles over how to understand Kerala and Ravi, and their relationship, in the usual dialectics of gay/straight, female/male.
Readers warmed my heart by reaching out and welcoming Kerala and Ravi onto their bookshelves. Really, into their worlds, their realities.
Isn’t that what we do when we pick up a book? We open a window into other realities and, through a fine mesh of our established understandings, sift what we read for the fresh and the different, for the warm and the comforting, for the stories that reflect ourselves and those that teach us about other people.
There have been women who told me flat out that they spent too many years reading straight romance, changing the pronouns in their heads and mourning the fractured mirror when the sex scenes defeated their imagination’s work. They are uninterested in love stories that don’t hand them a mirror, fantasy-bright, of the love and sex they have or hope to find.
I don’t begrudge these women their focus. Not one bit. I know what it’s like to find myself in a work of fiction and feel the fullness in the chest, the tears-or-laughter pressure I’m afraid to release because I’ve wanted this story for so long that finding it changed my life. I simply hope that they will, when in the mood to explore other worlds, come back and give my work a try.
My trans characters, Oly and Ravi, write their own realities into the minds of the readers, revealing their loves and fears, their vulnerabilities and their utter, self-realized strengths. Among the readers who have read my books, uncertain whether or not they’d like them but desiring to open that window into new territory, the trans characters have won them over. They earn a place in the murky land of fictional truth, which can be more revealing than a slew of cold facts.
Facts about the tough circumstances of many trans folk’s lives might anger us, as people who don’t want to see anyone suffer, but they might not spark the empathy that allows us to love a stranger. The ties that binds the T to the alphabet of sexual orientation include the common experiences of being forced to identify and name ourselves and our desires, not having the luxury of fitting our society’s default concept of who they might be, the thoughtful creation of ourselves and our families and our lives.
I hope to do more, in my stories, than simply open a window to the lives of strangers. I want to open hearts by showing that trans folk, especially those in LGBTQ communities, are not strangers at all.
Sailing blog: www.sovereignnations.net