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I hope the intention was understood that I wanted to bring trans joy to the forefront of what can be such a difficult experience. I’m sure some will say I failed, and that’s fine–I hope someone takes it as a challenge and does it better. I would love to read that book. I was willing to publish it because my sensitivity readers did say that it was affirming and resonated in some positive ways, so that’s success for me. I’m always writing to affirm people.

In 1969, Carol Hanisch published an essay titled “The Personal is Political.” It’s never been more true than in 2022. The left engages in internal microbattles about microaggressions. The right simply responds with aggression. The left fights about who is allowed to write what. The right indiscriminately removes books from libraries. The left tells people to “educate themselves.” The right can’t wait to teach them. (Conspiracy theorists are people who went and educated themselves.) The left has Twitter. The right has the Supreme Court. Their motto is “hate everyone who doesn’t hate everyone.” Ours is… what?

I wish some people would educate themselves – on topics I consider important. I also know I’m completely ignorant about many other topics, because I can afford to be. The easy way out is to pretend they don’t exist. I want to learn, though, and not from Professor YouTube. Which is why I asked London Price to explain certain things to me – using words no longer than four syllables.

Some of what I ask below is purposefully stupid or rude on purpose. Some isn’t. Probably. Do I even know what I don’t know?

 

London: the teacher

Good morning. What are your pronouns?

Good afternoon! My pronouns are she/her. 

Is this how I should approach a stranger?

I think that depends entirely on the stranger… I know some cisgender heterosexual people who would (wrongly) be offended by that question, perhaps reading into it that their gender presentation is somehow not standardized. I can see it being threatening. But I see it as a lovely way to just check in and get on the same page before a conversation starts. It takes a little humility to ask that, really.

Can you explain “gender presentation being somehow not standardised”?

I think there’s a lot of religious or cisgender people who still see gender as only “male” and “female,” despite plenty of others telling them that’s not their experience. Maybe they’re truly not interacting with genderqueer people or maybe their own bias or religious edicts are overriding those thoughts. But they see binary gender as the standard, and anything outside of that applied to themselves might feel like a threat to that delicate worldview. They’re forced to reconcile with an experience they really don’t understand. In some ways, can’t understand.

I’ve seen people using “he/they” – what’s that about? They’re not sure?

Without being able to dialogue about it, I would guess that it means that the person wants both used. Just one doesn’t quite encapsulate who they are, and he wants to share both of his identities. (See how easy that is?)

Is it really so awful to be “misgendered” when someone fails to use “ze/hir” when the Supreme Court takes everyone’s right to abortion away? Aren’t we fighting a wrong battle?

Battles can have a lot of fronts, I think. It’s all part of the same war. It’s a simple but profound truth that “we’re not free until we are all free” (Martin Luther King Jr.). It’s all body autonomy, right? It’s all about respect for persons and their right to lead their one precious life as they see fit, such that it’s not hurting anyone. And what does it hurt to use a different word? My wife likes to quote the scene from Star Trek Deep Space Nine where a Klingon (warlike, angry species for those who don’t know) meets a Trill who’s had a symbiont put into a different body. “Kurzon, my old friend!” the Klingon booms, and she smiles and hugs him. “It’s Jadzia now.” And with just as much enthusiasm, he booms out, “Jadzia, my old friend!”

I loved this scene so much.

Me too! We can all get battle fatigue, and I think that’s something to guard against–I know my counselor has cautioned me to pick my battles when it comes to changing people’s minds, because arguing with the delivery guy over pronouns doesn’t matter much. I try to save my energy for people and relationships that matter to me. But yes, I think inclusive language does matter. Sometimes, I think it matters more than anything–words have the power of life and death.

Sadly, a large percentage of trans people are suicidal before they transition–that’s how deeply this matters to them. And the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among kids who are in unaffirming situations regarding their sexuality or gender are staggering. So I think it’s a good battle to fight.

London: the person

Your wife is a trans woman. How did she realise that – and how did you feel when she told you?

She came out to me about three years ago, long before any public coming out. She demonstrated so much fucking courage and trust in me. I really wasn’t ready to hear it; I had a few trans writer friends on Twitter, which is the only reason I had any sympathy or compassion. But it freaked me out at first. I wasn’t sure if she’d still be attracted to me (not yet knowing gender and sexuality aren’t the same). I wasn’t sure if I could handle being married to someone who looked like a woman. That time was a true gift; I was able to really share in her evolution and watch her blossom into the awesome, still-nerdy lady she is now. 

She originally started thinking about it based on a podcast, actually. There were several trans people on, and they were talking about how to name yourself (which is *much harder* than you might think!). And some of the body dysphoria comments that were made sort of made a lightbulb go on in her head, like “there’s a name for the way I feel?” But she tried to shove it down, because we worked for a religious organization, and there was specific language in their handbook about how no employee would be allowed to transition at work…

Wait, what?! How is that legal?!

Our state is largely Republican, and the laws are very open about what employers can require, and given that it’s a religious organization, I think that gives them extra latitude about what they can do.

So – rather than lose her job to explore this, she just stuffed it down harder. We backburnered any future plans and decided to just let her be herself at home. And of course, gender euphoria is a lovely drug that once tasted, you just want more of. So here we are after a slow journey: picking a new name (two years ago), starting to wear different clothes (eighteen months ago), me telling her she can’t borrow my clothes because they look better on her (eighteen months ago minus one day), all that fun stuff.

Outside work, how did people react to Mrs. Price? Was there purposeful deadnaming, or something well-meant, yet offensive?

My wife is a fascinating person, so she actually prefers the term “birth name” to “deadname.” To her, it’s not so much a person who’s gone as a person who’s evolving away from some false impressions put upon her at birth. Since most of our friends are part of our religious community, I expected some nastygrams, some “you’re going to hell” type messages. Instead, what I got was almost more hurtful–silence. And I do wish people would say something. Tell me you don’t agree; I can handle it. But to share my heart and the deepest secret of my life with you and get no response at all communicates that you don’t want a relationship with me at all going forward. That’s the only way I know how to read that. A few people’s spouses said “they didn’t know what to say,” but you don’t really have to say anything profound. “Thanks for letting me know.” “Thanks for sharing your story.” It can be as simple as that. 

And actually, I didn’t really get any reactions that I’d “correct.” Her grandma who’s in her early eighties responded immediately with the new name and said, “I’ve loved you since the moment I laid eyes on you and only ever wanted you to be happy.” So obviously that made me cry. But it can be that simple. Love wants the best for the other. 

A friend of mine, whose spouse reacted the same way you did, is a trans man. That journey took years of soul-searching, suffering, work. There was no backlash, though. Why is it so different for trans women? Who are TERFs – and why are TERFs?

Trans men sometimes don’t get as much hate, but they’re also…weirdly invisible, at least in literature? I do think it’s a byproduct of male privilege and also the apparently inherently threatening nature of penises, because that’s the whole thing about bathrooms, right? “They could rape someone!” Lady, trust me, my wife just wants to pee without a bunch of dudes around. 

So TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, and the idea is that it somehow diminishes womanhood to include trans people in it. I can’t pretend I understand that idea at all, but there it is. All I can imagine is that it somehow threatens their “in group,” the idea that women have to stand up against patriarchy, and then there’s someone they still consider part of the patriarchy in their group? Which is…silly? Because I know cisgender men who are feminists, so even if you don’t consider being trans “a thing,” you should be able to include them. 

It seems to me like trans people became more visible in the last few years. There’s more awareness.

I would agree that more trans people have been coming out publically, but interestingly, once you know what an “egg” looks like (the trans term for someone who hasn’t cracked “why they’re like this”), you start seeing them everywhere. Not that I’m judging or anything, but when I see someone who’s almost trying too hard to fit the binary presentation–i.e. full beard or a lot of makeup–I do sometimes wonder. But I think whether there’s more awareness largely depends on where you look. In my Book Twitter circles? Sure. But in other parts of the internet? Or (gasp) real life? I’m not sure. I’ve only met a few other trans people in person, but that may be a product of where we live.

I’ve got a full beard and wish it could be fuller! When I was eight, I didn’t know queer people existed – “queer” was an insult I didn’t even understand, I just knew it was wrong, and I was wrong too. So I put on my Mum’s dress and heels, and couldn’t take them off quickly enough. I had no idea what “gay” meant until I turned 13. How does a 13-year-old realise “maybe I’m not a gay man and I am not a woman” in the very much binary – outside social media – world?

I think community helps. It feels a bit strange to quote C.S. Lewis in this conversation, but it’s like he said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” As with any kind of self-discovery, it helps to find that sense of resonance with other people’s experiences, to be able to talk and to try things. I would love to see a day when it can be explored more freely without judgment. There’s so many ready to be critical and jump down people’s throats for trying it out–I look forward to a day when there’s more understanding that surgery is not an imperative or inevitable, that there’s many ways to be comfortably trans. If people want surgery, great! But if they don’t, that can hold a stigma. Basically, less stigma would be nice. And again, I’m just a cis ally–trans people could answer this question better, I’m sure. I can’t speak for everyone, just my own observations.

Did you have to learn how to be an ally?

For me, it’s been helpful to read memoirs and other books by trans people to try to wrap my head around it. It is a very singular thing, I think, to feel uncomfortable in your own body in that way. The first book that broke me was Tomorrow Will be Different by Sarah McBride. She narrates not only meeting her spouse (who soon after died of cancer), but her fight for equal rights in her home state of Delaware. Up until then, I really didn’t understand how unequal rights were for trans people. And like many people, her relationship was with another trans person, so that was interesting to hear about. The next one I’d recommend was A Year Without a Name by Cyrus Grace Dunham. That one was sad, too, but a truly vulnerable deep dive into what it felt like to be feeling your way through the gender transition process on hands and knees in the dark. There’s no manual for this.

I thought the rainbow was there to unite us all, but at last count I could fly at least four flags at once. That’s a lot of pride for me to carry. Is there a word for spouse-of-a-trans-person? What’s your flag?

I don’t have a flag, and this is one of the tricky parts for a lot of trans partners who are cisgender, I think. I’ve thought of myself as heterosexual and cisgender my whole life, but now I’m in love with a lady. Definitely not a lesbian, but I’m sure it appears that way, and I don’t want to make it seem like I think sexuality is a choice. On the other hand, I think love is always a choice. I haven’t gotten through 21 years together with this person without choosing her a few times over and over, and I’m still choosing her now because she’s mine. Society’s boxes don’t fit me, though. 

I’m using the word queer because I do identify with “identities that break the norm” (which feels to me like basically what LGBTQIA means) and because I love a lady and that appears different? But inside, I feel basically the same. I don’t know if that makes sense. My wife tells me I’m a good queer person (a bit feisty with not a lot of fucks to give).

Aha, so you tell people you’re bisexual?

Not to sound like I’m shitting on anyone, but…is it anyone’s business but mine? Yes, bi-erasure is a problem, and I know with Colby in Acoustics I was intentional about showing that he’s bi, but in my real life, it just doesn’t feel relevant to anyone I’m not pair-bonding with. I guess I’m a rather private queer person. Also, I’ve never been attracted to another woman but mine. I think that would be…misleading.

London Price: the author

Your pronouns are she/her. However, you have written a romance novel, where one of the characters is non-binary – I have never read anything like this before. What makes you qualified to write about that? Don’t you think someone non-binary should have written it instead of you?

Yes, I do think someone non-binary should’ve written it instead of me–I don’t have that identity. But what I do have is experience writing outside my lane. I’ve written Black characters, autistic characters, heck–even male characters. And when care is taken, in this case in the form of a LOT of research and multiple sensitivity readers, I felt good enough about it to put it out into the world. 

I hope the intention was understood that I wanted to bring trans joy to the forefront of what can be such a difficult experience. I’m sure some will say I failed, and that’s fine–I hope someone takes it as a challenge and does it better. I would love to read that book. I was willing to publish it because my sensitivity readers did say that it was affirming and resonated in some positive ways, so that’s success for me. I’m always writing to affirm people. 

Oh. The word “instead” was meant to be a provocation. In traditional (legacy) publishing there is, indeed, a limited number of “slots.” You self-publish, though. So why not “as well as”?

I see what you’re saying about the less finite possibilities for indie publishing, but I still want to hear from more queer creators, and I hate the idea that my work is supplanting anyone. I mean it more as inspiration than replacement, but I want to read trans people in their own voices. I think the world needs that more than it needs my approximation of it. Imagination is powerful, but it is limited by experience. I would love to see more literature reflect a trans imagination and experience, even if that meant pulling my own books.

Which the conservatives already do… You’ve mentioned writing Black characters. Shouldn’t someone Black write them instead? I write female characters, you know. How to reconcile “diversity” and “lived experience”?

That’s something I really wrestle with, all the way around. Yes, it would absolutely be better if Black creators wrote their own books. But we all know that indie publishing is not as accessible to everyone as we’d like it to be–so in some ways, I hope I’m using my own financial privilege to make the world a better place. Not that I intended to write diversely–it just came out that way. I wouldn’t erase characters, because I think there’s always something to be learned there. They pop in for a reason. But the line is muddy. We’re always writing outside our experience in some ways–and readers have shared with me how much it meant to them to see a Black prince with a big, loving family or an autistic doctor who’s everyone’s heartthrob.

A few people have told me that I didn’t do it well enough. And since I have ADHD, there’s a segment of me that responds to rejection absolutely illogically and takes that criticism to heart when I shouldn’t. Does it matter that more people have told me how much they loved it? No. Because art is about putting your heart on the page, it’s necessarily vulnerable, and I’ve been jabbed a few times. Another part of art, I think, is always wanting it to be better. We hit this chasm as creators where we analyze someone else’s work and just think, “I’ll never be that good.” When in reality, when I go back and read my earlier work, I *can* see how far I’ve come. So I guess I’d rather always want it to be better than be complacent.

When you were writing a non-binary character, Glenn, in Harmony – how did you decide what their wardrobe, voice, behaviour… well, everything… should be? What was the most difficult part?

I wanted to show the margins of trans society; there’s a strong bias against trans people who don’t physically transition, so I wanted to show a genderqueer person who was content with their body (little to no dysphoria), but not with their gender presentation and perhaps the way their body was treated/handled by others. Pronouns were indeed difficult–I know I’m personally coded toward identifying a bearded person as male, so even though I was only imagining them in my head, I misgendered them sometimes. But they were based on friends and acquaintances on Twitter and sort of showed up fully formed when I considered who’d be a good match for Hillary. So I was happy they did.

Is there a “male/female ratio” on the non-binary spectrum? Does Glenn have a preference for dresses or trousers? What about shaving?

I guess I thought about it more like categories than percentages–I asked Glenn how they felt about clothes, about grooming, about names. They kept their birth name. And knowing they were artistic, their clothing was an important expression of who they are. They wear skirts, but also jeans, but see no reason to conform to female grooming norms like shaving, since they’re not female. I don’t think I really assigned those things as much as observed them about nonbinary people I know.

In Harmony, there’s a scene I love where Glenn shares with Hillary about seeing a sculpture of Moses in Italy.

“Michelangelo sculpted Moses, too? All we ever hear about is David.” 

“If that’s true, it’s a tragedy. I don’t know how to describe it, Hil. But it was one of the seeds that led me toward authenticity in my life. Moses is sitting there, and you know it’s a statue, but he just looks so pissed, like he’s holding back. And he’s tucked these tablets under his arm, but he’s also got his fingers tangled in his beard like a security blanket, like he doesn’t know what to do. And I’d been thinking a lot about gender while I was there, and seeing those strong fingers in that stone beard that looked so real…I realized I wanted to keep my beard. Some of the stuff I’d been doing like the tattoos and the piercings, they were meant to mask my softer side. But I loved my beard.” 

Have you had someone wrongly accuse you of being ignorant?

Yeah, just a few times. There was one early reviewer of Acoustics who was upset by the way Chase refers to his genitals and felt it was very unrealistic. My research said that many trans people rename their parts to fit more into their gender identity, which I think is brilliant. In fact, I pulled the exact word from someone’s personal essay, so I know it’s reasonable. But it obviously didn’t fit with his experience. 

Some people want to be known as queer and some people don’t. Some people enmesh it into their identity and some would never hang a pride flag or a trans flag on their wall or windows. It didn’t resonate for him, and that’s fine. 

I loved how you presented an autistic doctor in one of your books… only they’re not written by “London Price.” You write sweet small-town romance – and books with very explicit sex scenes featuring a non-binary person. How do your “old” readers react to the “new” books?

Very few readers know about both my pen names, and that’s intentional. When I started my career, I had a strong sense of guilt about writing sex scenes, because like many people, I have a lot of religious baggage about sex and marriage. I also had a strong sense that I wanted to show healthy sexual relationships, though – it isn’t something that religious people are often exposed to, in my opinion. So my original goal was to write books that talked about/modeled healthy communication around sex without showing it. 

But that went out the window when I wrote my first honeymoon bonus scene. Being able to show my autistic doctor and his wife parsing sex for the first time–which can be understandably overwhelming for someone who’s sensory sensitive–was really important to me, and I ended up really enjoying the scene. About half my fans downloaded it, and that’s been consistent across all the steamy bonus scenes. 

But I never intended to start a steamy pen name. One of the hard things about us being closeted for so long is that I had no outlet for wanting to be part of the queer “community,” so I started writing about it. And particularly focused on queer joy, because I feel there’s a lack of that in novels. I guess I could have written it sweet, but I think it would be ill-received, and frankly, I didn’t feel the burden of other people’s expectations anymore. 

Bio

London Price is a queer, cisgender author who writes light trans romance. She and her wife live in the Pacific Northwest.

Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lpriceauthor

Instagram: https://instagram.com/authorlondonprice/

Website: https://londonpricebooks.wordpress.com

Amazon: https://amazon.com/London-Price/e/B09C8YWLHN

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21870238.London_Price

The Trevor Project

National Centre for Transgender Equality

https://twitter.com/HEAforTransKids

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Bjørn Larssen

Bjørn Larssen

Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.

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