Look Past will be out a week from tomorrow 🙂 Amazon has already begun shipping pre-orders. Therefore, my book will soon be in a lot of hands (I hope), and so I thought I might answer the one question that is going to come up: who am I as a cisgender man to write about a transgender teen?
Recently, there has been some very negative language about writing “the other”, a phrase that itself is problematic. Setting things up as this or that, black or white, like me or other than me, establishes so many boundaries that it’s difficult to then talk about the gray which exists between any such set of poles.
For me, that is where I have always looked, especially in my writing. All of my work, including Look Past, doesn’t hold to rigid and easy classifications of the world. We have a rich and nuanced existence–that is of we allow ourselves to see it.
And that is the thrust of Look Past. As much as I want trans teens to find themselves within the pages, I also want people from all walks of life to feel the same. I was once part of a Twitter exchange–that most likely only I remember–with A.S. King and a reader of her novel Ask the Passengers. The reader was wondering how King felt comfortable tapping into the emotions of a her teen, lesbian, protagonist, as King is an assumed heterosexual. King’s response stuck with me, which I’ll paraphrase as such: Emotions are emotions. We all feel the same. Sure they look different and come about for different reasons in different contexts, but at its heart, human emotion is universal.
Of course she was eloquent in delivering this wisdom, which probably took five tweets to render, but the concept struck a chord with me, as I feel it should with all authors who are writing from perspectives other than their own. Focus on the universal truths of how we feel and keep in mind how the context changes those actions and reactions.
In Look Past I present numerous events where Avery, my protagonist, feels a whole host of emotions. Many are over the death of his first love, Mary, and others are over the ways in which he is treated, predominately in response to the fact that he’s transgender. It would be easy to say that in those latter scenes I have no idea what I’m talking about. That even though I’ve researched for years and have conducted many interviews and have had sensitivity readers vet my manuscript, that I still am clueless because I am not in Avery’s body and so I can’t know that truth. Okay. But if that’s the case, then the same is true for Tony in Tap Out, Ben in Dare Me, and Greg in Press Play. I have never lived their lives, but I worked very hard to see the universal emotions King discussed. I have done the same in Look Past.
I wholeheartedly agree that writing from someone else’s perspective is problematic, and I absolutely support the #ownvoices initiative. I am not blind to the ways authors have made egregious mistakes rendering lives about races and genders and belief systems completely foreign to their own. I tread lightly here. I respect that more work needs to be done when writing in order to execute this perspective switch. But, I have lived by the following adage, and frequently offer the same as writing advice: Be interested in the world and those around you, not only yourself. Broaden your horizons.
That’s the goal. And soon I’ll know if I’ve fallen on my face in my attempt or if I’m still standing. I’m prepared for either. In my heart I know I’ve done my absolute best to be sensitive and to listen to King’s advice. I care very deeply that my work represents a universal truth about this human condition. Because I do feel we are more alike than we are different. The title of Avery’s story is testament.