To commemorate the 50th anniversary of coeducation, DGALA and Women of Dartmouth hosted a virtual event in May titled “LGBTQIA+ Women in the Early Years” exploring Dartmouth stories and perspectives of queer and trans women pre- and post-coeducation. The event was hosted by all alumni affiliated groups and OPAL (The Office of Pluralism and Leadership at the College).
Alumnae Dana Bevan ’69, Mary Klages ’80, Amelia Cramer ’82, and Dottie Foley ’86 spoke about their journey to and through Dartmouth, where they found queer community, their struggles and triumphs, and their personal and professional lives since graduation. Collectively, these alumni represented three decades of Dartmouth’s history. Amelia and Dottie are both past DGALA board members, and Dottie recently returned to the DGALA board. Alumnae spoke about how it would have been transformative to have an LGBTQ group with institutional backing at the College and how grateful they are for what is now available to students on campus.
Caroline Kerr ’05, former DGALA president and current Dartmouth trustee, moderated the panel, hosted by Amanda Rosenblum ’07, DGALA Co-Vice President. In Caroline’s opening remarks, she said, “For me, it’s particularly an honor to be moderating the discussion tonight as we commemorate three 50th anniversaries – of coeducation, of Black Alumni at Dartmouth, and the Native American Program. These events deepen our understanding of what these milestones are and how these moments were experienced and are continuing to be experienced. We have changemakers with us today.”
Current students Becca Wade ’22 and Jess Chiriboga ’24 joined the conversation to share about their own experiences as queer students on campus today.
DGALA history and queer alumnae impact on the College’s history was a theme throughout the event. Brendan Connell ’87, past DGALA president, opened the event by speaking about the DGALA project SpeakOut, a partnership with Rauner Library and Dartmouth College. This is a project to document the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at the College. As a result of the project, we now have 49 oral histories documented online, and our stories are part of the College’s recorded history at the library.
Writing after the event, Jess Chiriboga said, “I first discovered SpeakOut during my college application process and have listened to the interviews ever since. SpeakOut has a real value not just from a historical perspective, but showing the Dartmouth community that representation matters and that Dartmouth is committed to preserving these stories. I was brought close to tears several times during the panel, and I couldn’t help but feel sad and angry, but also so grateful and happy that so much has changed for the better on this campus. It was a true honor to be in conversation with all the panelists.”
Mary Klages emailed, “Thank you for hosting this. It has been more healing than I could have imagined. It was so affirming to me to see so many of my “gang” in the audience—and to have people wanting to revitalize the Pyrofeminism T-shirt and slogan! I feel like all the pain of my time at Dartmouth was worth it, for what has come since.”
The Zoom event begins with an amazing slide show (with a great soundtrack!) of dozens of photographs, such as those above, showing queer women (and men) at Dartmouth over many years. Watch the event recording below.
For the second consecutive year, DGALA alums got to meet and chat with members of the current crop of DGALA/DCF Scholars, at a Zoom event on May 11. Two of this year’s six Scholars participated, a senior, Awo Adu ’22, and a first-year, Dafne Valenciano-Coronado ’25. Awo hails from eastern Massachusetts and Dafne from southern California. DGALA VP Amanda Rosenblum ’07 moderated the event, beginning with from questions from her and followed by discussion with the alums present.
Awo described how she, a member of Dartmouth’s FGLI (first generation, low income) student community, learned of Dartmouth through the Dartmouth Bound summer program, a program in which Dafne also participated. In both cases the Scholars had very positive experiences, and they were thrilled later to be accepted to join their respective classes at the College.
Awo, who is majoring in Film and Media Studies, modified with African and African American Studies, presented about her senior thesis, which is an interactive art project to create a healing space for dark-skinned women. Awo played for the event some of the audio that will be part of her thesis presentation.
The event offered a wide perspective of student experiences: Awo, being about to graduate, reflected on how she realizes that this term is “the last time I’ll be five minutes away from all of my friends.” Dafne is just embarking on her Dartmouth journey. She has yet to choose a major but is interested in activism and as a result is considering Dartmouth Public Policy programs.
DGALA is thrilled to be part of a joint venture with the Dartmouth College Fund that enables DGALA alums to support need-based scholarships for LGBTQIA+ students like Awo and Dafne. The program is set up so that all gifts to the DCF by DGALA members go towards the DGALA Scholars program. If you would like to help to fund more Scholars for the next school year, please go to dartgo.org/dgala and give what you can. You can watch this year’s event below.
DGALA member Jack Anderson ’72 recently reached out to us as follows: “Within the last two years, and in preparation for our upcoming 50th reunion, some of my classmates have solicited essays outlining experiences from our years at Dartmouth, in 1968-1972. I had mixed emotions about writing one because my experiences as a closeted gay guy were not anywhere near the positive recollections of the general population of our class. But I also had a story to tell, so I sat down to write. The result was the attached essay, which I submitted …
“The response was very positive. One of the guys editing the stories said, “This story has to be told.” So it was published in the fall 2020 edition of our class newsletter. That publication elicited many more positive responses. One classmate contacted me because his son is gay and he wanted to know how I had adjusted in the big picture. When I told him that now I wouldn’t have it any other way, he thanked me for helping him to dispel the myth that gay men are necessarily unhappy. Another contacted me to apologize to me on behalf of all the gay guys he had bullied in the past. He published his apology in the newsletter as well. A high-level psychiatrist at the UCLA medical school also contacted me after someone had forwarded the article to her. She was a 1972-1973 exchange student in Mass. Hall, and she said that my recollections coincided thoroughly with hers.”
An excerpt from Jack’s memoir was published in the June 2022 “Green Light.” The full essay is below.
My Gay Odyssey
Ever since I was very young I knew that I was different, but I couldn’t figure out how or why. But my family sure figured it out early on. I was constantly shepherded into doing “masculine” things, so that I would “turn out right.” These went from third-grade boys’ gym classes at the Y, through Little League tryouts, and into playing the saxophone, instead of the flute or the violin, which “boys don’t play.” Etc., etc. The Little League tryouts were a complete disaster and I felt terrible shame, both from my own sense of failure and from overhearing things like “I was so embarrassed …” It never occurred to anybody that I was dragged to those tryouts without ever having been taught how to throw a ball beforehand. Not everybody is a natural athlete. I became seriously neurotic because I thought that, if I was so bad at the things that I was being pushed into doing, there had to be something g seriously wrong with me.
The word “homophobic” wasn’t invented yet in 1968-1969, but it is nevertheless spot-on for a description of that Dartmouth social milieu. No late-night dorm bull session was complete without faggot jokes and comments. There were a few guys on campus who had been assigned dubious nicknames like “Puff,” and were referred to as such by guys who had never met them, and never would. The late-night bull sessions generally included accusations of one of the dorm guys being seen with one of “them,” to uproarious guffaws. A couple of courageous guys who were out and roommates put an ad from a catering company on their dorm door, which said, “Have Your Next Affair with Us.” Their room was promptly trashed by drunken members of one of the animal houses.
Even academic department secretaries told homophobic jokes. Once, in my presence, when a secretary’s audience didn’t respond with great laughter (later, I figured out that one of the two professors in the room was gay), she apologized for not telling the joke well, and explained that it had been so cute when her friend had told it— and she repeated the punchline with a more pronounced lisp.
Needless to say this was not the healthiest environment for someone like me, an older adolescent and young gay man trying to come to grips with my sexuality. So I became asexual. I did go to mixers on road trips with everybody else, but I ended up making (at best) gal-pal buddies, some of whom would occasionally indulge me as dates for long weekends. I’m still good long-distance pals with one of them. Having such gal-pals had already been my default M. O. in high school. Long weekends at Dartmouth, though, were generally very difficult because of the pressure to have a hot date. I secretly hated Winter Carnival. I should have just ridden with the flow and made gobs of money subbing at inflated prices for guys with girlfriends and with Dartmouth Dining Association duty. But I was blindly driven to fit in, even though I never really could.
Part of my fitting-in effort was to join a house, so that I could “belong” somewhere. I overextended disastrously by rushing Bones Gate as my first choice, even making an ass of myself by going to second-night rush there after they hadn’t sent anybody to my room that afternoon. They dinged me big time, but I was not going to let that stop me. I can just imagine what was said when my picture came up on the big screen. Ultimately, I ended up at Tau Epsilon Phi/ Harold Parmington Foundation, which really was the better fit. Several house brothers have become lifelong friends.
Nevertheless, even there I was not insulated, but I won’t mention member names or incidents. During Senior year a loudmouth bully-type lived at the house; I don’t know how he got connected with us because he was not a member and yet lived there. I suspect that Student Services and the Ombudsman had something to do with it. He harassed me “relentlessly” (in the words of a house-brother who recently brought it up). He regularly called me “Baggott,” always in front of others, ostensibly after Shakespeare’s Bagot in Richard II, but clearly enunciated to mimic “faggot.” He never spoke to me one-on-one. He would publicly say things like, “You know what I like about you, Baggott? You’re fucked up and you don’t let it bother you.” Interestingly, nobody ever came to my defense, despite the fact that I was a full member and he was not. They either enjoyed the “joke,” or pretended not to hear. This guy was intimidating! It was easiest for me to go with the flow and feign amusement.
I’ve often wondered how that guy turned out and why he was so driven to harass me. Could it have been Freudian reaction projection? Someone told me recently that he was featured in a magazine because he now raises little foo-foo dogs.
I never verbalized my “fear” of being gay until I had a sudden, massive anxiety attack during the fall semester of my Junior Year, and ended up being interviewed jointly by a psychiatrist and a psychologist at Dick’s House. They steered me into group therapy, where I quickly discovered that my adjustment issues were mild compared to what some others were experiencing. Hence, I saw my first silver lining: I consciously decided to lose myself in study (and then in beer afterwards). I managed to get a 4.0 that term, which allowed me to take four courses for winter term.
I power-booked all winter and got a 4.0 again, with four courses. I had already been to Italy on foreign study during Spring term Sophomore year, and, as a Russian major, I was signed up to spend the next summer on the exchange program in the Soviet Union. All I had to do was to get through Junior year. I managed to get the gig as a Teaching Assistant [T.A.] for first-year Italian during the Spring, and Professor Rassias then called to ask me to serve as T.A. in Italian again in the Fall – but this time for the program in Florence, Italy. So I got to spend six more months in Europe (and away from Dartmouth). A pretty happy turn of events.
Although I did talk about being gay at Dick’s House and to one house brother, I didn’t come out until I got to Stanford for grad school. There I joined up with the fledgling Gay People’s Union. We petitioned the administration for a permanent space and were told that three members had to be interviewed publicly to show sufficient support to justify assigning us space. Two others had stepped forward and I was solicited to be the third. So I threw in my hat and took one for the cause: I came out on the front page of the Stanford Daily.
On the day the interview was published, I went to campus early in the morning almost paralyzed with anxiety because I had no idea what was going to happen to me. What then happened was the biggest shock: Nothing happened, until 4:00 in the afternoon. At that point I was walking to a 4:15 Humanities seminar when a fellow Humanities fellow, a French literature grad student, flew up to me on her bike, jumped off, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said “Congratulations! That had to have taken a lot of courage!” I later asked another gal-pal (I still had them) whether she had heard any repercussions. She said that the only thing she heard that morning was from our department secretary, who was reading the Stanford Daily at her desk. The secretary looked up and asked, “Is this our Jack Anderson?” My gal-pal said, “Yes.” The secretary said, brightly, “Oh!” and then continued reading the paper.
My worst experience while at Stanford happened off-campus on a Saturday night. I had gone out to a gay bar, and, after I left, I was trailed by two California Highway Patrol [CHP] officers who pulled me over as soon as I got to a less populated area. They handcuffed me, threw me into the back seat of their patrol car, and one of them climbed into the back seat with me. The other drove us around for a long period of time while the one in back with me proceeded to abuse me verbally about being gay. His harangue got more and more sexual (later I realized that he knew more about male- to-male sex acts than I even did at the time).
Eventually we came to a deserted field, where at least eight other patrol cars had pulled up in a circle, with their flashers and headlights on and facing inward, and the officers all standing in a circle in front of their patrol cars. They pulled me out of the back seat, still handcuffed, and frog-marched me into the middle of the circle, and made me kneel down. At this point I realized that I was about to be gang raped. Whether this was consciously motivated or an automatic defense reaction, I’ll never know, but I immediately became hysterically emotional and kept that up until they realized that they weren’t going to get anywhere without being really brutal, which would have been hard to cover up. So they drove me in and I was booked for drunk driving. Admittedly, I may have deserved that part.
Some of my Gay People’s Union buddies got me out, and one said that he’d heard of this having happened to several other guys (who may have cooperated more than I did, thus encouraging repeat performances). This was reinforced several years later when a friend told me that his cousin, who had been a CHP officer out of that same station, used to brag about being involved in exactly the same activity. CHP Saturday Night Fever?
The next week after my experience, I called the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] in Berkeley, told them the story, and asked for their help. They were sympathetic but explained that the law gave gay people no recourse; it would be my word against all those cops. They advised me to plead guilty and pay the fine, in exchange for probation. I borrowed the money and did so, of course reluctantly. I was initially very angry, but the experience radicalized me, and I became a lifelong gay activist who is now very proud of how far we have come. Another silver lining?
I can’t help but speculate what went through those CHP officers’ minds. If they could come off to physical stimulation from another man, shouldn’t that make them at least bisexual? Even if (or especially because) it was forced? And among each other? Or are they like the proverbial Marines, who aren’t gay if they don’t kiss? If nothing else, this experience has given me a free pass out of jury duty. The District Attorney asked a panel I was on for a criminal matter, “Has anybody ever had a negative experience with a peace officer?” I told the story aloud in the suddenly-silent courtroom (albeit in far less detail). I was his first peremptory challenge.
My family never fully came through. While at Stanford I got a letter from my oldest sister, thanking me for an LP I’d sent her, and saying that it was so good that we had remained close as adults. I had adored her since I was little. She was a fashion designer in New York and had numerous gay colleagues and friends. So I responded with a very positive letter, coming out to her and telling her how happy I was after I’d finally made that breakthrough. Several days later I got a thoroughly nasty response, by air mail and special delivery no less, berating me for “imposing my sexual problems onto her.” I re-read the letter to be certain that I understood it, ripped it up, threw it into the trash, and did not communicate with her for seven years. We were never close again.
My mother and other sister were supportive, but not my father. I wanted to lay it out on the table for him, but my mother asked me not to. He probably would have disowned me, with my mother suffering the brunt of the consequences. Out of respect for her, I kept up the charade of being a “confirmed bachelor,” and not dispelling his conviction that my partner was just a good buddy, until the day he died. We both missed out on having a relationship.
These experiences didn’t end after Stanford. I finally heard the word “homophobia” used constructively in the 1980’s, when I was in law school at USD, pursuing my career change. A national “Homophobia Awareness Day” had been declared, and the administration asked all the faculty to devote some of their class time to a discussion on homophobia. I had two classes that day. In one, Administrative Law, the professor was a visiting-faculty old codger who had been a high-level functionary in the Johnson administration. Although he had made his career under a champion of civil rights and was, in fact, a Jewish senior citizen who must have experienced the Holocaust at least second-hand, he wanted nothing to do with the discussion. He said that he couldn’t understand why he was being instructed to talk about something that meant “fear of man” and that he deemed “nonsense.”
In the other class, a Black student stood up and gave an impassioned speech about how the concept of homophobia was “ridiculous” because nobody could understand what it was like to live under discrimination if they weren’t Black. I guess it never occurred to him that some people are Black and gay. I didn’t take on either of them in class because I had already had a grueling day (this was night school) and I just didn’t need the hassle. But later I ran into the Black student and asked him whether he had ever had the problem of telling his parents that he is Black, and fear being disowned as a result. He looked at me as if I were green with red antennae, and he walked away.
In my first two law-firm jobs I was never really incorporated into the social network. I was not invited to either a New Year’s party or a weekend in Las Vegas that included the other associates and the secretaries in the office. I was not invited to the 25th anniversary party of a boss with whom I worked very closely, and another 40th birthday party, because relatives of each were coming from the Midwest who “couldn’t handle it.”
I thought I had finally made it when I landed a job in a mid-sized “boutique” firm that had a structured partnership-achievement program. Early on I was told by the managing partner, over his desk while I looked him in the eyes, that I was “guaranteed” to make partner if I met all the criteria. After I had worked very hard for many years and had met all the criteria, it was suddenly announced that the criteria had changed, with no plausible explanation given. They merely said that “the prior program was not equally fair to everyone.” What the Hell did that mean? Was it only a coincidence that I had brought my partner to the office Christmas party for the first time that year? I was sick and tired of listening to all the grandchildren and wedding stories, but being unable to talk about my own personal life and having to be evasive when people asked me probing personal questions. “Are you married? Why not?” You’d think that only elderly aunts of the time would ask those questions.
I’d worked hard to meet my objective, and then the goal posts were moved, and I cracked my head firmly against that hard glass ceiling. When I told this story to a woman acquaintance a few years later, she said, “Oh no; glass ceilings are only there to prevent women from meeting their potential.” Do I detect a theme here? I’ve known many racist, misogynist, and antisemitic gay people over the years. I guess it boils down to, “Don’t you dare be biased against my tribe.”
Yet the silver linings did keep coming around, largely because I had learned to look for them. I later had just survived a second corporate meltdown, still in that same law firm, and the remaining structure was very shaky. The only reason I survived was that I was servicing two of the most lucrative clients that the firm had, and they were mine. I had brought one with me and I had attracted the other. Then I started getting pressure from that same managing partner to share my good clients’ work with other associate attorneys in the firm. So I initiated evasive maneuvers and started planning my escape, in order to avoid being screwed out of earned bonuses (as had happened to a couple other attorneys who left). I waited until my annual bonuses were in my bank account and my benefits still due were confirmed in an accounting. Then I gave my notice, and my two good clients opted to follow me. They kept me and my new sole practice fully busy for the remainder of my career.
But back to Dartmouth: After graduation I left for my new life in California, never really looking back, and admittedly without any warm-and-fuzzies for Dartmouth. This was status-quo until our 40th reunion approached. I had not returned to campus, but I did finally join the Dartmouth LGBTQIA+ Alum Association [DGALA] and decided to go to our 40th reunion, since DGALA was having events. I had a blast. At the DGALA breakfast, I first learned about the establishment of Triangle House, and was immediately intrigued and excited. And then I got the more detailed fundraising letters. Because I was still working, I was able to pull together a sufficient donation to become a founding contributor. DGALA and Triangle House have brought me back to Dartmouth, and I am very proud to be on the plaque in the Triangle House living room. They have brought me some delayed warm-and- fuzzies for Dartmouth. Better late than never.
My Dartmouth house, TEP/HPF, folded pretty soon after we graduated. It is now a sorority. When we had a Classes of 1968-1972 house reunion at Homecoming in 2014, the women there graciously offered us a tour of the old house. I was quite pleased to see a rainbow flag hanging from the window of my Junior-Year room. How things change! The silver linings keep coming.
On October 7th this fall, DGALA hosted a Zoom event with Jonathan Skurnik ’86 about his documentary films “Becoming Johanna” and “A Portrait of Robert Jackson.” “Becoming Johanna” (2016) follows a transgender Latina teen as she is rejected by her mother and deals with life issues over a 5-year period. Skurnik made the Jackson short documentary when he was a senior at Dartmouth; it is a roving-around-campus interview with Robert Jackson ’86, who speaks candidly about his struggles as a black man and a gay man. The film had never been digitized, and so DGALA put up the funds to do so, and the film now will be permanently housed in the Dartmouth library system. Jonathan made both films were made available to DGALA members for viewing before the Zoom event and for a limited time thereafter. If you are interested in seeing either or both, or the Zoom event, email us at DartGALA@gmail.com.
The event was hosted by DGALA leader Lee Merkle-Raymond ’86, who knew Jonathan while the two were at Dartmouth; questions from the audience followed. The following is a summary of what was discussed.
Jonathan on Why He Made Becoming Johanna
I was gender non-conforming as a youth, and I was horribly bullied. So this project was personal to me. And it is for all youth, as well as all adults: we all are gender non-conforming to some extent, and we all are oppressed by a strict binary system. I had been reading about transgender youth living in communities that supported them. These children and their families were doing what my community hadn’t been able to do when I was a child. As a social change filmmaker, I wanted to document and help grow the movement that embraces rather than suppresses children with gender expansive identities. I found Johanna in an LA program for transgender youth, when she was 16. We worked together for five years as I followed her, and later as we toured the country to speak to large groups about the film [which also appeared on PBS].
Jonathan on the Robert Jackson ’86 Film
Robert was my friend at Dartmouth, and he had come out to me about a month before we made the film. Filmmaking was my passion at Dartmouth, and I asked if he would collaborate with me on a film about him, discussing his being black, and possibly his sexual orientation. Robert agreed, and he did come out during the filming. Later the film was screened at Webster Hall to over 300 people (as one of ten films from Jonathan’s class). Robert and I sat together; Robert was nervous; I told him I’d tell them not to run it if he wished, but he said, “No; it’s OK.” We held hands for the whole film. Afterwards, Robert received a standing ovation and much support from the audience.
Jonathan on the Future and Continued Relevance of LGBTQ+ Film-Making
There is still so much oppression and homophobia in our culture. Look at the status of Roe: such protections will continue to be under attack for many years. It is just part of the picture of progress against oppression. No one wants to give up OutFest in LA, or NewFest in New York City. I filmed a convention of LGBTQ+ Jewish young people in Orlando a few years ago. There were extremes of experience. Some kids were threatened; but in other communities there was no need to come out, as a variety of orientations were accepted. That is more what it is like today – levels of acceptance and oppression vary all around the country, and we need to approach the topic in that regard.
Jonathan Speaking with Green Light after the Zoom Event
“It was a joy to connect with both alumni and students to discuss my films. DGALA supported the digitization of the first major film that I made at Dartmouth, which I hadn’t viewed in over 25 years. It was gratifying to realize that the voice and themes that I’ve developed over a lifetime of creative output were incubated and developed while I was a student, and to see the extraordinary similarities between my very first film and my most recent PBS documentary. Another key part of my life that started at Dartmouth is my lifelong commitment to being an ally to the LGBTQ community, and making the world safe for all of us who deviate from the gender binary.”
Comment from Student Leader Jess Chiriboga ’24 About the Event
“Within, Dartmouth’s LGBTQ+ club, gathered together in Brace Commons over delicious pizza (thank you DGALA for funding!) and yummy snacks and desserts! There were a couple of new faces, which was incredible. Our group especially enjoyed seeing Dartmouth of the past in Jonathan Skurnik ’86’s film on Robert Jackson ’86. Collis sure looks a lot different these days! Thank you to DGALA for the incredible Q&A, the free pizza, and for digitizing the Jackson film for us to enjoy!”
Her publisher Random House aptly described Torrey Peters GR ’13’s best-selling 2021 novel as “brilliantly and fearlessly navigating the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.” The novel (now available in paperback and currently being adapted into a television series) has won numerous accolades (Named One of the Best Books of the Year by Esquire: Long listed for The Women’s Prize; Roxanne’s Gay Audacious Book Club Pick; New York Times Editors’ Choice). However, tackling taboos and writing honestly about sex, gender and relationships can also bring forth detractors, as well as challenge thoughtful readers. On June 15 of this year, DGALA leader Sheila Hicks-Rotella ’04 led a candid conversion about these issues, ideas and more in a Zoom presentation co-hosted by Women of Dartmouth and attended by a large audience from around the world, who also asked questions. Following is a summary of what Torrey had to say. If you’d like to view the full Zoom recording, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Torrey on Her Time at Dartmouth
I transitioned and came out then; it turned out to be a good experience; people were not hostile; they were interested. My thesis advisor ended up being one of the most important people whom I have ever met. We started with a traditional thesis advising relationship, but it evolved to include broad philosophical issues; it shaped my thinking.
Influences for Detransition, Baby
Transitioning in my early 30s, I had to find meaning in life. Older trans women generally were not able to have the broader horizons that younger trans women do today. As a guide I read works of divorced cis women who were starting life anew in their 30s. You need to start over with less time, fewer illusions. They used humor, sadness, joy and loss. I tried to apply that model to trans women.
The phenomenon of detransitioning is sometimes used by bigots and transphobes; I do not believe that it is something that we cannot talk about. We all do things in life that we come to regret, but that does not mean that we were wrong in the first place. Most people who detransition do so because it can be very difficult; you can lose friends, family, jobs. I say, “Let’s talk about it.” That is more healthy. Even to joke about it. A comparable example has arisen when same-sex couples divorce; they may feel that they are stigmatizing same-sex marriage, but that is not true. Divorce should not just be for straight people.
Another controversy was my nomination for the Women’s Prize for Fiction [a prominent prize awarded annually in England to a female author of any nationality for a work in English]. Some critics called me a man in disguise infiltrating a women’s contest. These attacks did not bother me; they triggered good conversations in the UK and actually helped sales there. I take more seriously criticisms by trans people; some felt that my book exposes too many secrets. I say that no transgender people should feel shame about any aspect of their lives, and the way to get rid of that shame is to shed sunshine, as my novel does, and as my public appearances, such as on “Good Morning America” and “Today” have done.
How Allies Can Help
There are short-term and long-term issues. Currently there are a lot of anti-trans bills in legislatures in many states. Yes, we should fight those. But you also need to understand that they are distractions so that energy gets siphoned off the fight. There are bigger issues than sports. Some trans women cannot get jobs and have other much more serious issues. And those issues extend to a lot of other people.
Advice for Writers
My early writing was for everyone and no one. Later, when I wrote for trans people, I found a sense of urgency. Don’t worry much about your craft as a writer, but ask to whom do you have something to say with urgency. Imagine those people and speak to them. If you do that, it will be interesting to others as well.
Use in the Book of “Transsexual”
Question from the audience: What were your motives in using “transsexual” rather than “transgender?” Answer [paraphrased]: This is the milieu in which I live. We sometimes make fun of the term “transgender.” Some of my trans friends have issues with the way that we have been grouped. It is not that “transgender” is a wrong term. But “transsexual” has the word “sex” in it, so it’s more fun and has a pulpy 70s feel. It’s just a preference.
How People Should Come Away from Detransition, Baby
It’s not that the book gives a solution. It describes the situation for trans women today and shows their problems. How are we going to make a life together and not lie to each other? This is the question that the book raises; the current generation of trans women must figure out how to live. In my own life I am grappling with some of the questions that the book raises.
The Zoom Session
Thank you for having me and asking such thoughtful questions. The logistics were great and the turnout was wonderful.