But even so, can I, or anyone write about characters who are transgender and/or intersex? Do I have direct experience? Do I know what goes on in their heads? Can I render a reliable and realistic portrayal? I don't know. I guess you'll find out for yourself. Although I have to warn you that my characters are totally...erm...unique, and that reflects on their gender identity and he way they rationalise, understand and deal with it.
Well I've given it a go
ARI is to be released on 19th June with a grand unveiling of the stunning cover tomorrow. Here's the synopsis
After having known each other online for some time, writers, Benji and Ari meet at a convention.
Their attraction is both immediate and mutual.
But all is not straightforward—Ari is intersex and Benji transgender.
Together they embark on a journey.
A journey that unites families, and heals old wounds.
But not everyone is happy with the blossoming love between these two unique and special individuals.
Will an act of aggression crush the flower before it can bloom?
I wanted to get away from the more popular interpretations of the title and look at someone who was not stranded in a place, but rather in something far more personal. I was thinking about it a lot, when an annoying but adorable little imp called Ari started talking to me at the UK Meet of LGBT writers in Bristol last July.
I started writing the story at the Meet and the entirity of the short story - which extends to the point where Benji makes his discovery about Ari - and parts of the extended novel (principally Benji's journey home) are based on my own experiences. (except, of course the parts that obviously aren't). Yes, our hamster died the night before, yes we overslept and were woken by the dog howling at a thunderstorm, and yes the guard did sing Oklahoma up and down the train on my way to Cardiff. There were many more personal experiences dotted through the first part of the book relating to that Meet. I will never forget my time there.
Back to the point. Ari and Benji begin the story stranded between genders. Benji is transgender...although he's not entirely sure about that, until Ari puts him right. All the way over on the other side of the spectrum, Ari is intersex, with no definitive genetalia making him (his chosen pronoun most of the time) effectively neither male nor female. In an uniquely Ari way, he deals with this by not confining himself to a single gender, but allowing himself to be male when he feels like a male, and female when he feels like a female. That suits him fine. Shame the rest of the world don't understand or agree.
Benji is fairly insecure as to his gender identity while Ari has no doubts at all about either and no time for labels in any event.
Back to another point. I am not intersex, and I am not overtly transgender. However, I identify strongly with Benji with regard to his internal processes. Although I have had two good marriages, with two good men, I have always felt something was 'off'.
I remember when I was 8 years old and started menstruating, lying on my bed and sobbing my heart out - because I couldn't be a boy anymore. Oh if only I'd known at the time that I could have. Now, after fifty years of living as a woman, and finding my own fairly gender neutral identity, which has recently begun to accommodate a worrying amount of pink, I can honestly say I don't give a flying fuck what labels I or other put on myself and that the labels can change and be as fluid as I am.
My internal dialogue is entirely male and in my head I refer to myself as 'he' and, I now realize I always have. Externally I present as female. - kind of, although my dress style is mostly fairly gender neutral - and that's okay, although I still surprise myself sometimes with a strong desire for pretty dresses and lovely shoes.
In either gender I am pansexual and have enjoyed relationships with both sexes, although by far my longest relationships have been with men. That might have been very different if I had understood myself better when I was younger. However, I had never heard the word transgender, or known what it means, and as shocking as it may seem, I have only really understood what it means to be trans fairly recently. As I said if that understanding had come sooner my life could have been very different - but I may well not have had the beautiful children I'm blessed with, so there are no regrets about anything in my life. (except perhaps that the sex would have been sooo much better if I had embraced my true self and his needs)
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, can I write intersex and transgender characters? Hmm. I think anyone CAN write anything they want. I'm perfectly capable of writing any kind of character or situation whether I have any experience or understanding at all. The questions are - can I write a BELIEVABLE character, and more than that 'should' I do it without a more in depth understanding of their issues, and the issues of the wider community.
Well, I have never shied from controversy, so that deals with the 'should', and as far as believability (is that a word? If not Ari probably made it up, he does that) is concerned, you'll have to make up your own minds, although as far as I'm concerned they can't be anything other than believable because they actually exist.
If you're interested in seeing a bit more of Ari and Benji, stay tuned because tomorrow is the grand cover reveal, and I think it's awesome. I'll treat you to an excerpt from the book, provide some pre order links and open the floor for question time. I am intending to do an interview with Benji and Ari before the release on 19th June and would love to receive questions from the floor, so to speak