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Round 2!

Okay! Continuing on, I've got an--err--sample chunk here of how I'm thinking of handling the matter of Grandma Billy, and I was hoping I could get some feedback. (I generally do not believe in writing by committee, but this is too important a bit to get right to leave it up to bumbling authorial goodwill.)

First, though--thank you very much to everyone who has been patient with me here. I am trying to do this right and it is hard and a little scary and I know I've said a couple stupid things already. You guys have been awesome, and I really appreciate it. (I realize that it's exhausting to educate even the well-meaning, day after day.)

I've gone back and forth a few times on this one--and I may yet go back again!--but my current thinking is that I don't want anybody other than Grandma Billy to bring it up. So I'm thinking I leave the draft somewhat as it stands, use nothing but the correct gendered pronouns, and then at some point insert the following scene--and then pretty much leave it there and carry on with were-javelinas or whatever the book turns out to be about. (I have no idea what it will be about. Probably not were-javelinas.)

What I want to avoid, very hard, is any sense that this is a Big Reveal or that there were hints dropped or that this is a solution to a puzzle or something. And I want to make sure that this works without being painful. (Obviously there's not a universal trans* experience, but I'm hoping to avoid a broadly hurtful one!)  Part of the awkwardness is that I cannot see Grandma Billy actually saying "trans gender" or any variant--she is very clever but her language runs a different way. This is a woman who'd call menopause "the change." (Hat tip to Sigilgoat for bringing up what I thought was a rather elegant turn of phrase, and I hope I can borrow it!)

So, anyway:

            “You’ve been married,” said Selena, staring into her mason jar. She wasn’t entirely sure about this “desert mojito” thing. It tasted like sagebrush smelled, or at least what sagebrush would smell like if it were grown in the middle of a distillery. “You know what it’s like.”
            “Eh, yeah…” Grandma Billy poured herself another slug of mojito. “The first one was pretty, but not worth much. ‘Course, that was back in the day, when I was a boy, and I wasn’t thinking too straight myself.”
            There was a lengthy pause.
            “Um,” said Selena. “I—um.”
            She flailed for a script and couldn’t find one. For some reason, all she could see in her mind was the employee handbook from the deli, which had a page on addressing transgender* employees. It is very important to address the employee by the name and pronoun they have selected. Failure to do so will be grounds for a Human Resources complaint.
            That line had been highlighted. Oh god, I didn’t miscall her, did I? That’s bad—you don’t do that, that’s the thing you don’t ever do—oh god, have I said “man” or “dude” or called her a wiseguy I can’t remember—
            She had a sudden panicked feeling that if she turned around, HR would be standing behind her right this minute.
            “Close your mouth, dear, you’re gonna catch moths,” said Grandma Billy, much amused.
            “I’m sorry,” said Selena. “I haven’t said anything horribly offensive to you, have I?”
            “You insulted my rooster. I haven’t forgotten that. That rooster may not look like much, but his sire was Dynamo, who once went six rounds with a feral hog and sent that pig crying back to his mommy. That rooster has hidden depths.”
            She grinned. “Lord,  you’re fine. It ain’t any kind of secret. It’s been forty-seven years since I made the switch, all the hard bits got knocked off a long time ago.”
            “I didn’t know,” said Selena meekly.
            “No reason you should. Never met a person so resistant to gossip." She shrugged. "Had to stop taking the pills when I hit seventy and had the change. That was a bitch. You ever have a hot flash in a desert?” She took another slug of mojito and shuddered theatrically.
            The silence that followed was awkward but companionable. A white moth spiraled raggedly toward the yucca flowers.
            “So anyway, you’ve been married...” said Selena, trying to pick up the thread of the conversation again. “And you know, there’s that point where you’re like “I love you, but you’re loading the dishwasher wrong?”
            “Twenty-seven years with Billy,” said Grandma, snorting. “Twenty-seven years, and every damn dish had to soak for three days. Not that we had a dishwasher, but he’d leave things in the sink.” She glared at her mojito. “I miss him terribly, even now, but by god, my sink is clean.”

*Is this the correct spacing/usage? I’m still not completely clear on use as adjective vs. noun, and which spacing is correct. Is it that transgendered as a noun is perceived as putting people off in a different box, but it's okay as an adjective, or do I have the wrong end of the stick?

ETA: Clipped off the -ed at the end in the handbook to try to pull it up to standard style guide. (Yes, of course the handbook could be wrong, but I'd rather everyone was as right as possible...)

By the way -- while I absolutely love fantasy, modern fantasy, horror, etc, what you've written so far is so engaging, that I would read it solely for the setting and characters themselves; it is not people vs nature, it is "people in nature", and man, you bring nature alive in so fascinating ways.

Agreed - I would.pay to read this story (high praise) whether or not the numinous or fantastic ever put in an appearance.

Selena can certainly use 'transgendered' in her head if that's what her HR pamphlet used, whether it's right or not. If that pamphlet is the source of all her information, than how else could she think?

'Dude', 'man', and 'wiseguy' are all acceptable applied to women as far as I know, but I can see where she'd now be hypervigilant. It's like saying 'see what I mean?' to a blind person.

You SAID there would be jackalopes! What's with these were-javelinas? Oh. Of course, you can have both if you want.

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Looks good to me. And if "transgendered" is what is said in the HR book, it is what is said inside Selena's head, right or wrong. If it is wrong, blame HR. Tight third party works for you here - you don't need the correctness of omniscient third party.

I would say this is as good as you are going to get at this stage. File it for the moment, slip it in where needed, and you may improve it in the polishing stages of the book - if and when there is a book to polish. No need to agonise more until there is a serious chance of (e)print happening.

But why should Ursula make the decision for HR to have used the word language? Why not just have them get it right in the beginning, so it's right from the start and doesn't need to be addressed.

Yeah, you're doing it right. "A transgender" is seen as offensive, "a transgendered person" is fine. It's a thing that describes part of us, not a thing that's the entirety of what we are. I'm a cartoonist first and foremost, not a transwoman.

Current usage is more along the lines of "...which had a page on addressing trans employees" to be honest, 'trans' is pretty much the accepted short form, "transgendered" is kind of a mouthful. But it sounds like this is the first place you're making it overt so that's probably a reason to write the word out in full.

And "back when I was a boy" is pretty much what comes out of my mouth when I talk about Before. (Come to think of it I kinda feel like it's always "when I was a boy/girl", not "when I was a man/woman" - we tend to narrate our lives such that we kept some Important Growing Up on hold until after the transition, if we transitioned as an adult.)

REALISTICALLY there is a pretty good chance that if Grandma Billy was to talk about her transition she might use some word to describe herself that is now considered incredibly offensive. I used to casually call myself a "tranny", but these days if I say that on the Internet I'll get downvoted to oblivion no matter what else I said because that's now such a Bad Word that I'm not allowed to use it, even in the manner of someone in the insulted group reclaiming it. You would probably be lynched if you portrayed this so don't try it.

Come to think of it I kinda feel like it's always "when I was a boy/girl", not "when I was a man/woman" - we tend to narrate our lives such that we kept some Important Growing Up on hold until after the transition, if we transitioned as an adult.

This is an interesting point, and my own experience chimes with it - I am okay with talking about myself as having been a girl, but I was never, ever comfortable with calling myself a woman, to the point of getting physical anxiety reactions if I tried too hard.

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My understanding is that "transgender" is the correct adjective, and "transgender person" is the noun.

This snippet is promising too!

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Oh, yeah, good point, but if you're going to use it the word I think is more "misgender" than "miscall".

It looks good to me. The bit with Selena frantically quoting lines from the handbook in her head made me giggle a little bit, because I've been there with other stuff.

I think the exact spacing and word usage varies a bit, as is fairly typical with coined stuff, which might be why you're confused. Transgender is generally the adjective where I am; making it a noun by itself is usually offensive, yes. Trans is often used as a short form, but would be unlikely to end up in a work training handbook, I suspect. Some people will also use transwoman, transman, etc; some people consider those offensive because it's making it into a special noun as opposed to woman, man, and they use trans woman or trans man to make it an adjective.

Some people of the current generation will tell you the "when I was an x" phrasing is offensive, because they were always the gender they are now. I think that that's a fairly recent view (might be wrong?), and a lot of people of the older generations do phrase it that way. I don't think you're likely to make anyone furious with it, anyway, and I agree that it's a good work around when you can't use the word transgender to explain. I keep running into that with historical fantasy where the characters don't have any good word...

Edited at 2014-02-03 05:19 pm (UTC)

(It's also not the business of those people to tell someone that their personal experience is offensive. :) My wife says she's a boy who grew up into a woman, and it's kind of annoying/erasing to her to insist that that is NEVER possible. If that's how Grandma Billy sees her life... then it's her damned life to define as she sees fit.)

It works for me. It makes sense with Grandma Billy's character (or what we've seen of her so far) for her to say something like this. Nothing jumps out at me as being offensive. But if I were writing something with a trans* character, I'd ask some trans* folks for feedback.

I like this scene. It feels in line with the story and the characters, and it presents the information simply and without authorial judgment. Thank you.

One possibility for that first meeting and showing Selena's pronoun confusion would be at this point:

“Selena.” Selena shook. She had shaken a lot of hands today.

“Billy…?” she asked tentatively, searching the face in front of her.

If the question were: "Grand...?" and the answer "Grandma," said Grandma Billy firmly. “Billy was my second husband and I’m too old to change it now.” Selena nodded.

On re-reads (several, 'cause it's a fun read) I've thought that may clarify a bit more what Selena's asking about. Not so much the strangeness of Billy as a woman's name (which isn't all that strange) but rather whether this is a person to be addressed by male or female nouns and pronouns.

Billy isn't that rare as a name for a woman - my mother (1911-1994) was a Billie pretty well from birth.

I don't have a problem with Grandma Billy in this context. Her name is her own damned business, everyone else should live with it (wonder about it certainly, but live with it). This snippet explains a bit of the back story, and leaves enough still unexplained to maintain a story...

My ha'peth FWIW...

Re: "transgendered", the GLAAD style guide (http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender) lists it as "problematic", but whether the writer of the handbook at the deli would have known that is entirely in your head. :) (And seeing as several people with actual lived experience have commented above that it's fine, it sounds like a judgement call anyway.)


I like this a lot. The HR-pamphlet anxiety attack is priceless, and perfectly in tune with Selena as we know her. Saving the scene for sometime later makes sense to me, too - I don't get the impression that GB is all that excitable on the subject anymore, so making a big deal of it on first meeting wouldn't fit.

I don't have a dog in the trans* fight, but I love both Selena's panic and the rooster bit.

Same here. I've never had to deal with a formal HR department and I could feel a malevolent presence behind me when I read that bit.

What terms are acceptable are very time-dependent. I'm going to be 67 this year and I don't think I can even recall all the polite terms in my lifetime for people in the USofA with African ancestry.

Edited at 2014-02-03 06:02 pm (UTC)

Very true, and I may be apologizing a lot in forty years, if this becomes a book--but on the other hand, I can at least avoid the ones that I KNOW are horrible.

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Well, I am far from speaking for the general trans experience (in fact, I am not doing so on behalf of ANY personal experience once Grandma Billy wandered away from being explicitly non-binary), but I think it's great. I like that she dropped it into conversation, I like that she noted Selena is resistant to gossip and so it's kind of cute that this is a shock to her, and Grandma Billy doing it on purpose to tell her without making it a Thing - and laughing gently at her afterward - is terrific.

And the bit about how Selena's immediately terrified she made a horrific misstep is both respectful and hilarious. :) You could make it very clear there that she's worried about *hurting* Grandma Billy, not about offending her, but frankly that's a nitpick and comes down to a matter of personal style/taste. Overall, I loved this scene.

Thank you, again, for being so darned cool about all of this.