A Conversation with Novelist Elliott DeLine on Self-Publishing and Transgender Writing
Hello, Elliott! I would like to thank you for taking the time with me today to answer a few questions, and I look forward to your visit to SUNY
Fredonia in November.
The first question that comes to mind is related to your research and experience as a transgender writer. It’s clear that this genre has been underrepresented in the media and in the canon. I’m curious to know if you believe this might be changing, for the better, and if you would recommend self-publishing as a means for other transgender authors who wish to get their work out there?
A: I do believe this is changing and rather rapidly. There have been a number of innovative literary works by transgender authors in the past few years. Typically, writing on transgender people has been written by non-transgender people, or it has been restricted to a narrow autobiography format. There were trans writers in academia writing more complex things, but for the first time I think we are seeing a number of transgender people making a name for themselves as artists.Particularly novelists and poets.
I do recommend self-publishing. If you have the time, energy, and access to the internet, I strongly recommend transgender authors do it all themselves, and perhaps work with other transgender people when they need to. It isn’t easy, but I think it’s important that we take the reins over our representation. For too long, people have been projecting all kind of baggage onto us as a group. We’re revolutionaries, we’re sexist, we’re metaphors, we’re tragic, we’re fascinating, we’re medical anomalies… It’s important to me at least that I have the control over my representation. Otherwise it’s going to be twisted by someone to make it sell. I think it’s suitable for a transgender author to self-publish. People doubt me as a “real author” much like they doubt me as a “real man.” It’s typically believed that you need to go through this long process before you’re a writer. You need to pay thousands to get an MFA, slowly work your way up by publishing in journals, send your manuscript to a million agents, until maybe one day your book is published. Until then, you’re “aspiring.” I say screw that. Just put it out there. You aren’t going to get rich or famous, but you probably wouldn’t have anyway.
Q: I noticed a connection between the title of your latest book, I Know Very Well How I Got My Name, and the title of a song from pop-icon Morrissey. In an interview from 1987, Morrissey was quoted as saying “I refuse to recognize the terms hetero-, bi- and homo-sexual. Everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. People are just -sexual, the prefix is immaterial.” … I’m wondering how you feel about such labels, and if you were inspired at all by this singer/songwriter?
A: I think the media often wants to pin down artists with labels and dumb them down, for marketing purposes. It’s like how Barnes & Noble has the “Gay and Lesbian” section. The press really wanted to reduce Morrissey to a “gay icon” and I think he pissed a lot of people off by evading and complicating that notion. That’s one of the reasons I always found him more accessible than male artists who were very clearly “gay” or “straight.” He was sort of queer before his time. Of course I imagine he’d want nothing to do with that word. But he’s always meant a lot more to me than just that. I’ve played around with different labels. Sometimes I’ll say I’m a gay, though that never feels quite right. I mean, I pretty exclusively pursue relations with men at this point, but I don’t really identify with gay men. Then again, neither do most gay men. “Queer trans men” just seem like a very specific group of people. It evokes a very particular subculture that I’ve never quite felt a part of. It seems too precise and limiting. Maybe it’s because when I’m home, I don’t spend a lot of time with people who went to college. “Queer” always carried a element of class, for me. But it’s also useful and inclusive. Even “transgender” has been a struggle. I’ve used it for convenience, but I think it’s a tiresome word. It probably has to do with being a writer. Similarly, Morrissey is a lyricist. When you analyze the meaning of words, it’s hard to just carelessly state “I am _____.” Particularly since sexuality seems to override everything. For whatever reason, we’re really attached to this idea that our entire being is like 90% defined by our genitals and the genitals we find sexually arousing. It’s really bizarre.
Q: We look forward to you coming to Fredonia in November. Can you give us any details about any upcoming projects you are working on, or where your research may be leading? Rumor has it you may be coming out with yet another book? I don’t want to give anything away, but what does thefuture look like for Elliott DeLine?
A: Thank you! I’m looking forward to visiting. I don’t go about researching in a typical fashion. When I feel blocked in my writing, I figure I have to 1.) read some more 2.) live some more. I’m working on
a third book but there isn’t much I can say about it with certainty. So far it’s about the same old things - Being a trans man in his 20’s. Isolation. Unrequited love. Introspective rants. Anger. Subtle and overt oppression. But there’s a lot more sex and the first half takes place in California. I have a lot of problems with the world, and I hope that I can demonstrate them through scenes in my writing. That’s my main drive.
As far as what my future looks like, I have no clue. I want to find a way to have financial security while I continue writing and traveling. I want to make my home, Syracuse, a better place for marginalized people to live. I want recognition. I want to fall in love. Mostly, I want to befriend a lot of cats.
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From Shifting Standards, Issue 4 Vol VX. Fall 2013. SUNY Fredonia’s Women and Gender Studies Program.