Admit it. Transgendered people are fascinating. In storyteller Amy Bloom’s first book of non-fiction, Normal, the New York Times best-selling author indulges her curiosity with unabashed pride and hopes of promoting trans visibility. But are people who identify as trans willing to be the object of intellectual fascination? And given their simultaneous invisibility and gross exploitation in mainstream media, can they afford not to?
Like many Americans, Amy Bloom’s early encounters with trans people occurred in the glow of her television set. A part-time psychotherapist, Bloom filled vacant afternoons with the static buzz of daytime programming and trashy talk show rinds.
In Normal, you gave significant airtime to surgeons, psychiatrists and the difference in appearance between trans genitalia and the medical model. Doesn’t that define trans people by the same clinical standards that often pathologize them?
The people who sought me out and wished to be interviewed, and the people who wished to share their stories, are all people who had surgery. And since it seemed to be meaningful for them, it would have been irresponsible to not understand what that medical intervention had been. There are lots of people who are transgendered who never see a psychiatrist or endocrinologist or a surgeon and live happy lives.
How did you reconcile your power to determine the mainstream’s perception of trans people with their lack of access to the public dialogue?
I suppose some people might feel I have no right to share the stories some people shared with me, but I’m not quite sure why … These are stories that people chose and often asked to tell me. And I felt that the best thing I could do with them was to share them with readers. My hope is to change the nature of the public dialogue.
Yes, but you are sculpting that public dialogue, not the trans people themselves.
The real question is how did I have the nerve to write about them and why not? And are they not free to write not only their stories but any stories they want? Are you telling me that if someone is a transman and a poet that he may only write poetry about being a transman? He may not write poetry about women gathering wheat in Kansas in 1840? He may not write poetry about the Holocaust? How could that be true!? Are you really saying that only dead Austrians can listen to Mozart? I don’t say this is the only book. I provide a bibliography. As if this book would crowd out anybody else’s book? I don’t think so.
For many womyn born womyn, policies use surgical status as a way of excluding those without genital surgery from women’s events. How did you feel about w-b-w policies before and after the book?
There were men that I spoke to who felt very wounded by that policy. There were guys that had been at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival and been turned away at doors. And there were guys who said that although they had lived in the lesbian community, specifically, they had never really felt at ease because they had never really felt like women … It has to do with exactly how fluid one experiences [gender] to be. I don’t think you can have it both ways. I don’t think you can say as a community, “We believe that gender is fluid, but we put the marker here.” If it’s fluid, then the marker is irrelevant. If it’s not fluid, then we better say so.