Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Interview with The Dharma Kelleher Readers Club

This week I was so excited to be interviewed for the latest edition of transgender author Dharma Kellher's Readers Club newsletter! Check it out here.

Here's the text of it here:

An Interview with Author/Podcaster Faith DaBrooke

photo of Faith DaBrookeI discovered Faith DaBrooke a few month ago when I started listening to The Gender Rebels, a podcast that she produces with her partner Kathleen. According to their website, "The Gender Rebels is a fun, informative weekly question-and-answer podcast that explores life outside the gender binary."

I listen to a LOT of podcasts that deal with being transgender and other related issues and The Gender Rebels is by far one of the best, both in terms of the discussions and the production quality.

What I didn't realize right away was that in addition to being a podcaster, Faith DaBrooke is also an author. I recently finished reading her novel American Transgirl and absolutely loved it. So I contacted Faith and asked her some questions about bring a trans podcaster and author. Here's what she had to say:

Dharma: What led you to start The Gender Rebels podcast?

Faith: My partner Kath is a veteran podcaster and she spent years producing a couple different ones including But I Digress and ABC Gotham. As we were both creative people we often discussed the idea of a creative project we could share.

Our first foray into podcasts was one called Fool Me Once about tricks, scams, hustles, woo, and frauds. We did a couple episodes, but as a new podcaster I couldn't quite find the balance between scripted prepared information and natural impromptu conversation. We've shared those episodes with our patrons, but Fool Me Once quickly fizzled.

So, we began discussing other topics, eventually settling on transgender issues. It was something that I knew a great deal about from life experience and from years of research, and having my cis [non-transgender] partner Kath ask questions was natural. The result is The Gender Rebels.

It's been amazing to see the responses we get and the stories we hear from people. We've made new friends via the podcast and it feels almost like a community. It's been great.

Dharma: How did you get into writing?

Faith: Writing is something I've done pretty much my entire life. There have always been amazing stories and adventures happening in my head. There has never been a lack of inspiration or a time when I didn't have multiple story ideas running through my head. My writings have obviously progressed from the short stories ten or twelve year old me wrote to actual adult screenplays and novels. But the writing bug has always been there.

Dharma: Tell us about American Transgirl and what motivated you to write this story? 

Faith: American Transgirl is the story of Matt, a kid growing up in suburban Georgia in the 90s. Not only does he deal with gender dysphoria, but he also tries to navigate life at a new school, friends, and crushes on girls. When he meets a new friend, Michelle, he's able to come out of his shell more and the two begin hitting up the local gay bars where Matt can show off his new persona Sarah.

Later, when Matt moves to NYC, he finds the freedom to begin expressing his feminine side more and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he is and always has been transgender. Things get more complicated when she comes out as Sarah and falls for Erin, a struggling artist and lesbian. It's about figuring out who you are, finding love, and finding your home in this world.

The novel actually came into this world first as a short story about a crossdresser coming out to a friend. At the time I was writing it, I was thinking of writing a memoir and decided to combine the two ideas into a single novel.

Dharma: How are you and the main character similar and how are you different?

Faith: As I mentioned, a lot of memoir ended up in the novel. But the character ultimately isn't me. For one thing, I wrote Sarah as non-creative specifically to contrast her with Erin. Plus I've never been a barista, though I have had plenty of low paying jobs in my time.

Dharma: What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this story?

Faith: There were two big challenges in completing the novel. Firstly, I wasn't quite sure how to structure the story. It's told in three books (high school, life in NYC, a romance with Erin), but I didn't really know if it should be structured chronologically, or maybe alternate between past and present. Ultimately, I decided that Erin needed to be introduced early which is why the story starts starts at the end before zooming back in time to the beginning.

The other major challenge was making sure that Erin was written authentically. I'm a trans lesbian, but Erin is a cis lesbian and so I was writing a character without having experienced what life as a cis lesbian is like. Ultimately, I went back and added a couple new chapters during the third or fourth draft to flesh out her character a little more. That made me much happier with the character, though I still worried that cis lesbians might think her unrealistic. 
Dharma: What surprised you about writing this story?

Faith: That I was able to fall in love with certain characters. I won't say which, but I had to stop myself from writing extra scenes including them. I would have loved to indulge so I could have more of those characters, but ultimately that detracts from the story. Some characters are meant to be spices and not a main dish.

Dharma: Are you writing a sequel or another story? What other projects are you working on?

Faith: There's no sequel to American Transgirl. Highly, highly astute readers of this and my other novel, Falling in Like, will be able to figure out that there is a connection between the two. It's subtle, but they're in the same world. Really it's because they're both similar in tone; funny, bittersweet, introspective first person narratives about finding your own place in the world and learning to be comfortable in it. At some point I will probably write a third book in that loose "trilogy," but not a direct sequel.

In fact, after two introspective stories, I decided to take a writers' holiday. Right now I'm about a third of the way through my next book, which is a fun YA pulp science fiction adventure book. It's full of space pirates, alien artifacts, starships, gangsters and other good stuff.

Dharma: What are your thoughts on the growing number of trans-inclusive novels. Are they helping or hurting the trans community?

Faith: At the library i picked up the YA novel Dreadnought by April Daniels. I thought it was just a book about a female superhero and I was delighted to see that it actually had a transgender protagonist. That was a great surprise and it was a really fun book. I'd love for more people to be surprised like that.

Dharma: How do you feel about cisgender people writing novels about transgender main characters?

Faith: As I mentioned above, I was nervous writing a cis lesbian character for fear that she would be inauthentic or worse that she would offend actual cis lesbians. Writing a character of color or a disabled character would make me equally nervous. And I would hope any cis author writing a transgender character is equally as nervous.

Certainly I would hate to try and claim that trans characters are off limits to cis authors. To me that's a ludicrous idea. But I would want any cis author doing their homework before they put a trans character to paper. I would also like them to maybe run it by a real transgender person before they make it public. I'd volunteer to be that person.

Trans people are ultimately people, and whether created by a trans or a cis author the goal should be a well rounded, realistic character and not a stereotype.

Dharma: How receptive do you feel cisgender readers are to reading trans-inclusive fiction?

Faith: Hopefully they are. I'd like to think they are. And I'd like to see threbellione day when trans-inclusive stories can feature transgender characters where being trans is not a central plot point. Obviously I'm guilty of breaking this rule myself, but I think once trans characters are just there and normal, we'll start to see more cisgender readers.

Dharma: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing and with your podcasting?

Faith: Mostly it's just to have fun. Honestly, I don't approach any of my creative works with an agenda. But regardless of my intent, it's been amazing to hear from people who have enjoyed both and even found them meaningful and helpful in their own lives. That's not something we set out to do, but it's a wonderful byproduct.

Dharma: What advice do you have for trans people thinking about getting into writing?

Faith: Write! Write! Write! Just get it down on paper. Don't take a class, don't join a group, don't read a book about writing, don't tell your friends about it, just sit down and write. So many people have ideas but never take the time to actually write it out. Don't worry about getting it perfect. You can always edit later.

Also, writing means sharing your deepest emotions. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, to share your soul with the world. My advice would be to not run away from that but to embrace it. Writing should make you a little afraid. But that's good.

Dharma: Speaking of deepest emotions, you really capture Matt/Sarah's fear and insecurities, especially on that first date early in the story? How difficult was it to write?

Faith: That's the wearing your heart on your sleeve that writers have to do. Though I didn't realize it until recently, when I diagnosed with anxiety issues, but it was astounding for me to realize that not everyone spends most of their time worrying about worst case scenarios. So, because of that I often find it easy to express my insecurities and fears through writing.

One of my favorite statements about the writing process comes from Jack Kerouac who said "I have nothing to offer anyone but my own confusion." That's something that I've taken to heart and it's one of the reasons that I enjoy being creative so much. When you hear that song about heartbreak it means something to know that you're not the only person who has ever experienced heartbreak.

It's the same with literature. Authors share themselves so that other people can know they're not alone. It's my hope that someone can read something I've written and see my emotions laid bare and know that someone else has felt the way that they've felt and been through what they're going through.

Dharma: Where can people find you and your work on the web?

Faith: People can find me at faithdabrooke.com and The Gender Rebels at genderrebels.com.

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