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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Transphobic and sexist... well! A Wyvern's rant.

Well,      I have never, until now, taken up pen (metaphorically) to comment on a bad review (even when they were extra venomous and got half the facts in the books wrong or sounded like they were written by orcs more than trolls) but I will have to make an exception in this case, because I feel these two are an appalling factual misrepresentation of Woman as a Foreign Language, and also an attack to my own identity and beliefs, as an author and a person.

I hardly know where to start. The style, I will not comment upon. It’s a matter of taste. If lyrical prose does not do it for you, you won’t like my books. Any of my books. Fair enough. POV changes, ditto. I had my reasons for my choices, but if it does not work for you, that’s ok. I knew I was risking a rebuke there when I chose to switch both tense and person, and took my chance. That's all ok.

But… almost everything else in this reviews is ... perplexing. Skip to the Epilogue, if it is all too much!

1) This reviewer claims that the main character, Julia, is referred to as “Julia/n” and “s/he.” And is shocked that Julia/n is described as half male and half female.
No! No, no, no. Julia is referred to as she and as a woman. Consistently.
And Julian as he and as a man.
There are exactly two small paragraphs in the whole book where s/he is used, when Julian’s female presentation is either incomplete or coming apart. And I do believe it would be truly difficult for an observer to decide which identity to address in that moment. S/he and Julia/n is also used once in the blurb to refer to both Julia and Julian (Julia/n) collectively. I could have used more PC pronouns perhaps. But the simple fact is that to most readers they convey nothing at all.
As for the half/male half/female comment, I find the attitude behind this comment righteous and disingenuous. Moving away from the binary stereotype means accepting that people may incorporate both female and male traits, both physically and psychologically. ***Julia is not a  transwoman (male to female transsexual)***, as is obvious from the narrative, but rather more of a “TWO SPIRITS”.
Claiming that she should be called exclusively she and Julia and described as female only, negates half of her/his identity.

2) Labels. Ditto. This reviewer complains there is no label in the story defining Julia's brand of trans identity. Yes I steered clear of labels, within the story. I didn’t say if Julia was transsexual or bigender or gender-fluid or non binary or… whatever. Why? Because to the average reader these labels mean nothing at all. The Trans-jargon has exploded totally out of sense or control (and I say that as a gender queer person myself) and I didn’t set out to write a documentary but a love story, large parts of which are autobiographical.
And I hate labels. People are not boxes. You don’t NEED labels in this story. It is obvious from the story itself that Julian is pretty comfortable both as a man and a woman and that he/she (yes, you do need a double pronoun, duh!) presents habitually as one or the other, and quite openly. Julian is simply a crossdresser that does not give a damn who knows any more.
Another reason why I didn’t pick labels is that the characters themselves would not use them. Julian does not need to define himself. He is himself (and herself too), period. Nina would not even know these labels exist. Get real: for most people (including not a few transgender people) these “labels” are a waste of language.

3) Racism in the book? This commenter claims so. Why? Julia thinks (doesn’t say out loud) of Nina one or twice as Gipsy-ish and exotic. For Julia, both descriptors are obviously aesthetically positive. What sort or political correctness gone crazy is this? I am sorry if Romani people would take this as an insult, but neither Julian nor Nina are Romani and I’m sorry, I am probably ignorant, but I never thought of it as insult either. I am liberal and left-wing, but this is really a case where PC talk is overreaching common sense.In a phrase like "the Gipsy queen that Julia saw in her sometimes", it is fairly obvious, that Gipsy is used in a romantic, almost fairytale sense. ANd if you think that "exotic" is a racial slur (I think it's one of the greatest compliments you can pay a person or a thing), that makes you prejudiced, not me.
And there is a claim in this review that I represent Italian families stereotypically, as a trap, and as loud and overbearing.
Well, here's the news: ***I AM Italian***. I have lived and experience Italy, its close mindedness, its suffocating family dynamics on my own skin. Part of why I wrote this story was to vent all that (it was cathartic). Don’t tell me that these are stereotypes. This is unfortunately the reality. Of all families? No. Of many, and of mine in particular? Yes, certainly. As an author, I believe I have the right to describe my own experience, even if, gasp, it confirms what some perceive as stereotypes. Perhaps there’s a reason why the stereotype arose in the first place?

4) ““We’re Italian, the only man in a dress we’ve ever seen is the Pope.”
This sentence from the book is quoted with a mysterious complaint that it is not a joke, but the character genuine thought process. So?
This "thought process" is humorous. Sorry you missed the irony.
It is also, despite the irony, a rather true fact. Again note that I am Italian, and I have lived in Italy for more than 30 years. I had a large number of gay, lesbian and otherwise un-cis friends. Yet, I only consciously saw one crossdresser in all the time I lived there. I was utterly astounded by how more open and vibrant things were when I visited London and Toronto. It truly made me feel how backward and Catholic Italy still is (I have now lived abroad for almost a decade… I can’t say if things changed in the meantime).

5) The reviewer claime that Nina "gets mad" when discovering that Julia, her "feminine idol" is  a man.
No! No!! I have absolutely no idea where the reviewer takes this from. Is Nina thrown and flabbergasted when Julia turns out to be … Julian? You bet. You would be too! Is she mad? Certainly not. Except perhaps at herself for being so impercipient. Minutes after this revelation she hands over to Julian the present she brought for Julia, with no fuss whatsoever. 
***This particular point is an actual misrepresentation of the book’s plot, and I do resent it particularly.***
They seem also pretty shocked, once more, that Julia is defined as a man. Well, she is a man. Once more, she's not a transwoman nor wants to be, as she herself makes clear.

6) Perhaps the most mystifying bit of this review is where I am under attack because the Julia "apologizes" (she doesn't, really, she is simply really cut up about it), about the way her transgender identity was revealed, by accident to her ex, who is so shocked that she breaks up with her.
Apparently, according to this commenter, a transgender person should never, ever feel uneasy about the way they chose to come out to their loved ones. Whatever they chose to do cannot be questioned. They can do no wrong.

Now, this whole part of the book is based on many, many heartbreaking stories of crossdressers coming out to their spouses and partners I have read, and discussed, with real persons living in real relationships.
Do I believe you need to apologize for being transgender? Absolutely not. Do I think you must feel guilty about it? Absolutely not. But the reality of many crossdressers is that the sense of guilt exists anyway. Not for being transgender per se, but for having kept a partner in the dark about some large part of their identity. Or for being unable to fulfill the gender roles they subscribed to (by convention, if not by explicit promise!) within an ordinary heterosexual relationship. Or for having handled the coming out in a way that was shocking and hurtful for the person they loved.  
This is a very real situation for many people. High flown rhetoric about what a person should feel like or do, does not change that. I’d love to live in a world where no crossdresser has any need to feel uneasy about their role in a relationship (or its failure). But that is simply not the real world, for now, sorry.
And, I am sorry, but any transgender person who believes they don’t owe any respect to the feelings and sensitivity of those around them is every bit as selfish as a cis person doing the same! Being transgender does not absolve your from treating your partner with care and respect, from trying your best not to hurt them. Many married crossdressers I know are profoundly aware of this and considerably cut up by the pain they inflict on their partners if their partners are not fully onboard with their trans indentity. I am not saying if this situation is bad or good, right or wrong. I just described it as it is.

Later when Julian comes out to Nina, he cursorily says something like, 'sorry if this comes as a shock.' Apparently this too is not acceptable. Apparently any form of basic courtesy towards your interlocutor is unnecessary for a transgender person!
The reviewer is livid that I did not "negate" this need for "apologizing".

No, I chose not to embark into this rhetoric. I simply left it to Nina to say, "I don't think you are a different person from the other day", “Whatever you chose to be it’s perfect for me.” And “I like you just the way you are.”
I don’t think the story needs anything else. ***This is not a social manifesto***. It’ a love story between two people.

***And please, note that Julia is never, ever, made to apologize for what she is. She just feels she might have been more considerate in the way she communicated it. Which is a legitimate, laudable (and realistic) feeling.***

7) There is a whole long section in this review claiming that Julia decides, singlehandedly, to "change" Nina, and make her more feminine, solely to suit her (Julia's) taste and idea of what a girl should look and dress like.
This is the other big point where I wonder what the reviewers are on about… Nina’s whole being is blatantly yearning to express her feminine side. Or at least try it out. She just doesn’t know how to do it (something I experienced on my own skin), and also she needs a safe space where to do this (something I wish someone had given to me). Julia provides that. How is that “shitty”? Nina starts out being stuck into a sort of accidental gender limbo. And ends up as a complete tomboy, ***a tomboy by choice rather than accident***, and a tomboy that Julia finds profoundly beautiful. Julia is not changing Nina. She’s helping Nina to come out of a shell. Julia herself is aware the this "prettying up" maybe nothing more than an experiment for Nina, a way to explore gender as she has never been allowed to do before.
***Again, I am sorry, but this review is completely falsifying the plot of the story.***
This is not an unbiased opinion on a book, but sheer slander.

Then there is the tirade about Nina's job and Julia's snob attitude about it.
Nina is a welder, Julia a University professor. Julia is (like practically any highly educated person I have ever met) perplexed about Nina's choice of a manual labor career. She whishes Nina would have a better job (for her own sake, not Julia's), but, ultimately comes to realize both Nina's need to express the tough, masculine side of her personality, and Nina's passion and talent for metal work, and simply encourages her (does not push her) to pursue a more creative career in the same field.
Contrary to what the reviewer states Julia's attitude DOES change. Even when she thinks (doesn't say) "A man job is not all that is cracked up to be," it is nothing more than a personal opinion, not something she throws in Nina's face like a challenge to her choice.
And yes, for a man that often prefers to be a woman, it is quite natural to think that “a man’s job is not all that is cracked up to be.”
Nina is a completely autobiographical character, and I can assure you, being a welder, is not a great career achievement, despite being a beautiful job at times. I was a metal worker for 10 years. I loved my job. But the reality of it is that I was grossly underpaid, that I was often treated quite badly, and that the sheer physical fatigue and unhealthy working conditions almost killed me. The reality is that 80% of the time I was too tired to do anything. To live. To create and to think clearly. I barely earned enough to pay the bills, and I had no margin whatsoever for saving, for covering emergencies and accidents, let alone have a holiday from time to time.
I am happy to have moved on to a more healthy and creative life! As someone who actually always did manual jobs (still do) I actually knows both the attractions of them and their flip side, I must say that this comments smacks of dreamy eyed parlour-socialism. Get real.
The reviewer is upset even by the expression "a man job". Because apparently we must do away with the idea of man-jobs and woman-jobs.
I wonder how often they have been in steel manufacturing and processing factories and workshops? Try it, and let me know how many women you see. Again, it may not be politically correct, these days, to say man-job, woman-job. But it’s how the real world is, in large parts.

8) And the other great source of foaming-at-the-mouth rage. Nina is accused of having "outed" Julia to her (Nina's) family and neighbors, to get the heat off herself, when her mother accuses her of being a lesbian.
Once again, I think something went lost here. One, that Julia herself said, tell your mom the truth. It might or might not have been in jest, but it hardly matters because... Two, Julian is at this point of his life, quite openly crossdressing. He comes and goes from his flat both in drab and en femme all the time. As is obvious if you actually do read the story. Only somebody as clueless and house-bound as Nina’s mother and her accomplice could have missed it (and Nina, herself, of course, who, because of her working hours had never physically seen Julian before).
Other neighbors are already aware of it, and commenting on it!
Actually the very fact that Nina's mom takes Julia for a lesbian is presented in a pretty humorous light, as a proof of her complete clueless character.

And even ***if*** Nina had made a mistake. In the state of turmoil she is, just before leaving her home and family forever, in a desperate lunge for freedom? Fictional characters are supposed to be perfect now? ***Again this book is not a manifesto.*** It's not a manual on how to handle a relationship with a transgender person. It’s a love story between imperefect, fallible people, who might occasionally do stupid things.

9) Apparently everything in this erotic romance is wrong.
The characters exchange "I love yous" after three dates (it's actually four, I think, but whatever). Which apparently makes the Romance irrealistic.
Yes. That’s why it’s called Romance, not reality TV. (Not to mention that some people have been known to exchange I love yous quite a bit quicker than that but I am sure they are all sluts, ahem, just look at me)

And there is no mention of condoms!
Yes, indeed. But ***I never said Julian didn’t wear one.*** I just didn’t mention it. The same way I choose not to mention in erotic scenes when someone farts or when a mess comes out of your ass when you extract a butt-plug (yeah, it happens!). It’s just unsexy to describe it.
This is listed as erotic-romance. All my readers are 18 ys plus, and I want to entertain them with a nicely flowing sex scene. I don’t feel the need to educate them about safe sex.  I have more respect for them than that.
And Nina who has never given a blowjob before "swallows a whole cock" and the sperm coming out of it, and does not gag!
Never said she swallowed a cock (something I find rather difficult myself and would be hard put to describe). Just that she sucked it deep. As for the swallowing, jeez, I didn’t gag the first time. Or ever. Although once I kinda breathed it up my nose (no idea how that happened) and sneezed and coughed for 15 minutes straight. It was very embarrassing and my partner thought I might die! If you'd like to read about it a will put it in a book.


The whole book is finally summed up as a mess of "sexism, transphobia and ignorance."
Ignorance? Very possible. There’s tons of stuff I don’t understand at all. I try to learn, and sometimes fail.
Transphobia? Certainly not. As I said elsewhere at length Nina is a fully autobiographical character, and her brand of gender queerness (which is extremely hard to label, don’t I know) is something I know first-hand. Julia/n is the most profoundly beloved character I ever wrote. I am immensely sorry if I failed to convey that love to you. I wrote this book as a genuine love-song to gender-fluid people (rather than outright transsexuals, whom I deeply respect, but simply interest me less, narratively, as a storyteller.  There are many transition stories out there. I wanted to write one about a gender-fluid person truly capable of inhabiting two different identities).
I do not believe in gilding lilies. I don’t think trans people (me included) are special snowflakes absolved by political correctness from all evils. Neither do I believe in righteous purism and poses (the hissy fits about pronouns for examples). I believe, profoundly, that this kind of high flown discourse is more damaging to the trans cause that anything else. I do believe also, that a more quiet, sympathetic form of address (on both sides of the left-right, trans-cis divide, call it what you like) would improve the dialogue immensely, and cause less of a backlash (a sometimes—dare I say it—understandable, if regrettable, backlash) from conservative circles. Less political posturing, more empathy.
It would also be good to remember that outright transexuals to not "own" the transgender world. That there are many many subtle nuances to the vagaries of gender identity and that not every one who identifies as transgender feels the need to be costantly and exclusively identified as the opposite of their native, or biological sex.  There are many, many of us willing, and actually happy to own their androgynous, in-between status. This is as legitimate and deserving of respect as the choice of complete transition. Do not, please, project your wishes to be identified exclusively as male or female, on those who are more comfortably fluid in their identity.

Sexism? Certainly not. A disenchanted perspective on what are still, in a very real way the accepted gender roles in which many people are still stuck (or comfortably ensconced, why not, because being cis-gender-what a stupid word-is not a crime, any more than being transgender), that, yes certainly.


  1. Wow. Very well said, Katherine!

    I found those 2 reviews rather surprising, given that I've only heard good thing about the book. Even if I wasn't already curious about it, your response would guarantee it as a must read for me.

    I love what you say about labels (in total agreement), and I think you're bang on regarding coming out experiences.

    Also, your comment about flatulence and butt plug slime? Priceless. :)

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. It means a lot.
    I usually prefer not to fuel this sort of critique (hate?), but this was a bit too much! Perhaps because it feels more like a political invective than a literary review. :(