Tag Archives: gender

Q&A with a Self-Made Woman

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press publishes SELF-MADE WOMAN, the story of one individual’s intense struggle to accept her true self. In this post, Denise DuBois (who grew up as Dennis Dubis in 1960s Milwaukee) answers some questions about her book and gender today.

1. Was there one defining moment that inspired you to write Self-Made Woman?

It was one defining place that inspired me to write my story. The island of Kauai. I had rented a little private studio on the north shore, just off this epic beach in a place called Haena, which means “wilderness” in Hawaiian. There’s something magical about Kauai. I really suspect that there’s more oxygen in the air out there in the middle of the Pacific, no kidding, and more oxygen for the brain means increased alertness and creativity. I wrote the entire 650- page manuscript, every word, on Kauai from 2010 to 2014. I felt like Mozart composing a symphony at my keyboard, which I likened to a piano. I went into the”zone” every afternoon. That was so wonderful!

2. What was an experience you absolutely knew had to be in this book?

It’s just as hard for me to answer this question as it was for me to write about it in the book. Being honest with myself. Not being afraid to put it all out there on the page for the reader. There were things that happened to me in life that just had to be told, much of it self-inflicted. It was painful for me to recount those experiences and put that into writing. Many times during the writing of my book, I broke down in front of my screen, just devastated to be living this all over again. It was like I was there all over again. Very hard to write, but I always rallied. Kauai had a way of refreshing me.

3. How did you approach writing your memoir? Were there parts that were harder to write than others?

My approach was straightforward. It was all in my head, all 650 pages. Each day I worked off a yellow legal pad that I had next to my desktop. It was full of handwritten notes from the previous day of writing and ideas that popped into my head when I went running and  swimming every morning. I got up at 4:30 am everyday.  I wrote from noon to 6 pm, in bed by 9 pm, without fail. There were excruciatingly painful moments of writing, and other parts that were a refreshing relief to write, but in either case I knew early on in the writing process that I was onto something really good, even with the difficult stories. My story had to be told.

My approach was straight forward. It was all in my head. All 650 pages. Click To Tweet

4. Do you think the struggles you overcame were necessary to make you who you are today?

We all have struggles to overcome in life. Mine were no different than anyone else’s. But, I did come close to death many times and was at the door. Being that close to death does, in my humble opinion, have something to do with who I am today. I am a survivor, and I am thankful that I still have my mind intact and wonderful physical health so that I’ve been able to convey my life story. In that sense, it made me who I am today.

5. What kept you going through it all? Was there a specific dream or thought that you held on to?

In the deepest, darkest moments of my life, most specifically when my crystal meth addictions bubbled up like a witch’s brew from hell, when all seemed lost and hopeless, when my moments of complete and utter loneliness surrounded me, I just always thought,  I can pull out of this somehow and not lose faith in myself. Many times I felt so lost that it seemed I could never survive, but I did. For those who find themselves in that horrible place, just know that you can survive, too.

6. “The American Dream” has undoubtedly changed over the years. Would you say your story is your personal American Dream? Does everyone have a different conception of the American Dream, or is there a common thread that unites us?

“Patience, young grasshopper,” said the Master in Kung Fu. I suspect that has always been my own personal American Dream. If you wait for something long enough it will come to you, if you want it badly enough (and I wanted this book very badly for many years), it will come to you. Humanity is the common theme that unites us all. We don’t need countries for that. 100,000 years ago Humanity walked out of the African Savannah and colonized the world for better or worse. I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith.

I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith. Click To Tweet

7. How do you feel people today view gender nonconformity? Is it getting easier to re-identify oneself or are there more issues many of us aren’t even aware of?

Gender nonconformity has become very fluid and is changing right before our eyes, nationwide. Oregon is now the first state to allow a third gender option on driver’s licenses. People who identify as gender nonbinary—neither male nor female—can list their sex as “X” instead of “F” or “M.” This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community as some people gravitated towards this option and other states are expected to follow very soon. Many universities across the country already have this in place on their application forms too. Such a change from when I transitioned in 2003!

8. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with how to identify?

Be true to yourself, accept yourself, learn to love yourself first, so that you can learn to love others! Talk to your friends about this, talk to your family, but only if they are accepting of you. Do not isolate yourself as I did. Do not feel ashamed as I did. Do not do crystal as I did, do not drink as I did, do not take other drugs as I did. Escape from all that and save yourself a boatload of misery. I did drugs and alcohol to numb my true self, to run away from my true self, and to forget about my true self. Just remember, in the end you can never run away from who you truly are, from your true self.

Denise Chanterelle DuBois is an actress, environmentalist, and businesswoman. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Author’s website: https://selfmadewomanbook.com/

Book trailer for Self-Made Woman.

When Kids Don’t Fit in a Pink or Blue Gender Box

My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass is published today by the University of Wisconsin Press. We talked with author Julie Tarney about some of her experiences raising a gender diverse child, why she wrote her memoir, and what she hopes other parents can learn from her story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself before we delve into the topics in the book. I’m a mom. I live in Brooklyn, New York. And I think I’m in a unique position. My child Harry is 26 years old now and a part of the LGBTQ community. I started this journey when he was two years old, when he told me, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” I know there are thousands of parents out there who are just beginning this journey now—right now—learning about and struggling with their child’s gender identity. I wrote this book as much to help change that experience for kids and the parents who worry about them, as to tell my own story.

What is the book about? It’s about my journey raising a gender diverse child—or gender-HJ & Me Yellow Chair 1991nonconforming, gender creative, gender expansive, gender fluid, whatever term you want to use—beginning in the early ’90s. And it’s what I learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression, and self-acceptance. It’s about how I grew as a parent and a person.

What did you learn from your son? I learned so much from Harry. Most important, that it’s never too late to learn! And it’s never too late to learn as much from your child as much as you learn for your child. I have lived that experience all the way through with Harry, from toddler to adulthood. And the way I learned, in many respects, was to unlearn. It’s never too late to learn or unlearn. As for specifics, I learned that gender identity is something that develops over time. I didn’t really even understand the term gender identity until Harry was in college and I heard him use it. Gender to me used to mean one of two boxes you checked on a driver’s license application. But I know now that I was confusing sex and gender to mean the same thing, which I think a lot of people still do.

How did the book come about? I was talking at dinner one night with a friend who’s a PhD in psychology and working with LGBTQ youth in Chicago. I told him how Harry had shared his gender identity with me at such an early age and some other stories about Harry’s love of Barbie, the color pink, and so-called girl clothes. That friend encouraged me to share my story. He said he thought it could help a lot of people who were experiencing the same thing now, and that I could help kids by helping parents put things in perspective. I hope it reaches a lot of people.

Transgender youth in particular are getting a lot of attention lately. What do you hope the book will do given the elevated conversation about gender identity, transgender children, and youth? I’m hopeful that it’s going to help parents understand that they’re not alone, that other people have experienced the same thing. AHJ & Me -- Tongue Outnd to help them understand what gender identity is, how we all discover ourselves, and that discovering our gender selves is part of that. My journey with Harry began at a time when there were few resources, no Internet, little knowledge, and a lot of misinformation and stereotyping. People were up against a lot then. And today there’s community, support, resources, expertise, research. I want my book to add to the growing expanse of information available today.

What did you discover about yourself, both in raising your child and as you wrote this memoir? I discovered the good and the bad. I discovered that I have a tremendous amount of love for my child. I knew I wanted him to feel that love. I wanted him to feel safe and secure, have confidence, and feel comfortable in the world. I also learned what a big worrier I was. There was so much I didn’t know, and that made me fearful. I found myself facing double standards of boy-girl stereotyping. I considered myself a very liberal, progressive person, but I found myself with the pink problem, something I had to unlearn. And I realized I cared too much during Harry’s early years about what other people thought. In the end I discovered that letting Harry just be Harry —giving him the freedom to be his true self—was what I’d always wanted for myself, too.

HJ & Me NYE Madison 12-31-99Are there any favorite stories in the book that you want to share? I have so many favorite stories. Harry, who today also lives in Brooklyn, is a creative director, photographer and videographer. He also performs as drag artist Amber Alert. So he’s an entertainer, and that began at a very young age. I remember taking him with me to a department store after I’d picked him up from preschool. I needed to buy some black tights to wear to a client presentation the next morning. He wanted to walk around, and I told him to stay close by. He was four. As I flipped through packages, I felt a tap at the back of my waist. When I turned around, there was Harry in a short gray wig. And in his best imitation of an elderly woman, he said, “Grandma wants to go to the park today.” I cracked up, and then he just ran off. I half-expected to be reprimanded by a sales clerk for not keeping my child in check. A few minutes later he came back with another wig and a different voice.

Can you say more about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation? I didn’t understand the difference until Harry was grown. Gender identity is about you, who you know yourself to be in your own mind. Sexual orientation is what’s in your heart; whom you fall in love with. They run on a parallel, but they are separate paths. Harry identifies as queer. Some people are unfamiliar with that term, or think of it as a term of the past that was used as a slur and had a very derogatory meaning. But for today’s young people, it’s an all-encompassing identifier that really is a way to say, “Don’t try to put me in a box or give me a label to define me in your terms.” It speaks to the idea that I know who I am. I might be genderqueer, I might be gender fluid, I might be agender, but don’t you tell me who I am.

What would you say to a parent whose 3- or 4-year-old child is telling them they’re a girl on the inside or a boy on the inside? Or expressing themselves in ways outside gender expectations? I would tell that parent to love and support their child with all their heart. I would say listen to your child, and keep listening. Your child will tell you who they are. Learn as much as you possibly can. And seek out support. PFLAG is a wonderful nonprofit parenting support organization with hundreds of local chapters across the country.

HJ&Me_BetweenTheShades_Mar2016Your memoir focuses on your experience as a mom, but what are some of the concerns of dads?  When I was worrying and projecting a horrible future for Harry, it was Harry’s dad, Ken, who was calmer and said, “He’s only two. He’s just a kid.” But as Harry grew older, I knew his dad wanted to protect him, too. Ken worried that maybe he wasn’t being a “guy enough” as a dad. He thought that maybe because Harry identified more with toys and activities that were/are considered to be feminine, or stereotyped as feminine, that maybe he was being an inadequate father in some way. But I think, at the end of the day, you look at your kid, and you realize this is a little person. You have to listen to them and understand that they’re not here to live up to your expectations of them. They’re here to be who they are. Ideally as parents you default to unconditional love. You ask yourself, “Do I love this kid enough to let them be who they are?” I hope that the questioning and self-doubts I share in the book will encourage other parents to learn more and seek support.

Julie Tarney is now a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for the Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices” pages, and is a contributing writer for TheParentsProject.com and the True Colors Fund’s Give a Damn Campaign. She volunteers for the PFLAG Safe Schools Program. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, she now lives in New York City. Visit her own blog here.

Early reviews for My Son Wears Heels:

“Tarney does an exceptional job of tracing the zigzagging line of Harry’s self-identity and recalling the inevitable questions asked along the way.”New York Times Book Review

“A memorable account of one young person’s journey toward self-identity and a valuable parenting guide for a new era of gender awareness and acceptance.”Foreword Reviews

“Not only does the book chronicle an especially memorable mother-son relationship, it also suggests that the best parenting is the kind that does not forcibly mold a child into what he/she ‘should’ be but lovingly allows him/her the freedom to follow his/her own special path. A fearlessly open and frank memoir.”Kirkus Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Books For September 2016

We are pleased to announce these three new books arriving in September.

My Son Wears Heels book cover

Publication date: September 6
MY SON WEARS HEELS
One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass
Julie Tarney

“A memorable account of one young person’s journey toward self-identity and a valuable parenting guide for a new era of gender awareness and acceptance.”Foreword

Julie Tarney

Julie Tarney


“Not only does the book chronicle an especially memorable mother-son relationship, it also suggests that the best parenting is the kind that does not forcibly mold a child into what he/she ‘should’ be but lovingly allows him/her the freedom to follow his/her own special path. A fearlessly open and frank memoir.”Kirkus Reviews

 

Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania book cover

Publication date: September 13
LITHIUM JESUS
A Memoir of Mania

Charles Monroe-Kane

As featured on This American Life

Charles Monroe-Kane

Charles Monroe-Kane

“A young man grapples with bipolar ‘voices’ via religion, hedonism, activism, and Lithium. In his debut, Monroe-Kane, a Peabody Award–winning public radio producer, brings a fresh perspective to familiar memoir territory. . . . [A] compelling account of wrestling with inner turmoil against gritty, dramatic international settings.”Kirkus Reviews

“This humble, funny, raw (yes, sex) book is a pell-mell kaleidoscope of faith, drugs, bawdy behavior, and mental illness that resolves not in soft focus or shattered glass but in the sweet important idea that there are many ways to be born again.”—Michael Perry, author of The Jesus Cow

 

Treehab book coverPublication date: September 27
TREEHAB
Tales from My Natural, Wild Life
Bob Smith

“Smith, a successful comedian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, has lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease [ALS], and even though he now communicates through his iPad, his wit is as sharp as ever. . . . Never moving too far from his comedic nature, Smith delivers one-liners throughout, and nothing is off-limits. A truth-telling tour conducted by an agile guide.”Kirkus Reviews

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

“To say that Bob Smith can make a hilarious one-liner out of everything from imminent ecological catastrophe to his own struggles with ALS is to emphasize only one aspect of the beautiful and devastating Treehab. This is a profound meditation on the fragility of life and the enduring power of tolerance, love, and the many ways of creating families. A smart, funny, inspiring guide.”—Stephen McCauley, author of The Object of My Affection