9/25 - San Francisco, CA
9/26 - Santa Paula, CA
house show (open to the public)
9/27 - Los Angeles, CA
The Gallery @ Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Center
9/28 - Los Angeles, CA
Mineral Springs Picnic Grounds
9/29 - Tucson, AZ
More dates and info at http://www.topsidepress.com/tour
Topside Press authors Casey Plett and Sybil Lamb on book tour with local trans-lit luminaries, including novelist Carter Sickels, Katie Kaput, Sara Woods, Tom Léger, Torrey Peters, Cass Hodges, and Cooper Lee Bombardier.
Floyd’s Old Town, 118 NW Couch St., 7pm
Come early if you’d like a seat! This is going to be packed! (please tell your PDX friends about it, too!)
so a thing about adam that pisses me off aside from the entire premise is that like, i was a fucked up gender-ambiguous person hanging out with trans dudes and dykes and like, desperately wishing i could have been a trans dude, because transmasculinity was cool and subversive and being a trans woman was totally outside the realm of possibility for me for a long time. and i’m pretty sure that’s a real experience that a lot of other people share and that speaks a lot to the ways that trans women internalize so much fucked up shit, but instead we get this useless book by a cis author about a cis dude pretending to be a trans guy and what the fuck
i think one of the reasons adam fails as a novel is that the trans dyke character is presented as just welcome in the hip queer scene as the trans guy characters, with her trans womanhood presented as a non-issue. (i remember her as the only trans woman character aside from julia serano’s cameo? definitely the only trans woman character of significance in the novel.) i find it hard to accept that this sadist trans dyke who acts extremely assertive is considered uber cool in the trans new york scene and no one in this novel talks shit about her sadism and assertiveness. or is weird about her presence at a women and trans only sex party. that’s a really hard pill to swallow, especially since the novel proposes to satirize trans masculinity. you’d think that showing up the trans guy characters in the novel for the way their scene treats trans women would be a great opportunity for satire, but instead we just get a series of scenes in which they mourn the murder of a trans woman. and then julia serano showing up.
There are many, many problems with the novel Adam by Ariel Schrag, and I don’t really have the time or energy to get into all of them right now. It is a failure at every level, from the sentence to the satire. Riley read it and fumed at the line: The pizza was delicious.
“Are there any other words she could have used to describe the pizza? Delicious? Really??” he cried. The kindest way to put it is that it’s a rather simple book.
Today I’d like to address the notion of truth. Some people have argued that the novel rings true for them, that the characters and their discussions seem real and maybe even remind them of discussions that they have witnessed or participated in.
That might be the case, and it is actually irrelevant.
A novel, like any story, does not get its “truth” via the true events that happen in the narrative, but from the protagonist the author features, the choices that the protagonist makes, the actions they take in support of those choices, and the resulting consequences they experience. The Tempest is not a play full of lies because it invokes sorcery and shipwrecks, it rings true because it reckons with the relationship between fathers and their daughters, between lovers, between people with power and people without.
With Adam, we’re presented with a protagonist who is a cisgender, teenage boy who makes a choice to pass himself off as trans in order to get what he wants: in this case, sex with a woman.
The reason that this is not “true” is NOT that no one has ever mistaken a teenage boy for a trans man or lesbian, or vice versa, but that the author expects us to believe in a world in which cis people can achieve goals by pretending to be trans people. The protagonist believes this, and in the end achieves his goals via his deception. The *consequence* of his *action* is *success* in the end. By structuring the narrative this way, Ms. Schrag has framed the narrative in such a way that it is clear that she believes (argues) that trans people have access to desirable things that cis people want but can not have.
This is a strange, hurtful, and bizarre vision of the world and it is a profound and confounding misunderstanding of the relationship of power between cis men (her protagonist) and trans men (his alter ego).
Another writer who suffers from a parallel misunderstanding is David Mamet. Many of his plays have this problem, but a great example is Speed The Plow, in which a professor is seduced by his female student so that she can blackmail him and ruin his career. The only reason to present two characters in such a relationship is to reckon with the playwright’s own anxiety about feminism. In Mr. Mamet’s world, women can not be understood to be peers with men, because in fact they are secretly dangerous and powerful and using systemic tools to slowly destroy them.
Examples of these misunderstandings are numerous but not all are as vitriolic as Ms. Schrag and Mr. Mamet. Take the 80s sitcom Bosom Buddies, in which Tom Hanks and some other dude pretend to be [trans?]women in order to, I think, get an apartment. The argument here being that [trans?]women can get things like apartments more easily than men. The show is preposterous and meant to be funny (whether it is is for another essay), but in the hands of a writer coping with an affliction suffered by Mr. Mamet or Ms. Schrag, the pair would, in each episode, further infiltrate the secret world of terrible women who do nothing but plan mass castrations, traumatize infant boys, and fail to shave their legs.
Again, this is not to say that the situations and events proposed in these texts are not/could not be true—I’ve no doubt that somewhere in the world a nice male professor has suffered at the hands of a ill-meaning female undergraduate. Or that a man has been homeless while an apartment is given to women instead. The point is that the authors selected these situations to exemplify a certain moment in their culture, to make an argument about their worlds.
Ms. Schrag’s central anxiety is as transparent as it is tired: If I were only a trans man, I could get laid.
This refrain, along with “all the butches are transitioning!” are the political and observational equivalent to “all the Mexicans are coming to America and taking our jobs!”
The idea that sex is easier to have (or partners easier to find) when you’re a transsexual is preposterous, stupid, harmful, and transphobic.
Perhaps the saddest failure of Adam is that the topic of masculinity and sexuality is not an uninteresting one, nor is it unimportant. However, it is tremendously complex, and such a narrative would require a level of nuance that it is clear that Ms. Schrag fails to possess the talent to execute. In Adam, she has brought a cudgel to a scalpel fight.
What Ms. Schrag’s novel could have done, but failed to address in any way at all, would be to parse the complex ways that masculinity functions when it is projected onto different bodies: fat bodies, non-white bodies, children’s bodies, disabled bodies, or, yes, even trans bodies. Her protagonist is a cis, white, able-bodied, post-pubescent teenager, so she hasn’t attempted this.
Alternatively, Adam’s pitiable protagonist could have been an opportunity to discuss the ways that teenagers, legally still children with few rights to control their own selves, negotiate sexuality and sexual encounters with individuals who are legally adults.
However, Ms. Schrag’s novel offers no depth of reasoning, no complex arguments. If you’ve read it already, I’m sorry, and I hope that this short essay was helpful to you in parsing the ways that it was disappointing and upsetting. If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t recommend investing the energy. There is something detrimental about being lied to about your life for 300 pages, and there is a recovery period.
At its core, at the level of the text on the page (and not the gender of the author) Adam is a failure, and a dangerous one at that.
At least on one thing we can all agree: pizza is, in fact, almost always delicious.
If you’d like to see some great authors read from their nuanced and rich books, check out Casey Plett and Sybil Lamb, who are coming to a town near you. Vancouver tonight, then Seattle, Olympia, Portland, SF, LA, Tucson, Dallas, Austin, and beyond! Get more info at http://topsidepress.com/tour