Transitioning

Need some beach reads this weekend to take you from summer to fall? Try a trans memoir and E. Lynn Harris’ parting potboiler

Nina-Here-Nor-There-author-CREDIT-Melinda-Bagatelos
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS | Krieger’s memoir tracks his passage from Nina to Nick.

Maybe you’ve always hated your nose, or your ears make you look like you’re part elephant. Or your lips are too pouty, your thighs too big, your arms too fat and you hate your butt.

You can change all of that, and then some.

But would you have the courage to alter the very things that define you to the rest of society?  In Nina Here nor There, you’ll see why one young man did.

When writer-blogger Nina Krieger landed in San Francisco’s Castro district, she felt welcomed. Her lesbian friends, the “A-gays,” folded her into their circle with parties. Old pals were glad to see Krieger, and she was glad to find an apartment with roommates she could tolerate. She even found a job that allowed her to continue writing.

But Krieger wasn’t happy. For years, she’d struggled with gender identity: She was not a lesbian, not exactly a woman … but she was, at least biologically. Being in the Castro gave her hope, though, and unwittingly, she had surrounded herself with people who could give her guidance: Greg, with his newly-flat chest and eagerness for life, was willing to share his experiences with surgery and testosterone shots; Jess, one of Krieger’s roommates, was transitioning and taught Krieger about “packing” and binding; Zippy, a long-time close friend, gave optimistic support.

“Before moving to the Castro, I’d thought becoming a man was as realistic as growing wings,” Krieger writes.

But living with her community gave Krieger the courage to try. Deciding that breasts were the worst part of who she was, Krieger bought minimizers and purchased the other body parts that she lacked. Little by little, she allowed her family careful peeks into the person she knew herself to be. She convinced herself that she belonged, yet she was uneasy. What exists between girl and boy? “I didn’t fully relate to either anymore,” Krieger writes.

Despite a fear of needles, unfazed by a list of realities, and heartbroken by a paternal lack of understanding, Krieger knew she had to find out.

Nina Here nor There is a bit of a conundrum. On one side, Krieger takes his readers by the hand, allowing us to see what he sees. As he explores the gender spectrum, we do, too. At the same time he’s seeing the blurred lines of woman and not-woman, we see it as well. The journey is a good one.

But by the time I got to the latter third of the book, I was good and ready for Nina to make up her mind. By then — just before the culmination of the story — Nina Here nor There becomes a struggle, both in content and story. And it’s with great relief that you’ll find what happens.

You have 24 hours in a day. Over 1,400 minutes, around 86,000 seconds, and you still can’t do everything you need to get done. Some days, you just want to clone yourself. With two of you, maybe you’d get finished. Double you, and you might actually get ahead.

Cobi Aiden Winslow just found his doppelganger in the last place he’d ever think to look. And in No One in the World, it might be the last thing he ever does.

Cobi always had whatever he wanted … except for one thing. From the moment he was adopted, he had maid service in a mansion in the best Chicago neighborhood. He had nice clothes, a law-school education, cars and antiques, but he didn’t have his father’s acceptance. Cobi was gay, and his father hated it.

But acceptance was never going to come. Cobi’s parents were killed in a plane crash, but not before telling him that he had a twin brother… somewhere. Absent a father’s love, a newfound brother was all Cobi could think about.

Sissy Winslow learned about the family business at her father’s elbow. She thought it would be hers someday, so when her parents’ will was read and her brother got half the shares, she was stunned. Cobi didn’t know a thing about Winslow Products. He was a lawyer, not a CEO. Worse yet, the will stipulated that Cobi had to be married to a woman by his 34th birthday or his share of the stocks would be sold. A takeover is imminent: Cobi turns 34 in less than a month and there is no woman on the horizon.

Quickly thinking, Sissy devises a plan to save the business. As she searches for a stylish, smart, society-worthy woman who can be bought, Cobi searches for his twin brother. But as he is finally reconnecting with a part of him he never knew about, he is also inviting trouble. Though he’s been successful in hiding it thus far, there was suddenly too many people who know he is gay. And that knowledge is going to cost him.

E. Lynn Harris has been gone two years now, and in his preface, co-author RM Johnson says that he and Harris collaborated on this novel before Harris’ death.  So is this book reminiscent of Harris’ other books, or…?

No-One-in-the-WorldNo One in the World is spicier than Harris fans might be used to. There’s an underlying feeling of threat that’s irresistible and though you might think you know what’s going to happen, you’d be wrong. There were times when I thought the story briefly got a little silly, but I did like how it unfolded overall and how there were surprises in the creases.

If you’re looking for something quick to take to the beach for a three-day weekend, you can’t go wrong with this. No One in the World will grab you in a second, and you’ll want to read it all day.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Author, author!

Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky add their gay voices to the Dallas literary community

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY | Granowsky, left, and Kirchmeier peek at each other’s tragic tales. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It seems unlikely that Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky had never met before this week, since both are in the niche market of gay writers in Dallas. But perhaps they represent a budding scene of out local authors. Dallas gays are claiming a presence.

When the authors finally met, a literary camaraderie took over. Kirchmeier had heard good things about Granowsky’s book, which delighted Granowsky. Several mutual acquaintances and writing comparisons later, the two seemed like old pals.

Kirchmeier published his first book, The Promise of Hope, four years ago; the story of his hero, Johnny, continues 10 years later in his second novel, The Open Pill Box.

“I intended it to be a sequel but it took on a life of its own,” Kirchmeier says. “It’s so much larger than the first. He’s psychotic as a young man in Promise, but now he keeps himself under control with meds but no safety net.”

He calls his first book more romantic, but in Pill Box, Kirchmeier fully knows the story is not pretty or romantic. Johnny is a gay bipolar man seeking the help of anyone who can get him meds. Without insurance, he’s close to being thrown away by society until he finds a reprieve from his ex and the Catholic Church. Pill Box is also Kirchmeier’s exploration and criticism of America’s healthcare system.

Granowsky explores social topics as well, though from a different perspective. In his 2009 book Teacher Accused, he addresses what happens “when homophobia explodes in a Texas town.” But he has added romance into the picture giving the reader a beacon of hope amid a tragic story.

“I see this story as a journey to pride,” he says. “I think people sometimes feel kind of defective because they are gay. I really want this to have a positive depiction so younger people can see there is a great life to be had — even if it’s in a homophobic society.”

That both books have dour, dire plots begs a curious question: Is gay tragedy an obvious outlet for an out writer? With the usual backgrounds of LGBT people growing up being bullied or shunned, the need to rehash such unpleasant environments for the authors was a catharsis, whether it was experienced first hand or observed.

“I’m bipolar,” Kirchmeier candidly admits. “This is an advocate book for the mentally ill who don’t have insurance and who are gay. I’ve felt thrown away and not wanted. This isn’t my story, but I am in there. Johnny and I are alike in many ways because of the things I’ve seen and life experiences.”

Granowsky, by contrast, writes from observation. As a former educator, he noticed the students who might be gay and the way they were treated by everyone else. He was pained by this memory that years later, and needed to get it out of his system.

“There is a catharsis talking about this,” he says. “It’s like cleansing one’s own sense of self. I needed to let it come out. My value system suffered. The funny thing is, I had no intention of getting published. I just wanted to write it down. It was a labor of love.”

That venting of ill emotions has its rewards. Each author sees his novel making an impact in the community, whether from an appreciative fan or an actually life changing moment. Both express compassion in their books that speaks to readers.

“I looked around and wanted to make a change, a statement,” Kirchmeier says. “I’m angry about the lack of universal healthcare. The way hospitals treat people without insurance. I wanted to speak out in anger and take a look at the social injustice that’s even based here in Dallas.”

He took a year and a half to write The Open Pill Box, and its darkness took a lot out of him physically and emotionally. It affected his hygiene, his health and even his teeth: He became so rapt he eventually had to have a root canal for ignoring his teeth.

That should change with book three.

“I’m currently writing My Best Pledge, which is a lighthearted romp through fraternity hood. And then after that, I’m writing The Paleta Man — a sequel to The Open Pill Box.”

Meanwhile, Granowsky is still reveling in having his book published. With people coming out earlier, he sees a shift in a new generation of pride. Something he didn’t have.

“Younger people are coming out earlier,” he says. “Sometimes they aren’t as prepared but now there are more solid role models for that. Plus, I think this book could inspire people to be proud of who they are and that life can be happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Once the photo was done the authors exchanged books, spreading their message a little further. And each seems to know that they could be part of a homegrown trend of giving a voice to the gay community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas