I wasn’t able to fit this book in right now because I have SO many to review already, but I think that it’s an important story that we just don’t see written about in YA fiction and so I really wanted to spotlight the author and help spread the word. So let’s welcome Lianne Simon to the blog so we can learn a bit more about her and her book.
Your book, Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite is something much different than what we normally see in YA these days. But ‘issue’ books are becoming more and more popular and I think it’s important to have something out there for everyone. Clearly there are teenagers out there that will be able to relate to the book, but hopefully others will read it and maybe understand things a bit better.
My first question is, could you tell us a bit about your book?
Thank you. Confessions is the story of a teen whose body is a mix of male and female, and who must ultimately decide whether to live as a boy or a girl. What was between the newborn’s legs left the doctors guessing at the child’s sex. They wrote male on the birth certificate, but a few years later the toddler insisted she was a girl. After some hesitation her parents let her live as one. At least until she was nine, when authorities discovered that the still-legally-male child was being illegally home schooled. Jamie had to live as a boy again until her parents could find a doctor who would help them correct her birth certificate. By the time they did, Jamie’s act had convinced her father that she was happy as a boy.
The story begins with Jameson in college. The sixteen-year-old, four-foot-eleven, soprano has just had his appendix removed. When a medical student tells him he should have been raised female, he confesses that he was, at least for a while, and that the girl is only pretending to be a boy for her family. The medical student asks to be the girl’s friend, so Jamie agrees to drop her boy mask for one day. Just one day. But childhood memories stir, she gets a more feminine hairstyle, and meets a boy who thinks she’s a girl. After that, Jamie finds it increasingly difficult to function socially as a boy, especially with the medical student nudging her toward living full time as a girl. Jamie’s parents have always assured her that minor surgery and a few years on testosterone would make her like other boys. Jamie wants to be a boy–at least if he can be tall, and strong, and agile, and–oh yeah–attracted to girls. But Jamie’s tiny, and has a cute face, and likes boys. Testosterone would only spoil her feminine looks. So she begins a perilous journey to adulthood. To become the man her parents expect, Jamie must put behind her the hopes and dreams of a little girl. To be a girl would mean giving up her family and her education. How could she make it on her own at sixteen? But how can she be a boy?
Can you tell us how you decided to write about this subject matter?
I spent more than ten years answering inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of children with Mixed Gonadal Dysgenesis, the condition that Jamie has. I’m also a member of the AIS-DSD Support Group, so I know a number of intersex adults. Still, I hadn’t intended to write a book until about two years ago. I woke up one morning with a desperate need to tell a story.
Did you have concerns that people may not be accepting of the book? And so far has the response been pretty good?
My initial goal was to help raise awareness of intersex among my fellow Christians. Agents, however, made it clear that most Christian publishers wouldn’t touch the subject, so I ended up signing with a secular publisher. The response from readers has been positive, especially among women who read young adult literature.
When writing about such a serious subject did you ever find yourself getting depressed or in a dark place and if so how did you pull yourself out?
Oh yeah. To generate the emotional depth I wanted in the novel, I had to immerse myself in the character. They only way I could do that was to dredge up all of the emotions from my own childhood and incorporate them into the novel. I would wake up in the middle of the night crying. Fortunately, I have a wonderful, supportive husband who would sometimes pray with me, sometimes just hold me. Did he understand that emotionally I was a seventeen-year-old hermaphrodite struggling with gender and family issues? I don’t know. I’m not sure how long it will take to return to where I was before I started writing. Not sure I should.
What was your biggest obstacle to overcome when writing this book?
Owning the character. If I wanted my readers to care about these children, I had to take them inside the heart of one. And I couldn’t do that without first going there myself. That required I write from my heart rather than my brain. Exposing your heart makes you so vulnerable. When my BFF looks at me now, there’s something in her eyes that says, “It was about you. Wasn’t it?” I can tell her it’s fiction, but the lines are blurred because I put so much of myself into it.
Do you read much YA contemp? Do you have any recommendations?
I like to read fantasy, speculative, alternate history, and historical (fiction and non). I also like to re-read books like The Secret Garden. Authors are supposed to be prolific readers, but I find that most of what I read are works-in-progress. For instance, Laura Ann Dunks is editing a contemporary young adult novel about a teenager with a chronic neurological illness. Should be a good read when she’s finished.
Do you have any recommendations for books that are similar to yours?
Although my novel is based on real life, it’s still fiction. There is a memoir by Herculine Barbin, written in the mid-1800s by a French hermaphrodite who was raised female and later had to switch to living as a man. Its content is more mature, but it’s worth reading.
Thanks so much for being on!