Spring Celebration interview, a wonderful chat with the lovely, talented, and incredibly generous (more on that in a moment) Lannie Rose. Lannie has been a regular contributor to the e-zine Transgender Forum, and she is a member of the Triangle Speaker bureau, a Santa Cruz organization that sends GLBT panels to schools and other organizations to teach tolerance by sharing their personal stories. Lannie's first book, How To Change Your Sex: A Lighthearted Look at the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do, remains one of the most popular handbooks for transitioning transsexual men and women.
Lannie has graciously agreed to stop by for a chat as part of our Spring Celebration, and to help support our Gender Identity & Expression reading challenge. So, without further ado, let's learn a little bit about the woman behind the stories of encouragement, support, and inspiration.
♥ Thanks so much for stopping by, Lannie, and for being so quick to offer your support. For starters, especially for those who may be new to your writing, please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi Sally. It’s great to be here on your excellent blog. Me, I think of myself as just another trans woman for the most part. I’m a late transitioner, like so many of us, and like many of us, I felt like writing about the experience as I went through it. So I did, and did and did, and wound up with a few books all about me, me, me! So that’s how most people in the community come to know me. Outside of that, I live in northern California in Felton, in the hills south of San Francisco and just north of Santa Cruz. I live with my registered-domestic-partner, Misha, and our calico Cat Cali. I make my living these days as a product manager in a small networking company.
♥ If we can talk a bit about you to start, you had a very public sort of ‘coming out’ in 2002, when you were interviewed on TV about the tragic murder of Gwen Araujo. How difficult of an experience was that?
It wasn’t difficult at all, and it really wasn’t that very public. It was just a short story on a local news program. Hardly anybody saw it, although once woman did recognize me at Macy’s one day from it. It’s funny, when I started transitioning, I kind of assumed I would be on TV one day as a trannie author or just a representative trannie, because so many of us were. But I think I just missed the window, because by my time the late-transitioner story was old hat and the focus had turned to very young transitioners and trans men. In retrospect, I’m probably better off, because the media is a rough game. But maybe that’s sour grapes.
♥ You were already active in the transgender community before writing How To Change Your Sex, but how did that book come about?
As I mentioned before, a lot of people say they are going to write a book about it when they transition, but only handful actually do. I wrote How To Change Your Sex while I was recuperating from my sex reassignment surgery. I’d been laid off work, possibly by coincidence, so I had no hurry to get back and wound up taking a couple of years break. So I had time on my hands.
I wanted to write How To Change Your Sex while everything was still fresh in my mind, and I’m glad I did, because the details did fade rather quickly.
♥ What was the initial reaction to the book from friends and family? Did it open any eyes, or change any of your day-to-day interactions?
By the time I self-published How To Change Your Sex, most of my friends were in the trans community, so there were no eyes to open there. Although usually people in the community said they thing they found surprising was that transition could be written about in a light-hearted, funny, yet serious manner. The family was a whole different matter, as you know from my other books. They were very unaccepting for the first year after I came out to them, and when I sent my parents my book, they sent it back to me unread. That hurt. Oh, except for my sister, Mary. She was great from the start, and she loved reading my books.
♥ That must have been hard, but at least you had an understanding sister to be something of an advocate within the family. Now, your next book, LANNIE! My Journey from Man to Woman, was much a much different book . . . far more intimate and personal. How different was the experience of writing that, compared to How To Change Your Sex?
Yes, there was a progression of intimacy between writing my books. How To Change Your Sex wasn’t about me at all, except for a few anecdotes here an there. At that time, I felt very shy about writing about myself, that I was uninteresting and not worthwhile. Who would care? After I had been living as a woman for a couple of years, my self-esteem was high enough that I wanted to write my story. I knew I wasn’t writing a best-seller, but I thought my transition was interesting and unique enough to be worth telling, and that a part of the general public—mostly women, probably—would like to read it. Funny thing, some folks outside of the trans community that have read How To Change Your Sex told me they thought the general public would love that one, whereas I thought it would only be of interest to people who were thinking of transitioning.
♥ I know you’ve mentioned that the publisher requested some significant changes, both in content and focus. How hard was it to let someone else tamper with what is definitely YOUR story?
To tell you the truth, I was more irked at them tampering with my writing than with my story! But by that time I was so worn down by the process, I was willing to go with whatever they thought. I had self-published How To Change Your Sex using Lulu.com, but I looked for an agent for what would become Lannie! My Journey from Man to Woman. I queried 100 agents before I found one who would represent it. Then she queried 100 publishers. Finally I told her I decided to self-publish the manuscript, and thank you for your efforts. She responded, “Don’t do that! There are lots of other publishers to try!” That didn’t seem to be a really strong argument to me, but I held off for a little longer. In no time at all, she had me hooked up with Sterlinghouse. The whole thing turned out to be a huge mistake. I later found my agent on a list of the 10 worst agents in the business, and Sterlinghouse turned out to be a vanity publisher although they don’t think of themselves that way. Lots of bad things on the Internet about them these days, but not when I went with them.
The title debacle is typical. I sold them a manuscript called, “Dirty Panties,” and they insisted on titling it Lannie!, with the exclamation point, subtitled My Journey from Man to Woman. Not only is it incredibly trite, but it gets catalogued as just Lannie!, so you don’t have a clue as to what it’s about. Now which title would get you to pick up the book from the bookshelf and leaf through it? In the end, they only moved a few hundred copies, and I had to threaten to sue before they would cut the check for the measly royalty. I’ve been in tough with other Sterlinghouse authors, and it turns out that their modus operandi is they just don’t pay the author’s at all!
♥ Some of the deleted material made it into your next book, Everything Nice: A Late-Onset Coming-of-Age Story. If the original book had seen print as you intended, would you still have written Everything Nice, or were there still things left to be said?
Oh yeah, there was a lot more to be said! Remember the progression of intimacy, from How To Change Your Sex to Lannie!? The manuscript for what would become Lannie! had absolutely nothing about my life before transition, because I still thought it was uninteresting and, like typically soon after transition, I mostly wanted to wipe out my boy life completely. Sterlinghouse forced me to write about it, so I squeezed the first 45 years of my life into a short Chapter 2. But a few years after I’d been living as a woman, I was ready to own my whole life and write about it. I also had developed enough faith in my writing skills that I thought I could keep even the dull parts interesting. But even more to the point about my progression of intimacy, I needed a theme to organize my life around, and by this time I was so comfortable about making my life an open book that I chose to organize it around my sex life! And seriously, I think that a lot of the value of Everything Nice is in documenting my sex life fully, to show that some people do NOT have a very good sex life, and that’s the way it is.
♥ What has the reaction been since you decided to share the original version of LANNIE! as a free read on your website? Do readers seem to have a clear preference for either version?
Honestly, I haven’t heard a thing back about Dirty Panties. When I put out my first book, I was surprised at few people wrote me about it. But talking to other authors, that’s generally the way it is. It’s kind of like radio, just throwing the content out there to a dark, silent world. I think one of the great things about the Internet is that you can easily write just about anybody, and I often send an author a note after I read a book. I even wrote Roger Ebert an e-mail once, scolding him about some comment he made about a transsexual character in some movie, and he wrote my back and apologized!
♥ Well, hopefully we can get a few people reading, and (more importantly) get them communicating . . . you deserve some words of thanks! You’ve actually made the rather unusual move of offering several of your titles as free downloads via your site. What was it that prompted you to make that move, and how has it impacted your exposure as either an author or an activist?
Ha, yeah. Well, I’ve always made the offer that I would send the e-book—the pdf file—to anybody who wrote me and asked for it. I did it that way because I wanted to “meet” the people who want to read me. But only a handful ever did. Now the books have been out there for a few years and are getting a bit long in the tooth, so I figured I’d just set them free at this point. It was never about making money for me—although I do get a check from Lulu.com for about fifty dollars every quarter. It was about getting the books into the hands of people who could benefit from them, and I hope free posting them will help. As far as exposure goes, I’ve never had much exposure as an author or activist, except for a bit around the San Franciso Bay Area. But every now and then I meet someone who knows me from my books, and that’s always cool. In fact, that’s how I met my partner Misha. By the way, that’s lannierose.com for anyone who is interested.
♥ On your website, you recommend quite a few general Transgender texts, as well as a large number of Transgender biographies. Is there one particular author that inspired you? Any book that you would consider required reading?
Oh yes. For sure, for anyone looking to learn about what transgender and transsexual is about, Millie Brown’s book, True Selves, is still the bible. As for biographies, I would go with Alice in Genderland, but be forewarned, it is rather explicit sexually, like my Everything Nice. For something milder, try Calpernia Addams’s Mark 947:A Life Shaped by God, Gender and Force of Will. Or Jamison Green’s excellent book, Becoming a Visible Man for the trans man perspective.
♥ Some great recommendations there. I reviewed Calpernia's book last year (very powerful read), Zander Keig echoed your Jamison Green recommendation earlier this week, and I'll be interviewing the lovely Ms. Novic later this month. Looking back at your own work, is there a particular quote or passage that you are particularly fond of? Something that just seems to sum up either your experience or the message you’d like others to take from it?
I think it is the message from the chapter The Worst Problem in the World from How To Change Your Sex. The message is that there are a lot harder things to deal with than being trans, so get over it, and get on with it! I love the attitude of the young trannies these days. I was on a message board with mostly young ‘uns, pimping How To Change Your Sex. Besides being yelled at for spamming, one of the kids said, “It’s not the hardest thing I’ll ever do. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is learn to surf!”
♥ I like that comment - and the self-esteem behind it! The author-reader relationship can be both wonderful and bizarre - what is the most memorable reaction to your work that you've ever encountered?
I was working for a dear woman named Peggy, and after reading my book, she was practically in tears. I asked her why and she said it just made her so sad that I had to go through all that. Until then, I hadn’t spent much energy thinking about how difficult it had been to grow up as a square peg in a round hole, that I really had been through a tough time. But I got over it—see my answer to the previous question! You know, what really stands out about all the notes I get, and I get a couple a month, is the gratitude people have just for me sharing my story. It gives me a wonderful, warm feeling that I’ve touched someone’s life in a positive way. That’s what it’s all about.
♥ If I can impose upon your personal experience for a moment, what advice would you give to a young man or woman struggling with their gender identity? Is there anything you've done that worked exceptionally well, or something you wish you had done differently?
Don’t be afraid of it, embrace it. You cannot run away or hide from it, so deal with it. It’s easy to give this kind of advice, but I don’t know that it is helpful, because it is so hard to follow. That’s why I put my books out there, because reading about someone else who is very much like you and got through it okay is one of the most powerful ways to gain courage about it. The one thing I wish I had done differently, and I very much encourage everything else, is don’t go through it alone! It is so much easier when you can share it with others. When I started out, there wasn’t much Internet—just that really slow and annoying AOL dial-up. Today it is so easy to find trans groups to join online, and groups within driving distance you can physically visit. There is absolutely no reason why you need to go it alone.
♥ To change that up a bit, what advice would you give to an emerging author? Any lessons learned that you wish you had known ahead of time?
As you can guess from my previous diatribe, my very strong advice is to self-publish! Unless you are writing trade paperbacks like romances or sci-fi, there is no benefit these days of going through a traditional publisher. They will not do any publicity for you, they will not get you on bookshelves. And get to be on the biggest bookshelf in the world, Amazon.com, by self-publishing through Amazon.com or another service like Lulu.com. My other advice is to do it! If you feel the urge to write, sit down and start writing. It is extremely rewarding. And if writing books isn’t your thing, start a blog or a podcast. Start a video blog on YouTube. Whatever medium you are comfortable with, please put your story out there. I guarantee you that there are somebodies out there who will be most deeply touched by your particular story, and you will be doing them and yourself a huge service.
♥ Great advice . . . I may have to take some of that to heart myself. Finally, before I let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about, or a cause that’s near and dear to your heart?
A huge "thank you" to Lannie Rose for stopping by. You can check her out on the web at http://www.lannierose.com/. She has a wonderful site, with a wealth of information, and (as we mentioned earlier) you can download free PDF versions of Everything Nice, How to Change Your Sex, and Dirty Panties. If you enjoy them (and I'm sure you will), please consider purchasing a paperback copy for yourself (or a friend) as a way of saying thanks for her incredible generosity.
Spring Celebration into high gear, it's also time for you - the readers - to do your part by stopping by, saying hello, and hopefully even sharing a few thoughts on her work. Remember, with free ebooks available at http://www.lannierose.com/ you really have no excuse not to give her a read!
Don't forget, this is your latest chance to become eligible for this week's giveaways, so be sure to include your email address in your comment. Of course, you don't have to be a follower to win, but being a follower will earn you a bonus entry for the week (just let me know in your comment if you're a new follower or an old favourite).