Category Archives: Latest Trends

How I Lost My Best Friend, by Lynn Lauber

get-attachment copy 2My best friend P and I are standing on the corner of Rice Avenue and Allentown Road on this day in 1967, discussing despair and possible suicide—two of our common topics.  A car careens around the corner, filled with the blonde heads of high-school boys who are the cause of our malaise in the first place – thick necked, feckless, their pink and white mouths always open with jeers, catcalls, and absolute power.  We ignore their taunts and deftly sidestep their car’s path as we continue our conversation.  For all our talk, dying isn’t really in our plans. It’s part of our song and dance routine; it’s a feature of our being best friends.

If I’d signaled otherwise, P might have followed me out into the road and to our doom.  I’m the dominant one, not that we speak of such things.  But I definitely run the show, this dance between us–so unlike the real ones we’d never be caught dead attending—the proms and homecomings and other sanctioned events.

Instead, that night we’re at the Rodeway Motor Lodge off Route 61, in bed with young men who my grandmother would call “dusky” after she got  up from her faint on the floor.

I’ve talked P into coming here because my current boyfriend, the tyrannical Miles, said his friend was in town and needed a girl.

So P is with a long lanky youth named Langdon who she’s never met before and will surely never see again.  We both have worn our maxi skirts, knee high boots and vinyl coats for this outing – we could be walk-ons in a budget version of Superfly if someone nearby were filming, if 1972 still weren’t still in the future.  We think we look grand.

As I lie there staring at the ceiling, I hear a faint thump on the other side of the plywood wall, which must be P’s head against the bedframe –a kind of desperate communication.

What is she trying to convey with this rhythmic pounding?  I close my eyes at the thought and slip back into the shallow center of myself.   

I use P; we both know this–especially for her Pontiac Tempest, commodious as a sofa, which I need for illicit visits with Miles.  I need her for fake slumber party locations, counterfeit mother’s signatures, to make calls for me in the middle of the night.

In turn, she is my apprentice in deception, pancake makeup, crash diets.

She is pink and petite with owl -like glasses that frequently fog.   Each winter we drive to Florida long enough to burn our skins a deep maroon, then speed back in order to glean attention for our remarkable, temporary bronzeness. (This is my idea, as are all others.)

We are 16, 17, then 18; finally we can escape our hometown.  P follows me to Columbus where I attend college, though she can’t afford classes herself.

We live together in a brick turn-of –the- century apartment, where roaches dance around the gas ring and fall from the ceiling into our hair.

I read Sartre, while P works in a Fotomat—a bathroomless booth in the middle of a parking lot.  She brings home photos of other people’s vacations that we laugh over at night.

We visit Planned Parenthood and carry pink disks of birth control pills in our macramé bags.  We can officially sleep with anyone now.  After so many years, we are free.

A student who lives in an apartment above us finally snags my heart; he’s unlike any type we’ve known before. He skis and drives a sports car; there are country clubs in his background.  He likes P, too, and we all go out together for fried pork tenderloin sandwiches and Marx Brothers’ double features.  We are a threesome, though they each are separately mine

The wind shifts; we are 19.  I learn about continental plates and how to spell Moliere; P works at Budget Meats and brings home half-priced liver.

One holiday weekend, I have to go home alone; leaving P and the boyfriend to their own devices.

When I walk into the apartment after my return, I know what happened; P runs water in the sink and won’t meet my eye.

I expect the boyfriend to deny it, but that P does is the clincher.

“You can’t lie to me,” I scream at her.  “I’m the one who taught you how!”

This is how I lose my best friend.

I could say it was because of a man, but I can’t make myself believe it.

It was me, it was me. It was me, all along.

 

Lynn Lauber’s most recent book is Listen to Me, Writing Life into Meaning (WW Norton); her essay, “When One of Me Became Three,” was published in the NYT’s Modern Love.

 

 

 

A Shared History, by Lisa Lewis

collage

 When my best friend and I met in 10th grade, we had a lot in common: we were both smart, sheltered suburban girls, slightly goofy, just emerging from our awkward phases. We were also young enough that a shared naïve sensibility and similar class schedule were enough for us to form a bond. We giggled a lot; we learned dance routines together in our flame-red drill-team polyester skirts and sweater vests. We were 14 and not prone to introspection.

We didn’t realize at first that we also both had family histories of unhappiness, a bond that was far more lasting. This was the undercurrent that ran beneath our friendship. When I felt churning anxiety, I had a tendency to be controlling. Her response was to be adventurous, to make bold choices that provided an escape. But by then, the friendship had acquired an aura of permanence, each year adding another protective layer. “It’s been that way for 6 ½ years and always will be,” she wrote in a collage she gave me for college graduation, spelling out the words with colorful letters cut from glossy magazines. “That’s why we’re still best friends.”

For the next two decades we passed through life’s stages in tandem, marrying in our twenties, having kids in our thirties, and then beginning to care not just for our children but for our parents and our spouses’ parents.

We knew the family legacies we’d inherited: the anger and depression, the legacy of suicide attempts embedded in our family trees. In her case, productivity masked bipolar tendencies; in mine, being moody and critical was a cover for depression.

The flaws in our friendship usually retreated into the background. But there were times I criticized her, my own insecurities more visible in the radiance of her many successes. And she could wound me with her words, calling me on my shortcomings when she felt hurt. It was easier not to dwell on these rough patches, to focus instead on the longevity of our friendship.

Then, when we were 42, a single conversation triggered its collapse. “I have news,” she said. “We’ve decided to move to Israel!” In a happy rush, she shared a flurry of details, including how they’d now be near her in-laws. Her husband had already negotiated a job transfer.

Perhaps I should have simply been happy for her. But as we sat in my living room that warm fall California afternoon, I swallowed back my own feelings of loss. I wondered, too, about the other plan now evidently abandoned: the cross-country summer road trip to visit the key landmarks of her parents’ lives. It had been one year since her father had died, just over two since her mother had died. The trip had been a major focus of hers as she’d channeled her grief into planning.

Later, I told her I was bummed she was moving and that I’d miss her.

“A lot of people have said that when we told them,” she said sympathetically.

If she were someone I’d met as an adult, I might have let the comment slide, or dismissed it as the verbal mis-step of someone still coping with loss as well as the immensity of a trans-Atlantic move. When we talked on the phone the next day, I might have been secure enough in our friendship not to get hung up on her words. But perhaps I’d never really transcended the dynamic of our teenage years. I couldn’t help revisiting it. “It doesn’t make me feel any better to know how popular you are.” Even as I said it I knew how petty I sounded.

She hung up on me. The legacies that had been held in check for so long had finally broken through. She sent me two lengthy emails, then called my husband the next morning at work. She told him tearfully that my comment sounded like one her mother would have made.

I hadn’t told him yet about our falling out and was embarrassed he’d been dragged into it. Over the next several days she continued to call him and to send emails to both of us, each one escalating in tone.

The unhealthy subtext of our friendship had resurfaced. Even as I saw the breach tearing open, I couldn’t resist being angry too. Our argument echoed with the discord of old family patterns; I felt justified in my anger yet panicked by her rejection. If only I could find the right words her anger would soften into understanding.

I chose my words carefully. I left a voice-mail. When she didn’t respond, I sent a follow-up e-mail recapping my apology. We had stirred up powerful emotions in each other, but over the years she’d been my closest confidante.

“First, I wanted to apologize for what I said. I know that the comment I made wasn’t kind, so I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry,” I wrote. “At the same time, though, your response seemed disproportionate – the volume and the intensity of your anger.”

But by then it seems we were too far gone. Soon after, I realized she’d unfriended me on Facebook and severed our connection on LinkedIn. It pained me to realize the foundation of our friendship was far less solid than I’d thought. Three weeks after she’d announced her move, I sent her a final note of good-bye.

As May Sarton wrote, “Though friendship is not quick to burn, it is explosive stuff.” I didn’t anticipate the final eruption, the lengthy e-mail she sent to my mother two days later detailing my numerous shortcomings as a friend, daughter, wife and mother. Various confidences I’d shared had been twisted and distorted in one final missive. She blind-copied the note to me and to my husband.

I wish I could say I didn’t crumble. That I didn’t feel the old, familiar dread as I watched my mother temporarily come undone, the adult relationship we’d carefully built wounded by the serrated edge of those final accusations, the knifepoint scraping away at the emotions of our own relationship during my teenage years. That I weathered the next few weeks calmly until our mother-daughter bond shakily righted itself.

“She’s trying to destroy all of the relationships that are important to me!” I sobbed to my husband, who wondered how I could even think she somehow had the power to corrode my marriage or my family bonds. I wasn’t yet able to see that I’d become the focal point for her displaced anger. The dormant issues in our friendship had bubbled up, providing an outlet for the other tensions pooling below.

My kids are still too young to understand why the close ties between our two families were suddenly severed. They miss her kids, but they’re content for now with my explanation about her family’s overseas move. I can’t explain to them that the breach that’s torn open is far less navigable than the ocean that now separates them from their friends.

I can see now that the ending was entirely understandable, fueled by powerful undercurrents. We were too steeped in common hurts, too vulnerable to regressing into old adolescent patterns. For nearly 30 years our shared history had bonded us together. But eventually, it was what broke us apart.

Lisa Lewis is a contributing writer for Literary Mama and has also been published on Prime Number Magazine.

Reader post: No Girls Allowed! by Laura Probert

img_8344-edit

My girlfriend of many years brought her son and daughter to the only birthday party my son specifically asked to be all boys. In the middle of the bowling alley, while I was organizing the rowdy group of boys who had made their way onto the floor, doing their best John Travolta impersonation to the Saturday Night Fever that was playing in the background, she asked me if her daughter could stay. When I made up some lame excuse about not having enough goodie bags she grabbed her daughter’s hand and stormed out, leaving her husband and her son there in her wake.

That was the day I lost my friend.

 

I watched as she left in her huff and I panicked, realizing that I had offended her. I ran to her husband and begged him to plead my case with her over the phone. She wasn’t answering. I wouldn’t have a good chance to explain until much later, when too much time had passed and our egos were too large for deflating.

 

My girlfriend and I were part of a bigger friend group that had been bonding for years. The five of us and our husbands and families did life together, first the weddings, then the babies. All our kids were regulars at everyone else’s kid’s parties, and I did understand her confusion. If she had RSVP’d to my formal mailed invitation she would have seen the details. Boys. Bowling.

 

Instead I had to call her the day before to ask if her son was coming. My bad, I didn’t mention it was just for boys on the phone that day. I didn’t think I needed to. I had just chalked it up to her being mildly rude by not RSVP’ing, and she was a good enough friend that I would give her that by.

 

My friend was so mad, so offended by my response at the party that she never got over it, even when I apologized. Even when I tried again several months later with a heartfelt letter, and again the following Christmas when I emailed a “Hello, how are you?”

 

I felt such a deep shame after this event. At first I wondered what I had done, and decided that I should have just said okay and let her daughter stay. What harm would it have been except to disappoint the birthday boy? I second guessed myself and took on the blame for our falling out. Not only would our relationship suffer, but our whole five-some would eventually “split up.” Oh the guilt.

 

When I made the effort to apologize and connect several times without an equal response I had to let go. I had to come to the realization that even if the mistake had been mine, I did all I could to do repair the friendship and that it was in her court at that point. Letting go was really hard. I had trouble tolerating the feelings inside, the idea that I had been a bad friend.

 

The emotions I felt after losing my girlfriend felt worse than some love relationships I have had. I was really stuck in a lack of self worth, and shame. It didn’t seem right. It took me a really long time to be okay with that break up, and come to a place of peace with it.

 

Nowadays I hear rumors about my friend’s life and successes and I feel happy for her with a small pang of regret. I think about the communication break down that was ultimately the cause of our split and I feel grateful for the lesson it taught me. I have worked hard over the years since to know my worth, find my voice and speak from my heart. I know that the current friends I have benefit from that, and I can be thankful for the painful experience it took to wake me up.

 

Today I make it a practice to listen to my intuition, speak from my heart, and get clarification when I need it in my relationships. I don’t have time for petty arguments, judgement, and superficiality. What makes great friends is awareness, listening, and authenticity. My friend taught me one of the best lessons I could ever learn.

 

 Laura Probert, MPT has practiced the art of physical therapy and awareness for over 20 years. Connect with her here: www.bodyworksptonline.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Submission: The Thick and The Thin by Christine Benvenuto

Christine Benvenuto’s story is the first in a series of reader stories about friendship breakups we will be sharing on our blog in the coming days.

 

The Thick and The Thin

Christine Benvenuto

Right smack in the middle of one bright winter Saturday afternoon I called my friend’s cellphone. “Hey,” I said when she picked up, my voice friendly, casual. “Where are you? Whatcha doing?”

“You tell me where you want me to be.”

“No, really, I was just wondering – ”

“You tell me where you want me to be and I’m there.”

Despite my certainty that I had conveyed just nothing of the crisis moment I was having, she wasn’t having it. She knew. A few minutes later, true to her word, her car pulled up curbside and I hopped in.

She rescued me – that day and countless others during the tumultuous course of a nasty breakup and divorce. It wasn’t a one-way street. “I have to see you,” she texted the day she suddenly wondered if a harmless office flirtation maybe wasn’t quite so harmless after all. On the road to my home, I veered off to swing onto hers. She told me everything. We told each other.

We weren’t childhood friends, college friends, friends as young singles. We met as mature career women, wives and mothers with virtually nothing in common. Different religions, different cultures, different economic backgrounds. In some respects, different values. We shared a few, though. Like the value we placed on friendship.

If all the ways we weren’t alike didn’t keep us apart, nothing would. During times of man trouble my friend would spin out our shared future: we would buy a house together, or she would just move into mine. We’d be old ladies together, strong women who didn’t require men to keep us from being lonely because we had something better: female friends. Our collective brood of half a dozen children would come and go from our home. Her daughter and one of mine were going to be best friends for life, just like us. Sooner or later, they’d bring our grandchildren along with them.

Oops. This is where we stumbled. Our daughters were friends, good friends if maybe not quite BFFs. Until, one day, they weren’t. My daughter kept making me invite hers. The answer wasn’t no. It was silence. “I’ll ask her and get right back to you,” my friend would say or text. Then: nothing. I got it. It was too hard to keep making excuses. Too painful to keep saying no.

My daughter didn’t know what was wrong and neither did I. tried to ask my friend if anything had happened between the girls. She insisted, convincingly, that there was nothing. “I would make them talk it out if anything had happened!” she told me. And she would. If they’d had a fight, she would have kept them talking until they made it up. But there was no fight. Her daughter had simply stopped being my daughter’s friend and there wasn’t a darn thing either of us could do about it.

My daughter mourned. She suffered. Her heart was broken and I held her while she cried. Then the day came when I dried her tears and told her she had to move on. And, wonder of wonders, she did.

It’s wrenching to see your child through her first rejection, but as mothers we know that’s part of the job we signed on for. What do you do when the cause of that heart break is your friend’s child, the very friend you would have otherwise told all about it?

In the months since our daughters’ friendship ended, we’ve tried to stay in touch. We’ve sent messages. Asked each other to meet. We’ve agreed to meet, only to have one or the other of us cancel at the last minute. It’s awkward. It’s weird. It’s the elephant in the room, or rather it would be if we were ever in a room together.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t have a sad ending either. It doesn’t end at all. We will find a way back. Sometime. I think so.

In the meanwhile, I have to marvel at our undoing. Who would have guessed that the wedge that would come between us would be one of the very few things we have in common? It’s our wild, passionate, and utterly committed motherhood that has thrown our friendship onto the rocks. The most important trait we share.

Tell us your story about breaking up with your best friend

This week, inspired by Bonnie Friedman’s Shebook Devil Doll about complicated women’s friendships, we’re printing stories about breaking up with women friends on our Facebook page and blog. Please share yours (email us at: write@shebooks.net) –and who knows, maybe we’ll have enough for a new Shebook.
Our editorial director Laura Fraser shares her story about breaking up–and making up–with her best friend:

“The apology” by Laura Fraser

When we were 10, my best friend Kristin Spielman and I wore identical silver rings, thinking we’d be best friends forever. We walked to school together every day, and could hardly wait to see each other again when the last bell rang. We talked endlessly about which boys we liked and which girls were stuck-up, and spent long hours working on craft projects. We were closer to each other than we were to our own sisters.

I trusted Kristin so much that I not only let her cut my hair, I believed her when she told me that extremely short, crooked bangs were the height of fashion. When I was teased at school for being chubby, Kristin reassured me, “Your real friends love you the way you are.”

Then, one afternoon when we were 12, Kristin didn’t walk home with me, and she didn’t call. I suddenly realized, like a punch in the stomach, that she and another girl were off having fun together–without me. With no explanation, Kristin just stopped being my friend. I took off my silver ring and hid it in the back of my jewelry box. I had no idea what I’d done to make Kristin stop liking me, but it made me stop liking myself.

By high school, the sting of losing Kristin as a best friend had faded, and we saw each other sometimes in group gatherings. When I left Colorado for college, I don’t even think I wished her goodbye. We weren’t that close.

And so it was a surprise, five years later, to get an invitation to Kristin’s wedding reception. But I went. Her mother was so delighted to see the two of us together again, now grown up, that she cried.

We immediately warmed up to each other, talking and teasing and full of curiosity about our different lives. She soon had a family and stayed in Colorado. I was single, pursuing a writing career in San Francisco. Whenever I came home, Kristin would pick me up at the airport and our conversation would resume right where it had left off months before. No one makes me laugh as much as she does.

“Breaking up” with Kristin in sixth grade was the only thing in my life that halfway prepared me for the day when, after only a year of marriage, my husband left me. When I could finally muster the strength to call a friend, I called Kristin. She insisted I come home immediately.

It was comforting to be with her, to hear her fierce assurance when she said I didn’t deserve what had happened. At a time when the ground had given way beneath me, her friendship felt solid.

During our visit, we took a hike in the mountains and Kristin started talking about her two girls. Her oldest daughter, Emilee, was already a teenager. “She’s like we were as kids,” Kristin said. “She has one really good friend. Hana has a lot of friends and doesn’t care as much.”

Only recently, Emilee’s best friend had abruptly broken off their relationship. “Kind of like what I did to you,” Kristin said. I looked at her, amazed. I never thought that betrayal had even registered with her.

“I’m seeing what Emilee’s going through, and how awful it is for her,” Kristin went on. “I told her to look at us–that everything turns out OK in the end, that you end up being good friends with the people you deserve.”

I looked down at my hiking boots and we kept on walking.

“Did I ever apologize to you for that?” Kristin asked.

I shook my head, finding it impossible to speak.

“Well, I’m sorry,” she said.

I wiped my eyes and gave her a hug. “You’re forgiven,” I told her. “Complete absolution.”

I knew my ex-husband would never apologize to me for breaking my heart. But it was enough, at that moment, that my best friend had.

Copyright Laura Fraser. Originally published in Women’s Day.

Laura Fraser with her best friend Kristin Rankin: 

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 10.39.15 AM

Shebooks goes to Texas! | Event at Bookwoman

Last night’s Shebooks’ Shebang was held at Bookwoman, Austin’s beloved feminist bookstore since 1975. Marion Winik, visiting from Baltimore, and Beverly Lowry, who lives in Austin, read from their Shebooks — Marion, selections from “Guesswork” and “The End of the World As We Know It,” and Beverly her essay from “Summer,” an anthology edited by Alice Gordon. About 35 were in attendance. Marion explained the Shebooks model and why it’s exciting for both readers and writers. Susan Post, the owner of Bookwoman, explained how to use Kobo to download e-books so that part of the purchase price paid goes to the independent bookstore of your choice. Those who had brought their readers got going then and there. The authors’ print books and e-books aplenty were sold

 

IMG_6635IMG_6636

Jennifer Finney Boylan: 5 Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person. (And 3 Things You Should.)

Jennifer Finney Boylan GLAAD cochair and author of the Shebook, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, offers up a list of cringe-worthy conversation no-no’s she’s encountered as a trans woman.

 1. “Hey, you! Have you had ‘the surgery’?”

This is kind of like someone coming up to you and asking about your vagina or penis. No, wait, it’s exactly like that. While there are some trans folks who are eager to start blabbering away about their nether regions, most of us consider our private parts, you know, private. Go figure.

2. “So you must love that Judith Butler!”

OK, so plenty of transgender people love Butler’s groundbreaking work, which has to be respected for (among other good reasons) the way it brought the phrase “gender binary” (as in “reject the gender binary”) into the vernacular. But there are plenty of us who kind of sigh when we encounter a sentence like, “If there is a sexual domain that is excluded from the Symbolic and can potentially expose the Symbolic as hegemonic rather than totalizing in its reach, it must be possible to locate this excluded domain either within or outside that economy and to strategize its intervention in terms of the placement.”

It’s worth remembering that for many trans people, our lives are not a clever academic theory, but a daily struggle against violence, a difficult search for dignity and respect. Make sure, if you’re talking to a trans person, that you are thinking of that person as an individual whose fight for identity is real, and not a person whose identity is some kind of scholarly abstraction.

3. “Do you love RuPaul? How about that Rocky Horror Picture Show!”

It’s important to understand the difference between drag culture and trans embodiment. The former can be about performance, exaggeration, and entertainment; the latter is about people’s actual lives. Plenty of transgender people have begun their journeys in the drag community, and you will find many trans folks who adore all of the subversive, transgressive energy that drag can bring. But many of are uneasy when our lives are mistaken for “performance,” and it’s disrespectful to trans people to conflate the two.

As for Rocky Horror, there’s another delightful piece of subversive drag culture, made more enjoyably depraved over the years by the legendary participation of its audiences at the film’s midnight screenings. All of that is great. But remember that while Frank N. Furter sings he’s a “transsexual transvestite from Transylvania,” he’s surely not an actual trans woman, any more than Al Jolson in blackface is actually Thurgood Marshall.

4. “Can you can have an orgasm?”

Again, getting kind of personal with this one, aren’t you? Most trans people, post-surgery, are perfectly capable of orgasm, but perhaps it’s understandable if this isn’t the first thing folks want to talk about with a stranger. Author Kate Bornstein, in answering this question, playfully observed, “The plumbing works and so does the electricity.” So OK, the answer turns out to be The Hell Yes. But whenever someone asks me this question, I think of the story of the guy who kept asking his parrot, “Can you talk? Can you talk?” and at last the parrot says, “Actually, yes, I can talk. Can you fly?”

5. “You know who I feel sorry for is your children.”

This is a classic way of being judgmental while pretending to be nonjudgmental. As it turns out, most trans people’s children are exactly as screwed up, or not, as anyone else’s children. But it isn’t having a trans parent that affects children, either for the better or for the worse.

What damages children is other people treating their family with disrespect.

Three Good Questions to Ask a Transgender Person

1. “How are you?”

By which I mean, approach a trans person with exactly the same respect and openheartedness you’d approach anyone else with. In the same way you wouldn’t begin a conversation with a stranger by inquiring about that person’s race, or spiritual beliefs, or politics, you probably wouldn’t want “So, you’re transgender?” to be the first words out of your mouth. Many of us would rather not talk about what makes us different, especially with strangers. Many of us would rather talk, at least at first, about the things we have in common.

2. “Do you mind if I talk to you about some gender stuff?

If you’ve established a rapport with a trans person and feel that the conversation has reached a point where Going There would be respectful, proceed with caution and see just how willing your new friend is to have at it. Most of us are happy to talk about the issues, at least in a general way, if we think we can do so in an atmosphere that feels safe.

3. “Are there books you’d recommend I read?”

When I first published my memoir She’s Not There, a dozen years ago, there were precious few books that seemed to address our issues with much subtlety or with any literary quality; that field was reserved pretty much for Kate Bornstein and her groundbreaking Gender Outlaw. Now there are lots of good books, by authors such as Helen Boyd, Jameson Green, Leslie Feinberg, and yes, Judith Butler. I published a memoir about being a transgender parent this spring, Stuck in the Middle with You, as well as the updated anniversary edition of She’s Not There, which includes a new epilogue by my wife, Deirdre Grace. Both of those books are available from Random House.

Two other recent standouts include Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, the first transition memoir to also address issues of gender theory, not to mention the unique challenges faced by trans people of color like Mock. And the brand-new Trans Bodies/Trans Selves, edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth (and with an introduction by me), is a 600-plus-page resource guide from Oxford University Press containing information on identity, love, transition, and politics, written by trans people for trans people.

Finally, your own Jenny Boylan has just published a new novella I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, now available exclusively from Shebooks. This novella tells the story of the Riley family, traveling from Maine to Washington, D.C., to see their young son perform “The Flight of the Bumblebee” at Ford’s Theatre. But most of the drama focuses on 16-year old Alex, a teenager who has just gone through transition. This is the first time I’ve written a piece of fiction for adults about trans identity, and I hope readers will find Alex an inspiring character, giving life, humor, and dignity to the experience of trans men and women.

I'll Give You Something to Cry About

Jennifer Finney Boylan is the Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University. A contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, she is also the national cochair of GLAAD. Her latest novella, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, centers around a transgender teenager, is only available from Shebooks.

Shebooks on NPR! | Listen

Lisa Morgan of WYPR’s The Signal chats with two Baltimore-based Shebooks authors, Jessica Anya Blau and Marion Winik, about Shebooks. This truly is the future of women’s e-reading…

Looking for short, fun, immersive reads? Try Mating Calls, Jessica Anya Blau’s smart and sexy short story duo, or Guesswork, Marion Winik’s collection of witty essays, only at Shebooks!

Barbara Graham: Is sexual abuse at the hands of women the last taboo?

In her haunting Shebook memoir Camp Paradox, writer Barbara Graham grapples with the realization that the “love affair” she’d believed she’d shared with her 28-year-old female camp counselor as a preteen was actually sexual abuse. In this fascinating tell-all interview, which recently aired on HuffPost Live, Graham speaks candidly about her memoir and the notably unspoken issue of abuse at the hands of women.

Enjoy the program? Read the rest of the story by downloading Barbara Graham’s memoir Camp Paradox, only at Shebooks!

CampParadox

Nine questions about sex with Jessica Anya Blau

An Interview by Marion Winik

Jessica Anya Blau, author of the best-selling novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, recently came out with a sexy new Shebook titled Mating Calls. Here Blau sits down with former NPR commentator and fellow Shebooks author Marion Winik (Guesswork) for a quick and dirty interview.

blau

Why do you like to talk about sex so much?

Well, I didn’t realize that I like to talk about sex so much. I like talking to people. I’m interested in people. And sex is a lot of who they are. So I’m interested in that.

Yes, but you seem to turn the subject to, say, labia, much more frequently than other people I know.

No, I don’t! Do I? But, really, aren’t labia way more interesting than, say, the water commissioner? Or…people’s kids’ lacrosse tournaments?

OK, if you’re not obsessed, then why “The Six Question Sex Interview”? You could be asking people about their protagonists and their metaphors and their literary influences, but instead you’re asking them about their orgasms!

Well, that wasn’t deliberate. What happened was I was interviewing James Magruder, who wrote a hilarious novel about growing up in the ’70s as a gay, horny, kid. And—

Sugarless! I just bought my third copy! I keep loaning it to people who don’t give it back.

Right, it’s a great, funny book. And when I was interviewing Jim, the subject kept turning to sex, and somehow it worked its way to a story he told me about being a young gay man and having some guy stick a candle up his ass—

Because Jim Magruder is that rare person who likes to talk about sex even more than you do. He’s told stories like that candlestick one in front of my kids at the dinner table!

Ha ha! OK, yes, so he’s willing to say anything anywhere. And I’m always willing to talk about other people’s sex lives. I don’t talk about my own sex life because I’m sort of shy about my personal life, and I have two kids. Anyway, I finished the interview with him and I titled it “Six Question Sex Interview with James Magruder.” The editors loved it and have kept it as a regular thing on the Nervous Breakdown ever since.

The Wonder Bread Summer begins, literally, with a large, exposed penis. I’m sure most readers will wonder, as they did with the ickier sex moments in your previous works, if there is an autobiographical basis for that. Did that, or anything like that, ever happen to you? How have you handled unwanted or scary male attention in your own life?

The opening scene happened in some version to me. I was working at a little boutique on the Oakland-Berkeley border, and as the summer progressed, I eventually realized that the boutique was a front for cocaine dealing. The owner of the shop seemed like a nice, cool guy. He dressed exquisitely and he wore a beeper. At some point in the summer he started pulling out his dick. No one was ever in the store, so he’d just unzip his slacks and whip it out.

It was sort of terrifying, and I was only 20 and wasn’t sure how to respond. He liked to talk about his dick while he was holding it out, and since I wasn’t sure how to act I did stupid things like laugh and say, “Oh, you should put that away because customers might come in.” You know, silly things like that. I found that from puberty on, there was a continuous stream of attention like that that I never quite knew how to handle.

It was a different time. We weren’t raised with the “unwanted touch” lessons that my kids have had. And it was rare to report that kind of stuff. I think that most women of my generation and all the generations above mine dealt with this stuff for a number of years. You deal with it until you become wise enough to look someone in the eye and reduce their power, their power over you.

So you’ve pretty much always been able to neutralize the ray guns?

Well, no, I was always fumbling and terrified, and I would laugh or make a joke or something. I mean, there was the teacher in high school who pushed his hard-on into my ass before class started and whispered in my ear, “I can’t wait until you’re 18, Blau.” I rushed away and never came to class early. And there was the teacher in college who showed up in my room when I was in bed sick and lunged at me on the bed, and I pushed him off and said something about having bronchitis or being contagious, oh and something about him being married, and he said, “My wife doesn’t mind!”

There were the numerous penises that came out—a housemate’s brother’s, for example; while talking to him alone in a room, he just whipped it out. I remember that it was extraordinarily pink. And he was a great-looking guy, someone I probably would have hooked up with until that moment. When he pulled his dick out, I just laughed nervously and then lied about having a boyfriend.

My God, there was the guy who delivered pizza to my friend’s house when her parents were out of town when I was only 13. He was 24 or 25. He sat next to me on the couch and whispered in my ear all night, and I was terrified but transfixed. He used words I’d never even heard up to that moment.

Eventually I did figure out how to neutralize these unwanted encounters. The people who do these kinds of things choose well; they don’t choose people who are onto them. And after experiencing and studying people for so long, you can figure out who’s who pretty quickly.

I can see how those experiences played out in the development of Allie, who has a sexually abusive boss and an emotionally abusive boyfriend. But, you also give her one off-the-charts amazing sexual experience. 

Well, yes, because great sex is great, right? She has sex with Billy Idol, and it is purely joyous sex. And he doesn’t force it on her, he asks her. And, of course, she says yes. Wouldn’t you? I think sex can be incredible with anyone who is genuinely interested in you as a complete person. Great sex is one of the biggest joys on earth. I mean, don’t you feel better and happier when you’re having sex? It’s a wonderful way not to think, a way to eliminate neurosis and self-centeredness, eliminate the me me me me me from your consciousness. It’s great to be out of yourself.

Yes! But does great sex have to be with a rock star? Doesn’t great sex make us all rock stars?

Absolutely! And when you’re in love, the person you’re in love with is like a rock star. In the book, Allie has great sex with her boyfriend before he dumps her. But that sex is in the past—it happened before the start of the book, she only remembers back to it. Maybe the best thing about sex is that it is all equal. There’s nothing about being a rock star and going on world tour that makes you any better when it comes to sex. What’s wonderful about Billy Idol and Allie is that they both see the experience for what it is. She has no illusions of running off and marrying him, and he has no illusions of being worshiped. Yes, she’s starstruck at first, and even during the event, but each of them is coming to it in a totally genuine and honest way.

This interview originally appeared on the Nervous Breakdown.

 

Jessica Anya Blau is author of the Shebook, Mating Calls

Mating Calls