A Sneak Peek From "Something That May Shock And Discredit You"
Faithful readers of this newsletter may remember that my third book, an essay collection called Something That May Shock And Discredit You, will be coming out in early 2020. It is in many ways a side-by-side companion to my first book, Texts From Jane Eyre, as I revisit a number of conversations I have had with a particular version of the Western Canon, the books of my religious childhood, the voice of boisterousness and the voice of admonition, and what happens to an idea or a person that has suddenly run out of steam and has nowhere to go. It is a book about what happens in the doldrums, and perhaps unsurprisingly is a book I often found very difficult to write.
I had a strong sense going in of what I did not want the book to be: a memoir, a trans memoir, a collection of light humor, a collection of maximum-disclosure-style personal essays, a reckoning with the entire tradition of American evangelical Christianity, a continuation of this newsletter. Some of that came from fear, I think, fear that I would be inclined to overshare personal details in order to make up for an inability to think critically or offer meaningful insight, fear that I was seizing opportunistically upon something zeitgeist-y or obligatory (“A writer who transitioned writing about his transition? How novel”), fear that I would invite painful personal criticism or disapproval, fear that I would have lost an audience that had a great deal of interest in what a spunky lass had to say about goofy old Lord Byron and relatively little interest in what a self-conscious gentleman who has a complicated relationship to the act of “dunking on” anyone might have to say about, well, anything, fear that I would believe myself to be doing something new and innovative because I underestimated the excellent body of cultural criticism and personal essays other trans people have written over the years, fear that I would believe myself to be unique where I was in fact simply ignoring conversations I myself had not started.
I finished this book three times. The first time I turned it in, I thought I was done but my publisher didn’t. The second time I turned it in, I needed to be done but my publisher still didn’t think I was. The third time I turned it in, my publisher thought it was done and I had no sense of proportion left in my body. I am glad to have written it, and I’m hoping to go on tour again when it comes out late this winter. You can pre-order it here and here – I hope you do.
The book contains over 40 mostly-brief chapters, some of which include:
Apollo and Hyacinthus Die Playing Ultimate Frisbee, And I Died Watching Teenage Boys Play Video Games
Oh Lacanian Philosopher We Love You Get Up
The Stages Of Not Going On T
The Golden Girls and the Mountains In The Sea
Rilke Takes A Turn
No One Understands Henry VIII Like I Do
Pirates at the Funeral: “It Feels Like Someone Died,” But Someone Actually Didn’t
Did You Know That Athena Used To Be A Tomboy?
Paul and Second Timothy: The Transmasculine Epistles
Destry Rides Again, or Jimmy Stewart Has a Body and So Do I
The Matriarchs of Avonlea Begrudgingly Accept Your Transition // Men of Anne of Green Gables Experience
Aeneas Carries His Dad Over the Tiber and One Time I Pushed My Dad Through a Parking Lot in a Shopping Cart and I’ve Ended Up Probably Eating as Many Protein Bars in My Car as My Dad Does
(I came of age at a time when My Chemical Romance and The Decemberists and everyone else released album longer and longer titles; my brain developed around this habit and I cannot break myself of it now. Long chapter titles it is.)
Here is a brief excerpt from the first chapter, about childhood Rapture fantasies and body-homesickness:
“I had a sharp sense for when keeping a secret would result in a pleasanter outcome, and preferred to occasionally play out Rapture-like scenarios in private than have them either confirmed or debunked by outside opinion. I could have a Rapture a day if I liked — as long as I never asked my parents’ permission to go Rapturing — and dedicated a number of afternoons to making myself dizzy imagining the day when time would burst and unspool itself in every possible drection, and all those willing to be perfected would be milled down by the grindstone of heaven into a lovely terrifying roar.
At least part of the reason I never asked anyone questions about the fears and desires that preoccupied me was a peculiar certainty that to invite details would destroy anything I hoped for; that the loveliness of being pressed directly against God’s heart and melted down into holiness would become ridiculous if a start date were ever announced. And I did fear it, often, for as much as I longed to be seized, swept up, and changed without or even against my will, I also dreaded it. I was possessed of a rootless homesickness that translated quite neatly, for a religious eleven-year-old, into heaven-longing; later it would translate quite neatly, for a nervous thirty-one-year-old, into transsexuality.”
I do hope that you will consider pre-ordering the book or reserving it through your local library. If you’d like to recommend anything you’re reading and enjoying right now, I’m also taking suggestions on what to read next, now that I’m done with my latest project. (Ahhhh.)