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Trans I Have Known

I'm still processing the racist slaughter in Charleston and I'll address that when I can get my head together on that awful shit. Until then I'm gonna pick something from the current events file that I've wanted to talk to myself about.

Transgender Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and everyone loses their minds about how wonderfully positive for the transgender community this is and how its yet another milestone in the LGBT saga in this country. Thing is - I remember Renee Richards and her whacking tennis balls back and forth with Billy Jean King on TV. I remember staring at the picture of Walter Carlos on the cover of my copy of "Switched on Bach" and trying to figure what he looked like now as Wendy Carlos and how did that all work anyway? Famous transgenders have been around for a while sure, but this time it was different, this time people not only took notice, most didn't knee-jerk recoil in the sort of mild disgust and morbid curiosity reserved for circus freaks and mutant animals. A lot of people reacted with "Meh". There were no pitchforks and torches. And that's progress. Now the pendulum's swung the other way and people are taking things further than they should. Some are now saying that "Transracial" is a legitimate thing now that that deluded white girl Rachel Dolezal got called out for passing black all the way to the executive level of a local NAACP chapter. Jesus. Stop yourselves. No way is Transracial in the same realm as transgender. Transgender is a label dealing with reality. Transracial is a word fit to excuse somebody's pathology. The only white person that gets a pass for insisting he was born a poor black child is Steve Martin in "The Jerk" and that's only because that is some straight up funny movie shit right there.

My own personal transgender experience involves an author who wrote what I think is the best food fiction ever set to paper. Food fiction is kind of a small niche but my favorites include Jim Harrison's "The Raw and the Cooked" - essays he wrote for Esquire which were mostly him weaving pure bullshit with fact into a tapestry of culinary themed wit, whimsy and bombast. "The Banquet Bug" by Geling Yan, a novel that winds food, politics and social justice together in a story that skewers modern communist Chinese society, and "The Last Chinese Chef" a culinary love story by Nicole Mones that is equal parts filled with culinary love, romantic love and love of life.  All of these don't nearly seem to compare to the food fiction from writer, Poppy Z Brite (now Billy Martin) who wrote with no bullshit. He knew his stuff. He lived in New Orleans, one of America's iconic food cities, where he was born and raised. His husband (pre Katrina) was a chef at a restaurant there. The books are referred to as "The Liquor Series" and include the novels Liquor, Prime and Soul Kitchen. They chronicle the lives of a pair of gay chefs named Gary "G-man" Stubbs and John "Rickey" Rickey as they try to conquer the cut throat restaurant world of New Orleans. I was hooked immediately on these books not only because they were eminently relatable to me, but that they were so well written with humor, detail and great plotting. I came to these books in 2006 - the year the last one was published, Martin lost his publisher shortly after the last novel, Soul Kitchen. Coincidently, this coincided with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It seemed as though Katrina had basically destroyed Martin's will to write and continue the wonderful saga of G-man and Rickey. The New Orleans that those characters lived in no longer exists and Billy Martin can't bring himself to visit them again. This is evident in this sad last paragraph of his Wikipedia page:

"On June 9, 2010, Martin officially stated that he was retired, in a post entitled "I'm Basically Retired (For Now)" on his Livejournal.[10] He stated that he had 'completely lost the ability to interact with my body of work,' then went on to state that business issues were in part a cause of this issue. Along with this, he specifically mentioned being unable to disconnect from aspects of his life relating to Hurricane Katrina. He ended his statement by saying that he missed having relationships with his characters and that he did not feel the need to write for publication."

I can't figure how, as an author, you could miss your characters yet not want to write about them any more. Or maybe Martin has written about them, but only for his own amusement. I can only speculate what happened to Martin but I can guess that he had a Katrina like event in his personal life that directly reflected the devastation he saw all around him. The success of his books probably allowed him the financial ability to finally address his gender dysphoria and he became the man he was meant to be. I'm guessing the chef husband left the picture shortly after and then Katrina blew in obliterating not only Martin's personal world but his physical one as well. God knows what happened to him and his family during that terrible time. All fan speculation. It's all just guessing and gossiping. But it's just sad any way you see it - the reality or the speculation. None of it seems good for Billy Martin.

Selfishly, I'd like to stalk him on Livejournal and somehow help him get his mojo back. If he even wants it back, that is. These books really are extraordinary (at least to me) and it would be amazing to see Katrina through those character's lives. The film possibilities are terrific, IMO. That said, I realize this is the real world and not some Blind Side/Sandra Bullock Disney story where the guy comes back from a deep hole with the help of some stranger out of nowhere who has super human powers of persuasion and positivity. I must go on and be happy that I can re-read those wonderfully fun books and thank Billy's muse for sticking around long enough to let him give us those three novels at the very least. Oh, also - in 2007 I found out that there was a novella about G-man and Rickey called "D*U*C*K" that I promptly stole from the library once I found out it was no longer in print and unavailable anywhere. So that's my author creeper, super fan story.

Little bit of an Update from 2011ish:

Billy immersed himself in his love of visual arts and shares gallery space with his life partner in New Orleans. The art is available through Etsy and is heavily influenced by Voodoo hoodoo, Santaria and the many other Catholic-centric spiritual iterations you find in New Orleans. You can even purchase potions and such for whatever ails you or whatever ails someone else. He seems happy, so that's good. Here's a link to the gallery/Etsy....



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2015 01:43 pm (UTC)
I knew Poppy through our mutual pal, Lucius Shepard. I got the most gracious rejection letter ever when I submitted a story that didn't quite work for Love in Vein 2. And she ordered habanero products from my Little Store.

I'm not really sure what happened there. A combination of Katrina, fibromyalgia, transitioning in two senses of the word -- female to male, yes, but also extremely talented but sensationalistic writer to serious writer. I agree with you about the Liquor books -- they are very, very fine, and if they were to find their way to a publisher today, I have no doubt that they'd be bestsellers. I wonder if there's any way for us fangirls and fanboys to help make that happen?

Fibromyalgia is hard to live with. In some people, it produces a profound mental fogginess. From clues here and there in Billy's LJ, I suspect that's what happened to him. It's incomprehensible to me as a writer but I'm lucky in that respect. I've never faced writers block. I can always write. On the other hand, I could never write the Liquor novels or something as deeply, marvelously creepy as Calcutta, Lord of Nerves.

Incidentally, I disagree with you completely about Rachel Dolezal. But I still Luv you! :-) And enough words have been spilled on that particular topic.
Jun. 21st, 2015 02:48 pm (UTC)
Indeed - enough about Rachel and...next!
I intend to keep a weather eye on Billy as I'm sure many other people are as well and perhaps someone, somewhere will revive Liquor and give it the second go-round those novels deserve.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )