Friday, March 21, 2014

Gretchen Blickensderfer Talks The Last Circle

Joining us today is the lovely Gretchen Blickensderfer, a native of Manchester, England who came to America at the age of 18 as part of a foreign exchange. She transitioned from male to female in 2009 and has since lectured on transgender issues for the Adler School of Professional Psychology and Roosevelt University in Chicago. She met her wife Sarah in 2011 and the couple lives in Edgewater.

Over the course of her career, Gretchen has worked as an actor, a screenwriter, a film critic, a professional fundraiser, and now a published author. Her debut novel, The Last Circle, has made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition (quarter-finalists will be announced April 14), and I had the pleasure of reviewing it earlier this week.

♥ Thank you so much for taking the time pop by for a visit, Gretchen. Before we get into talking about The Last Circle, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Oddly enough, I used to be rather shy about that. Once upon a time, “who I am” tended only to go about as far back as my GRS on inauguration day 2009 - while Obama was being sworn in, I was on an operating table at Thorek Hospital in Chicago proving to myself that, “yes I can.”

After that, I just wanted to disappear into the world as a woman, fundraiser, and eventually wife to a beautiful and talented musician. I maintained that since “trans” basically was a prefix to define going from one point to another (transatlantic, transworld, transform), I was no longer trans-anything.

The fight in going from Jonathon to Gretchen had cost me some of my dearest friends and family members, including my grandma on my dad’s side, who talked with me only once before she passed away. During the years I spent prior to GRS, I was attacked both verbally and physically, labeled an abomination by right-minded, well-meaning evangelicals, and a freak by either a passing group of junior-high kids or just about anyone living in Texas. I came to associate being trans with the horrific, overly painted caricatures that Jerry Springer or Maury Povich auditioned and cast for a few more brownie points with the Nielsen clan and I wanted nothing more to do with the moniker or the community. During job interviews, I never mentioned it. There had been an article written about my transition by a Northwestern University journalism student which I spent weeks purging from Google. Basically, outside of my family and the few friends who stayed with me during transition, Jonathon and everything he did pre-2009 was a rumor that never actually happened.

During my transition, I was fortunate to find Dr. Mark Johns, a Chicago psychologist who not only proved to be an invaluable source of reassurance and information from our very first visit together, but was also instrumental in helping me navigate my HMO so that, ultimately, my surgery was covered. When he asked me if I would be willing to talk to some of his students at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, I had no hesitation in saying 'yes' to him. During that class in 2011, blushing profusely, I began to stammer out the story of a picked-on boy in Manchester, England who became a foreign exchange high school senior in New Albany, Indiana and stayed in America until the day that she looked down at her body in the mirror and, for the first time in 39 years saw it as she had always dreamed it to be.

The students plied me with questions and, at the end of the class, thanked me for helping them understand the journey of a transperson. It was then I recalled how difficult it had been for me to find Dr. Johns (blind luck really) and how much help these future psychologists and therapists could be to someone in my position - walking nervously into their office for the first time, terrified there was something so inexplicably wrong with them that it earned them the title of “freak.”

I guess you could call that a second coming out - when I finally embraced my identity as nothing to be ashamed of. It led to my lecturing for other students at Adler and Roosevelt Universities, working for an incredible LGBTQ paper here in Chicago, and basically a fervent desire to help other transpeople in their own journeys in whatever capacity I can. Who am I, Sally? I am Gretchen Blickensderfer – a transwoman who navigated perilous waters in an attempt to simply be herself. I am married to a wonderful woman, I have a great job that I adore in a city I have grown to love - even during this insufferable Chicago winter and, now that we added a four month-old Daschund to the family, I think I have finally solved the conundrum that we all try to figure out throughout our lives: happiness.

♥ You’ve talked about being bullied as a child because of class and colour, and again as a teenager because of your blossoming gender identity. How difficult was it, as a teenager beginning to discover her happiness and confidence, to find yourself right back in the middle of the same struggles and conflicts?

A bit of an adventure, so bear with me. My Dad was a show-off with his money, really, and also terrified about the more effeminate traits I was displaying. “Men don’t kiss!” He would bark whenever I tried to embrace him as a child.

So he sent me to this exclusive and expensive all-boys school called North Cestrian Grammar School in Manchester. Eleven years old, olive skinned, thin as a rail, already preferring the company of girls, and thrown into a horrific environment where abusive and public corporal punishment at the hands of teachers who stalked the halls in long black cloaks (rather like Darth Vader surveying a troop of captured rebel scum) was a daily occurrence, and fellow students climbed the social ladder by beating the shit out of anyone who was the remotest bit different from the standard Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon junior representative of all that was left of the British empire (in the 80’s a small set of islands off the coast of Argentina that had recently been carpeted, a rock next to Spain, the part of Ireland that really hated our guts and Hong Kong).

Aside from how a Pompeian-named Caecilius would have conjugated the verb “to suffocate”, that school taught me very little except that my differences, especially the more effeminate ones, were to be reviled and made me an instant target for humiliation and physical attack. I grew to loathe the United Kingdom as I grew up. About the only fond memories I have are working for a DJ named Timmy Mallet at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester and the day the Rocky Horror Show came to the Palace Theatre, staring Richard O’Brien as Frank-n-furter. I’m 16 years old and I got to dress publicly for the first time without any fear of recrimination. Even my mum had nothing to say except, “If you get a bloody run in my stockings, it’s coming out of your pocket money!”

Aside from that one brilliant night, America was the only place I wanted to be. There was no internet back then, so the US culture was exported by way of whatever the BBC and ITV deemed worthy to show us. I remember when a McDonald's first opened in my small Manchester suburb - there wasn't a child in that town who hadn't been awaiting its arrival with the fervent anticipation of Harold Camping eagerly expecting the Rapture. We didn't quite know why, other than the fact that, since it was coming from America, it had to be good.

Those little glimpses of the U.S. which TV afforded in the 80’s showed a land of boundless and immeasurable possibilities: In America, you could be a wealthy, evil Texas oilman in a Ten Gallon Hat. After making a small fortune by screwing the Carrington family over, you could go to a friendly Boston pub, sit at the far corner of the bar, make wisecracks, and never pay for your beer. Chances were that you would then be shot at least a half dozen times by a deranged sister-in-law, but no matter: even if you died, you could be resurrected one year later and wash the whole experience off with a nice, hot shower. Meanwhile, your death was investigated by a bald cop sucking a lollipop or a pair of squabbling but ever-the-best-of friends detectives who tore through trash ridden streets in a sleek, red Ford and teamed up with a kindly, idealistic Los Angeles coroner with a penchant for making dramatic, poignant statements before walking out of the room and slamming the door.

If you tired of all this, then you could simply pop to the 25th century, meet a short, dimwitted robot and save the galaxy, every week, from marauding bands of Cylons hell bent on turning the earth into cinders using a painstakingly researched, Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator. In fact, long before George Bush Jr. came along and buggared the whole idea up, America was perceived by outsiders as the one place where anything could happen and any dream, no matter how outlandish, was possible.

My earliest memory was at, I think three or four years old, looking in the mirror and believing my body was just wrong. I had no idea why. My sister’s was fine. Mine wasn't and it scared me to death. I dreamed of normalcy, Sally, and surely, since dreams came true there, America was the place I could find it. So, once the shadows of compulsory education were finally behind me, I embarked upon a Foreign Exchange through a company which specialized in placing restless, disaffected, young adventurers with unwitting American families. In completing the initial application, I was asked to name three cities in America where I wanted to live. Of course I wrote down the only three I knew about: New York, Los Angeles and Miami (because of Miami Vice). In a sincere, congratulatory letter I was told, that “after a meticulous search a suitable host family has been found for you…… in New Albany, Indiana!”

“Where????” I took out a map and scanned the coastlines. It was nowhere near Los Angeles! In fact it took two hours of fruitless searching to finally discover it, concealed under a small particle of lint. There must have been some sort of mistake. I wanted to live in an American city, not Middle Earth!

The Exchange Company had a motto which they expected each of its participants to live by: “Not right, not wrong, just different.”

It was something my fellow students and I repeated endlessly upon our initial arrival at JFK. It was here we discovered that even a luggage cart came at a price and that the most pristine dollar bill would still be rejected by its infernal metal guardian. In our hotel room that evening, we observed that American television was an exercise in trying to discern the actual program from the commercials. We watched, flabbergasted, as one channel showed a sweaty, gruesome looking fellow in a bad tie, screaming about “Jeeeezus” until he was hoarse and curing people of various ailments by hitting them on the head. It wasn't so much the ragingly insane man who worried us; it was the 40,000 plus people in the stadium who actually believed him. When it was announced that the whole event was taking place in Louisville, Kentucky, just across the bridge from New Albany, I gulped in fear. I had made little secret of the fact that I was no fan of organized religion. In England that had been no problem; here I wondered whether being burned at the stake was probably still carried out, south of the Ohio River. My fellow students, all on their way to Los Angeles, New York and Miami, advised me to keep quiet about religion and, if asked, just say that I was a member of the Church of England.

“Are you religious?” was one of the first questions the Mormon family with whom I was placed, asked me. While choking on a spoonful of tasteless All-American grits and attempting to gulp it down with a glass of a vile, purple substance named “Kool Aid” (it was either that or cold tea) I replied, nervously: “I am a member of the Church of England.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh” I replied with a charming smile, “That’s just the church that Henry VIII started in order to get a divorce from his wife.”

Things were never quite the same between us after that. Despite the efforts of the family to convert me to Mormonism with the help of a pair of High School boys wearing black suits and an eerie, distant expression, I was still no closer to normalcy. Still, the Exchange was one of the most extraordinary, fulfilling years I can ever recall, and I today look back upon it with unrivaled fondness. It was a year in which I discovered that a school was not just about reading, writing, arithmetic, or Latin vocabulary, you could also do anything you set your heart upon: from trying your hand at hosting a radio show, to starring in “Hello Dolly.” It was during this year that, thanks to a man named David Longest, I learned that a teacher could be a most nurturing ally, and that they did, in fact, passionately care about your future and your dreams.

I was determined to stay in America after my exchange concluded and, for the next 20 years, I sought normalcy everywhere from Louisville to Boston to Indianapolis, to the ever elusive Los Angeles, to finally Chicago. I thought I could find it by becoming an actor. No such luck. I tried marrying, twice, and had a son during each. My indefinable differences, my dressing, and my own self-loathing lead to heartbreaking divorces in both cases. I am still close to Fred, the son from my first marriage and love him beyond all adequate description. Alex, the son from my second, was taken away from me by my ex, because of this “unnatural and ungodly perversion” of mine which the local church minister had been unable to exorcise. Alex was subsequently adopted. I haven’t seen him since he was four months old. It was during my second marriage that I almost gave up on the whole quest and twice attempted suicide. Far from America solving my problem, it instead brought the whole thing into sharper focus: I wasn't right, something about me was wrong and I would forever be different.

♥ I don't know what to say to that, other than to lament the fact that human beings can be so ignorantly and deliberately despicable to one another. Looking back, what experience do you find it harder to reconcile yourself with – the innocent taunts of kids who didn't know better, or the ignorant bullying of adults who should know better?

The Last Circle, I immersed myself in places like, the American Family Association, One Million Moms etc. I devoured all the blogs and each of the reader comments. Between them and the children I encountered on the playgrounds of North Cestrian, there seemed to be the same pack mentality of those who find personal strength by attacking anyone that is different.

I often wonder if, aside from the fact that either the Bible or a right wing pundit tells them to, they ever really understand exactly why they are attacking LGBTQ people. If Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh come up with an anti-equality talking point, the line is repeated almost verbatim by their followers much like Orwell’s sheep in Animal Farm. There seems to be very little in the way of independent thought. They are instructed to attack by someone in a position of authority, or a three line passage in Leviticus, so they attack. They don’t pause to think about the consequences to the person or group they are attacking.

A group of junior high kids beat up another girl because he identifies as a man. They do not stop and wonder whether that kid will go home and attempt to take his own life. It simply feels a good and just action to them and obviously has the power of rendering their own inadequacies as minimal. Similarly, when the AFA’s Bryan Fischer tells his followers that gays are no better than Nazis and they bleat their agreement, neither they nor Fischer pause to think that such hatred can and has manifested into violence and death. All they know is that it feels good and, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, just in every way.

I suppose it leaves one wondering if those instincts that are the worst of the human animal every really change with age.

♥ You've clearly done your homework and, as a result, we can see how religion/faith played a large part in the justification of those who you labeled you an abomination, just as it does in the novel. At what point did the counterargument, so to speak, of Paganism become a driving force behind the story?

Pagans and, especially, Wiccan circles tend to be very close. During a ritual, for example, there is an overriding and positive sense of acceptance of each other, no matter their differing appearance, backgrounds, sexual preference or gender identification. There seem to be no tenets in their belief that tell them otherwise. “An it harm none, do what ye will.”

As much as it pains me to say it, I have not seen such unity in the LGBTQ community. Blimey, when I came out in Chicago, one of the first things I was told by those who had “been around the block” was that the gays hated the lesbians, the lesbians hated the transfolks, and the transfolks hated themselves. It’s counterproductive when one understands that those who attack LGBTQ people do not make any such differentiation. They hate us equally.

I wanted The Last Circle to be more than a clinical examination of what can and has happened when such hatred is allowed free reign and explodes into violence. I wanted to fully explore how it affects a close group of people. Pagans aren't mentioned very often on or Christian, I guess because they are far too much of a minor minority for the religious right to get self-righteous about. However they do crop up from time to time (such as in Jerry Falwell’s famous “you made this happen” 9/11 speech) and, right alongside communism, paganism seems to exist as the ultimate bogeyman that will rule this country if, for example, LGBTQ’s are given the right to marry. Oh yes, go to the AFA and you will be told that if America endorses same-sex marriage, we’ll be back to sacrificing virgins amidst stone circles before we can say “Where’s Darwin?”

So it made sense to follow a group of Pagans – the ultimate bogeymen to the far-right— and include in that group LGBTQ people who still sought spiritually but had been disenfranchised by Catholic or Protestant Christianity because of their identity.

♥ There are a lot of historical echoes in The Last Circle, particularly with the riots and the underground railroad. Were you looking to deliberately make that connection, or do you see those events more as natural, perhaps inevitable elements of the overall struggle?

There is an unfortunate trend these days. When we want to malign a group of people on either side, we trot out a comparison to the Nazis. Now the both the left and right are guilty of that and I desperately wanted to steer clear of it since to make such a fatuous comparison does no justice to the millions who died under Hitler’s Germany. However, it is helpful is to understand that, prior to 1929, the hatred for European Jews was there: in propaganda, occasional action, like lava under a volcano. It took the economic collapse and a starving populace for someone like Hitler, who had once been dismissed as nothing more than a hysteric, to rise to power and for that hatred to be unleashed with full force.

When terrified, I believe people look for two things: a leader to show them a way out of their problems and someone to blame for them. If that hatred has already been bubbling under the surface then it transforms from words on a page or a blog into action. It’s happening now in Nigeria and Uganda. Charismatic leaders of both countries have given their impoverished people someone to blame and attack. So yes, if unchecked I think that, given the right circumstances, it could happen even here. The Weimer Republic was not some uncivilized backwater in 1929. It boasted intelligent people of differing political opinions. They became unified under fear and the ultimate result should serve as a lesson that history can and does repeat itself.

As for the Underground Railroad aspect, once again it is important to note that I do not believe all people of faith, or in the case of The Last Circle, Christians to be the enemy of the LGBTQ community. I prefer to think of the bad guy as politics which, as the character of Lilyan notes in the book, tends to undermine most that seemed like a good idea at the time. I know many Christians, and they are growing in numbers, who have come to reject people like Lively, Fischer and Robertson. I know many churches that are welcoming of LGBTQ people. The designer of the front cover of The Last Circle is, in fact, a practicing Christian. I wanted the” Invisible Node” the group that sets out to liberate LGBTQ and Pagan people from the Evangelical Palmer government to be organized by a Christian. It wouldn't surprise me, should anything like the events in The Last Circle happen over here, if this was the case.

♥ I think that distinction comes across very well in the novel. Actually, one thing I appreciated about the novel is that there are no ‘perfect’ heroes or villains. Everybody is damaged or suffering in some way, and the internal conflicts between friends and allies are often as vicious as those between adversaries. How hard was it to resist the temptation to sort of canonize or demonize your lead characters?

Oh it was bloody hard. The archetypes of good and evil are so much easier a road to go down. Yet perfect good and pure evil are traits that are rare outside of fairy tales or religious texts (the latter carrying the obvious exceptions of Mssrs. Hitler, Phelps, Museveni, Jonathan and Putin).

For storytelling purposes, the hero and the villain can be just as selfish and inflexible as each other. In the case of the antagonist, those people who do what we consider evil acts often don’t view it that way. They in fact believe they are doing the world/God/Jodie Foster a favor. They know they have every justification for their actions and that is what makes them even more frightening. Shelby is just such a character. Some people have read the book and said, “I wanted her to fall face first on a red hot griddle,” others have read it and said “I felt sorry for her.” A good mix of the two was what I was hoping for.

As for the protagonist, no-one wakes up and instinctively knows how to be a hero. When that responsibility is thrust upon them, it’s not always welcomed. Laura just wanted a simple life - the friendship of her Coven and the love of her family. I had originally wanted her to be perfect as I outlined the story. I mean, perfect heroes of the kind people aspire to become tend to sell better and I already had a deep admiration for the character. But as the writing process went on, I discovered her to be a woman who had views that could be just as unrelenting as those of Shelby. I think her friend Megan put it best when she talked about extremism being a losing bet, no matter which side you are on. It turned out that drawing Laura as deeply flawed was a lot more fun – even if it doesn't sell as well.

As for the conflicts between friends, well that’s just real life. If my transition taught me anything it is that you do end up finding out who your friends are. My grandfather put it best: people come in and out of our lives. Some love and depart, some hurt and depart and very few remain eternal.

♥ The narrative style in The Last Circle is rather interesting, in that it makes use of an omniscient third-person narrator, but is framed by a television interview. What were you looking to accomplish or bring to the story by using Gwen in that way?

That’s exactly it. A framing device of a kind and I struggled for one. It’s my first novel after all. In one of the earlier drafts, there was a prologue and epilogue set in Britain prior to the rise of Christianity. I tried that out on a few people and was told “meh”. I then tried doing the whole thing as a docudrama, with a personal story interspersed between a nonfiction analysis of right wing hate groups. That wasn't coming together either. In fact, the rejections to my queries even included some terse commentary on the cover postcards I received.

So, when I went back to the drawing board, I remembered watching the When Louis Met… BBC documentaries with journalist Louis Theroux. By the way, this guy spent a few weeks living with the Westboro Baptist Church in order to try and understand them. As a journalist he ranks with Tracy Baim as a role model.

So what I ended up with was an interview between a BBC reporter and Gwen to both set the scene and keep the pace from crumbling under exposition. As for why I used Gwen in particular as his interview subject, well to say too much would require a spoiler alert so I’ll leave it at: I wanted a faction of the LGBTQ community to have a louder voice.

♥ Wow, that casts a new light on the story - I had no idea of the BBC/Westboro connection, but the parallel is brilliant! I know it’s hard to talk about Gwen without spoiling her role in the story, but how did her character come about, and did you always know precisely who she is?

Oh sure. I knew exactly who she was. When and if I was going to reveal it was the big question and that really was about whether or not it was an exploitative move - the kind Katie Couric or Maury fucking Povich would have been proud of. Ultimately I felt it served the story, if only because Shelby had to have a moment where she was brought crashing down to earth. Gwen provided it.

♥ That was one of my favorite moments, I must say. There are several betrayals in the novel, including one that overshadows the final act with its question of ‘who’ the traitor/informant is. Is there a deeper meaning or theme to the act of betrayal, or is it just a part of the human conflicts.

I think it is just a part of who we are. I know that’s pretty cynical but it’s one I share with many others when it comes to storytelling. Like I said, how many of us can look back on our own lives or point to another outside of religion and say “I or that person lived completely selflessly and was never once tempted to be otherwise.” In this story, Shelby provides the temptation and one of the members of the Coven succumbs to it. But I think it is human nature. I’m determined to lose the ten pounds I gained when I quit smoking. But ask me if, even with every disciplined intention, if I can walk past a packet of Cadbury’s mini eggs without them ending up in my shopping cart and I will not be able to give you an honest “No. Never”

♥ Again, it’s tough to talk about that final betrayal without spoiling things, but how hard was it for you to pull off? Were you ever tempted to change your mind and have another character play that role, or were you always leading up to that bitter sort of epilogue?

Oh there’s a question. Actually I had no idea who it was going to be until well into the escape, when I had developed most of the members of the Coven sufficiently to determine who would be the turncoat for Shelby. Who had the most to gain…and to lose. When I came to that decision, I wrestled with it from every angle - even the financial. Dark endings don’t tend to do very well unless there’s a sequel promised and there isn't at this point. However it ultimately came down to serving the story and the character in question.

♥ It's definitely a difficult ending, but a brave one . . . and one that does fit. In terms of early reactions to the book, what is the strangest or most surprising that you've encountered to this point?

Well, reactions thus far have been one of two: Its either been liked enough for people to rave about to me or loathed enough for people to politely say nothing at all. One of the most surprising reactions was from a blogger who reviewed the book so thoughtfully in terms of her own history. “It made me think about the past I came from and what I believe now,” she said. I appreciated that beyond measure. It’s one thing to know you entertained someone. It’s another thing entirely to know that you really made them ask questions or spurred conversation. Outside of the sort of success that allows you to spend your life doing what you love, who could ask for more? Reading that review was a proud moment.

♥ A portion of the proceeds from The Last Circle are going to support the It Gets Better Project as well as the Trans-Life Center at the Chicago House. What can you tell us about these two amazing organizations and how you came to be involved with them?

The It Gets Better project was something I could have used at North Cestrian. If there is one thing I would single out in particular as a blight on society, it is bullying. The tragedy is that LGBTQ kids know this all too well. The suicide rate among them is horrific and the project has made a difference. I never did hear from either Mr. Savage or their Director of Development when I emailed them to let them know. But hardly unexpected since I’m not JK Rowling offering up a portion of “Harry Potter and the Mid Life Magicians.” Still, no matter how big the check is (depending on how The Last Circle ultimately sells), I have to believe that it will make an LGBTQ kid’s life in school actually worth living.

The TransLife Center at the Chicago House offers hope and a place for transpeople when they have reached a nadir that is all too common among us. They have no job, no place to go, no one who cares and the only thing they can do to make money is to prostitute themselves. Drugs have become a coping mechanism and, often, that leads to a section in the Cook County Jail that is a human rights horror story unto itself. I have met with the TransLife director Bonn Wade and a few of the residents and I can’t say enough about what a tremendous job they are doing. When you make the decision to transition or to present in a gender other than the natal, you really fly in the face of the conformity that western society, whether it wants to admit it or not, prides itself upon. We even have a name: “gender non-conforming.” That is, a natal boy likes the color pink or a natal girl likes to play with a toy tank.

When it comes down to it, the fear of someone who does not conform is what drives the hatred, the attacks and ultimately the deaths we list during the Trans Day of Remembrance. I could ask again and again, why? Why do we have that fear over a piece of clothing, a color or a toy? No matter what the reason, it can affect someone negatively for their entire lives. Any place that offers hope instead of that fear thus becomes an oasis. I needed a few of those growing up —a community of people who say “Gretchen, there is nothing wrong with you. Now get out there and live up to your potential as a vital and worthwhile human being.” The TransLife Center is exactly that.

♥ As a woman who transitioned somewhat later in life, is there any advice you can offer to someone who may on the cusp of making that commitment, or who is still questioning their gender?

This may be far too easy for me to say but do not be afraid. You may feel alone. You may feel like a freak. You may feel like running. But you are not alone. You are definitely not a freak and running away accomplishes nothing but exhaustion. Who you are is much faster and it will catch up with you in the end.

I tried to run. I tried to get married in order to “be more masculine.” I tried to be the typical family man. But it never worked. There was always a suitcase full of clothes hidden under the bed that came out whenever I was alone in the house. As I said, all that running accomplished was two painful divorces and a child who is only now beginning to come around to me and another that was taken from me entirely and who I have not seen since he was a few months old.

It was only when I turned, faced who I was, and accepted her that life got any better at all. You wouldn't think so with everything that transpeople have to face when they come out in terms of family, friends, their church or their jobs. But it is amazing what you can accomplish when you live one life and not two.

One of the students I was lecturing asked me how I knew I had made the right decision. I replied, “because when my wife Sarah goes out, there is no suitcase full of clothes that I pull from under the bed.”

There are resources. There are people who understand and who will not judge. The internet is a wonderful thing when it comes to finding them. So do not be afraid and do not run.

Believe me, I look at some of these kids who found the courage and the support they needed and are now on puberty blocking medication often with no small sense of envy. They literally have their whole lives ahead of them as the person they were meant to be. I, on the other hand, have middle age. I only just got the bloody things and my breasts are already starting to sag.

♥ Are there any books (fiction or non-fiction) that inspired, educated, or provided comfort during your transition?

Bert & Lorie by Robert J. Rowe: that book gave me comfort. An ex-girlfriend on the other hand gave me a copy of Iron John by Robert Bly hoping it would reverse the process. I keep them side by side as a reminder that defiance and a belief in oneself usually wins out.

♥ I haven't come across Bert & Lorie before - on the reading list it goes! Finally, before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another novel waiting in the wings, or some other project that that you’re excited about?

The next project is a screenplay called “The Department” that I am working on with my long time screenwriting partner Bobby Hundley. Since the filmmaking world is ripe with pickpockets, I’ll tease the story as this: The Department of Education and their small army of collection agencies won’t like it at all.

A huge thanks to Gretchen Blickensderfer for taking the time to sit down with us today and share so much of herself. If you missed my review, you can check it out here, but don't just take my word for it - get yourself a copy of The Last Circle and support two great causes while educating and entertaining yourself.

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