“I think part of maturing as an artist is figuring out that the things that may have felt like a lack or an inadequacy can be strengths if you just double or triple down on them. Go all the way into the peculiarity and particularity of one’s own thinking.”
I’ve never seen the author of Tender Buttons and Three Lives look as she looks in this painting by Picabia from 1937. Her head is small, perched on wide and rounded shoulders draped in brown. Beneath the cloak, a soft blue blouse with a large brooch peeks through. On her face, a sort of “oh well” smirk on thin, taut lips.
“When I teach nonfiction, we talk about writing to a question. If you write what you already know, it’s not going to be interesting for your readers. You need to be looking for some kind of a discovery, and so I went to Yale to see what and what hadn’t changed, because my story needed to be contextualized. After hearing from young women that their experiences were just as bad as mine, it floored me. That’s the moment I knew I had a book.”
Now seems an apt time to talk about persona. Remarkably, America has recently been talking about how we perform our selves: culturally, racially, gender-wise. How do you know you are a woman? What are the surface markers of race and culture, and how do they relate to the deep, lived experience of those things? These are questions many anthropology and gender-studies professors never thought they would see outside of their classrooms. For writers, they are also design questions: how might we enter another’s consciousness without stealing? Why do we feel moved to write in someone else’s voice?
Depending on whom you ask, Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill is either a brilliant reworking of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) or a cheap style-over-substance rip-off. From IMDb message board shouting matches to painstakingly nuanced scholarly reappraisals, the debate (as part of a larger one regarding De Palma’s body of Hitchcockian films) survives in one form or another 35 years later. Yet what interests me, having viewed Dressed to Kill for the first time only recently, is the relative (not total) and conspicuous silence surrounding what should be a more important cinematic appropriation: the film’s representation of transgender identity.