Kristen Arnett on “With Teeth,” Lesbian Motherhood, and Sagittarius Chaos

When I say I want better queer representation, I specifically mean that I want it to be worse. I want queer characters who are allowed to be total disasters while still maintaining their humanity — in a sense, that is humanity. And that is why I love Kristen Arnett.

Like her debut, Mostly Dead Things, Kristen’s second novel With Teeth is a deeply felt, deeply uncomfortable, deeply hilarious story of a total disaster of a lesbian. It asks questions about parenthood and queer community that will stay circulating around my brain for a long time to come.

When I finished the book, all I wanted to do was talk about it and what is VERY EXCITING is I got to talk about it WITH KRISTEN!


Drew: Okay, first, I need to tell you that a month ago I got a call from my sister when she was in Orlando for a work thing. And she was like, Drew, have you ever been to Orlando? There are, um, there are a lot of lesbians here? And I was like well I do know a lesbian from Orlando.

Kristen: (laughs) Yeah there are so many gay people in Orlando. It’s because everybody comes there to work at theme parks.

Ohhhhhh. That makes sense.

There are no gay places to go to though. Except Gay Days at Disney. There are a bunch of dykes who love to come to Orlando and work at the theme parks because they’re the Disney-obsessed dykes.

Have you been to a gay day at Disney?

Oh for sure, yes.

(laughs) What is that like?

It’s very bizarre. It’s like going to Pride and having it feel very corporate. It’s that same kind of thing. But it is funny to watch. Especially because my family is so evangelical that once Disney decided to start doing Gay Days we weren’t allowed to go to Disney anymore.

Moving on from Disney but not moving on from Orlando and family… With Teeth. I’m obsessed. Multiple times I finished a chapter and said out loud, “Jesus Christ, Kristen.” Which I say as such a compliment!

Well, thank you very much. That is very good to hear. It’s one of those things where you write a book by yourself and then you’re like, well I hope somebody likes it or even wants to read it. It’s a very strange thing. I guess I thought after the first book I’d feel differently or it’d be way easier. But no. Fuck you bitch. It’s a lot harder.

(laughs) Because there’s an added pressure since there are people who loved your first book?

Yeah. I feel all the same anxiety plus people reading this book and thinking it isn’t as good. And also topically it’s just not the same thing. I knew there were people I could get to pick up a book with taxidermy.  It shouldn’t be, but gay moms is a harder sell, you know?

I get that. What was the genesis of it? Was it the idea of gay motherhood?

A novel for me is often just something I can’t stop thinking about. So with Mostly Dead Things it was taxidermy. And with this I was thinking a lot about queer community spaces — specifically in Orlando and central Florida. We have stuff like I was saying about Gay Days at Disney when Pride comes around once a year. And then we have like two bars. That’s it. We used to have three and then Pulse happened and now that bar is closed. So there are queer people but not a lot of queer spaces for them. And the stuff that is there is for single people — nightlife stuff, right? So you can go out and go to a drag show and go out and drink with other people. But there’s not any kind of space for queerness to incorporate parenthood.

I was talking with an editor friend on the phone about how that could be really lonely because so much of queerness is community — building your own families, building your own friend groups — and how important and crucial that is. What would it feel like if you don’t have community anymore after you have a kid? The friend I was talking to lives in Brooklyn and they suggested someone could join a gay mom group. There are no gay mom groups in Orlando! What are you talking about? And so it kind of spurred from there.

Also I’m obsessed with writing about families and thinking about families because families are so fucked up. It’s the most fun thing to write about. Every family, even families that are doing okay, have some fucked up elements to them. So I wanted to write about lesbians who were obviously very fucked up in their family and what that looks like both from the outside and what that looks like from the inside. Think about it this way — everybody in a family is an unreliable narrator. Even families who share the same stories don’t tell those stories in the same way. I wanted it to be this claustrophobic, sometimes terrifying, feeling story of how motherhood and queerness in this specific space could feel weirdly oppressive. You don’t understand yourself and the dysfunction gets to a point where it turns into this cyclical bad way to behave.

I want to read stories about dykes not acting right. I want to read about people being messy. So I want to write about that too. I’m just way less interested in people who are not having problems because I feel like everyone is having problems.

Yeah absolutely. I’m also really interested in the aspect of the book that’s about Sammie’s relationship with her own parents. At first it made me question if it’s ever possible as queer people to not feel a little bit failed by straight parents. Obviously there’s a spectrum between total embracing and total abandonment but within that spectrum I feel like there’s always somewhat a feeling of not being understood or being failed in some way. But then as I kept reading I started to question if it’s possible to not fail as a parent in general. Maybe a little failure is a part of it.

I completely agree. I’m of the personal opinion that very few people know what they’re doing. I mean, God bless anyone who does — it’s shocking to me. Every time I feel like I figure something out about myself that thing is quickly proven to be untrue or it changes. So if you add being in charge of someone else’s life? We’re going to fuck up. It’s just kind of unreasonable to expect anything else. There’s too much judgement and not enough nuance and messiness when it comes to parenting.

Add in this layer where Florida is a fairly conservative state and you just feel like you’re being looked at all the time — like people are waiting for you to fuck up. Just as a mom people are judging you for different things, but as a gay mom? People are really anticipating that you’re going to royally fuck things up. So there’s this feeling that you can’t fuck up because then you fuck it up for everyone. People will be like look at these lesbians they couldn’t do it. So you have to be kind of perfect and that’s just not reasonable. As a parent or a human.

That was what I loved so much about the shifts in point of view at the end of the chapters. A lot of them felt so compassionate towards Sammie. Her point of view was absolutely claustrophobic and there was a relief in escaping it and getting a bit more detail of what might be happening outside of her perspective. But also so often she was perceiving them to be judging her in these ways that they weren’t. I love when the person who works at the convenience store thinks Sammie is going to go home to her rich husband. It made me think about the ways society maybe instills these fears more than individuals do. Not that there aren’t people who are like, oh these lesbian moms fucked up so now I’m going to judge all lesbian moms. But I do wonder how much we just latch onto these narratives from a place of shame. Especially when things have changed so quickly with queerness. The judgment that you received 10 years ago, 20 years ago, even like three years ago, can be different. But it’s still so hard to let go of those narratives.

Yeah. It felt important to me to have those other perspectives, because I think we can really sabotage ourselves with our narratives. And it’s easy to do that. We feel like we know exactly how people are looking at us or we know how things are being spun. But we don’t. I think everyone is unreliable, but Sammie especially has a completely warped view of how every interaction is being perceived. So I wanted these outside perspectives to give some kind of clarity because those outside perspectives quite often have no stakes in what’s happening in her household. They’re completely bystander observers to what’s happening in a moment. Even the therapists or Samson’s teacher — who have limited stakes — quite often have very different perspectives on her relationship or how she’s parenting or what her kid is like. And I think that that’s significant.

I feel like that as a person. I catch myself all the time getting trapped in my narratives. Maybe that’s a thing we do socially now, because we have these online narratives. I say this as a person who’s extremely online. We have this very warped idea, because we spend so much time seeing what we think people are like. And in reality, we actually know very little about what’s going on in someone’s life. I can’t tell you how many times, especially during the pandemic, Kayla and I talk about what’s going on on Twitter. We’re like, oh did you see that person doing that thing? And then you just find yourself being like, Oh, don’t you think that they should maybe do this? Or like, I feel like they’re going through this right now. And it’s like, what am I doing! I know literally nothing about this person! But I think we’re trained at this point to feel like we know every aspect of a person’s life. Even though it feels like, well nobody understands anything about mine. Right? But it’s fun. People are so weird.

Well, yeah, gossiping is fun! And it can be harmless. But I do think it’s important to be aware that we’re getting a limited narrative. I mean, sometimes I get social media envy for myself. Like I look at my own social media and feel like this person is having such a great life. I wish I was this person. And I’m… literally that person. Even the way we package our mental illness and our struggles there’s often a level of unreality to it. It presents a totally skewed version of us all.

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s — I don’t want to say normal because God that feels like a weird word to use — but it does feel normalized. It’s interesting too, because it definitely impacts how I write and think about narrative. I wanted Sammie to feel really isolated. If you don’t have community and you don’t understand who you are, you would start to lose any grasp on reality. You don’t have people around you to act as a touchstone and offer some perspective.

Mostly Dead Things is a book that feels outside even when it’s inside. Even when you’re in the house there are things that look alive. And that’s very Florida. But there’s this other kind of Florida that feels like this great claustrophobic space. Sammie’s day isn’t spent actually doing anything of her own. It’s all about what her son is doing. I’m waiting for him in the house. Now I’m in the car with him. Now I’m at his school. Now I’m at his swim practice. We’re at therapy. We’re at the grocery store. And now we go back again and we do it all again tomorrow. Sammie is a bit self-involved and a bit neurotic and this weird monotony amplifies her echo chamber. I think when people are alone their worst impulses get magnified.

Yeah, I mean, she’s so desperate to escape the monotony she becomes a Peeping Tom. She has this desire to look into other people’s lives but only knows how to do it in this removed way. She needs these chaos outlets. It feels very Sagittarian to me. As someone whose Venus and Mercury is in Sag, I definitely related to some of those impulses. Her self-awareness around it too was really interesting to me. Like when she says she needs things to be either really good or really bad. I don’t think that’s articulated a lot — that need for a chaos outlet. And we just see her jump from one to the next. She always has something.

I mean, I am a Sagittarius.

Oh I know.

That’s really funny to think about. You’re also the first person to bring up her peeping on her neighbor which was very important to me. Because you could take it as like, Oh I want to look in at the thing I could have if I didn’t have this other thing. But I think it’s more than that for Sammie. When people don’t realize how deeply unhappy they are, there’s this impulse — sometimes subconsciously, sometimes a little bit consciously — to manifest chaos. Like, how can I blow my life up so that something else has to happen? Because maybe I’m not capable of actually facilitating that change in a way that’s healthy and I don’t actually understand how unhappy I am because with what I have I feel like I should be happy, you know?

Yes.

So I like the idea of her doing these kinds of things like where she makes out with the other swim team mom. She doesn’t even necessarily want to, but she just needs something to change and she turns to total destruction. Which is really fun to think about, because children are also agents of chaos. They will be so horrible. And then immediately be so endearing. They match. Sammie has a child and her child is doing those same kinds of wild things. It was fun to play around with that.

And with the biting she’s literally matching him. He’s obviously not the easiest kid, but it’s also like God you’re taking the actions of your seven year old so personally! They’re feeding off of each other and one upping each other. And it’s like, wait no you’re the mom. You’re supposed to be better.

That was fun for me too. I mean, fun to write. I don’t think I’d want to interact with it in real life. But I do like that we’re getting this through her point of view. And her point of view is that her son is sort of her nemesis and they’re in this power struggle. But that is not a fair way to look at any interaction with a child because that’s not a reasonable representation of the power structure between them.

I worked story time at the public library for like eight and a half years. There’d be so many days where you’d see moms in there who were on the cusp of losing it. You can see it in their faces. They’re just about to have a total breakdown. Kids will have a day where they didn’t sleep enough and they’re tired or who even knows what is going on. And they’ll have a tantrum and maybe they’ll hit you or bite you or kick you or kick someone else or scream some really wild thing in the middle of a place. And the look on some of these parents’ faces. They want to just shake their kid so badly. But they don’t. Because they know that’s not the correct response, right? Just because they feel extreme frustration doesn’t mean they can shake their kid — or bite their kid. But when they’re alone I’m sure there are times where stuff like that does happen. And the question for me is: what happens afterward? I think a lot of people try to make it right in their head or justify it in some way. They compartmentalize it instead of confronting it. Because Sammie has a moment where she could have been like, Oh, shit, can you really pull over, I just bit him this is what happened and we definitely all do need to be in therapy and have a conversation about this. She doesn’t do that. She lies and they go get ice cream.

Look there are definitely parents who are narcissists or parents who are just kind of shitty parents. And some of those parents are sometimes, you know, homosexuals.

(laughs) Yeah. There’s also something about Sammie not having her parents in her life. And a lot of queer people either don’t have their parents in their life at all or just don’t have the same sort of relationship to their family that straight people can have. And also, the way we build families is often really different. And choosing a truly queer life — which to me feels different than just being queer — means giving something up.

When I was first starting on hormones I made the decision to not freeze my sperm which means I can’t have biological children. And I made that decision because it’s expensive and I wanted to prioritize getting on hormones. I’d already been out for six months and was already out to my parents and dealing with that. But there was still a real feeling of loss with that decision. I’m not saying a trans woman who freezes her sperm is less queer — obviously — but there was this version of my future and my family building that could have been a little bit more normal. That could have been a little bit like closer to what I was raised by society to want. And, look, being gay is my favorite thing in the world. But it can also be exhausting. Committing to the lack of stability that comes with being outside normal can be really exhausting.

I really appreciated the scene where Sammie returns to the church and imagines an alternate life where she’s straight and has a husband. In her mind it would be so much easier. Which isn’t necessarily true. But I get Sammie’s exhaustion. Especially because she doesn’t have a queer community around her to fill in those gaps.

Completely. And queerness doesn’t necessarily extend to these very heteronormative patriarchal roles where there are two parents and each plays a certain kind of role with a child. So what are households going to look like? And I think that’s where a lot of problems crop up when people are still trying to fit into that rigidity. You see that in the book where they’ve fallen into roles where Sammie is the stay-at-home mom and Monika is more of the traditional dad. And they’re having all these problems, because it doesn’t fit. But there are so many ways of having a family, right? You don’t even need to have just two parents, or two caretakers, of a child — they can be raised by a group or community. But we don’t have the same guidelines for these alternatives so it can be more difficult to realize.

I think, in general, people feel like we need some kind of manual or some kind of instructions for how to be. And there are only certain kinds of frameworks that we’re given, so the reimagining is deeply difficult. Life’s just so hard. So I get why people want to find ways to make it more simplistic. But I don’t think that makes you happier. Would Sammie be happier in the scenario she’s imagining? Probably not. Would things be socially easier? Well, sure. But it’s just kind of a weird trade off. Which feels unfair, but life is often deeply unfair.

Yeah, I guess a lot of it does come down to, like, being a person is just really hard.

It’s this idea that if I have this and this then I’ll have been successful and I’ll be happy. That heteronormative idea that if I get my college degree and I get my job and we get married and we have two and a half kids and a dog and a home and a car that’s paid off then we’ll be happy. This very American idea of commercial success. But then there’s all this suburban ennui where people are desperately unhappy in their homes. Because none of those things actually equate to happiness. I like putting queerness in the middle of all that because then it’s queer people who are unhappy. And we’re great at that.

(laughs) Yes, we truly are. I mean, I never have the fantasy that Sammie has because I know it wasn’t possible for me. I tried that sort of normalcy for many years and it didn’t work. So the jealousy for me is more like, well what if I was someone who would feel joy because of those basic things? But maybe it’s just a myth. Even people who are able to embrace that normalcy still have a lot of problems.

I think wanting a thing and having that thing are two very different concepts. Especially when we’re told we’re supposed to want something. There’s this idea that people should want kids, but some people just don’t. And maybe Sammie felt like she was supposed to want them or did want them but wanted that to be different. But, I mean, we don’t really know what Sammie’s relationship was with Monika previous to them having a kid. She says they were happy, but we don’t really know.

When you’re writing an unreliable narrator like this, do you as a writer know more than the character? Like, do you know what their marriage was like before Samson?

As I’m going along, I feel like I’m discovering it with the characters. I don’t outline. I’m just kind of a chaos writer if we’re using chaos as the vehicle here.

(laughs)

I feel like if I’m not surprised then I get bored and if I’m bored then the reader is definitely going to be bored. I’m a person who gets bored and distracted very easily. So when I’m working inside something I want to understand the characters as the narrative progresses. Especially writing this unreliable narrator, I didn’t want to know too much about them. I feel like if I know too much, then I’m giving too much. So I really wanted to know the least amount possible. I know how she’s thinking and that can inform how she’s moving through the world. But if I have too much of a backstory on how she’s lying or if she’s lying then it feels heavy to me. I feel like I would fuck up because the other thing about Sammie is she legitimately doesn’t think a lot of the time. She thinks she’s being truthful.

Lying to others — and ourselves — is just kind of a human impulse. I don’t exclude myself from that. I mean, for a big chunk of my life I said I wasn’t a lesbian. That was definitely me crafting a narrative. And I believed that narrative, even though I kind of didn’t. And I think that that’s just how a lot of people move through life, even if they’re obviously not being truthful. It’s a way to absolve themselves of guilt. People are so fucking messy. It’s delightful.

That’s something I’ve learned over the years and it’s really hard because it’s so much easier to be like that person hurt me and they’re evil and they’re bad. And to have to learn that people usually — I mean, there are exceptions — but most people aren’t really malicious. People can be self-serving, but so much of it is fear-based. Just the way Sammie moves through the world is fear-based. Am I a good enough mother? Do I know how to do this? What will happen if I make this decision or that decision? She’s just so afraid. It makes makes me care about her while being frustrated with her. But it’s how I think about people more and more, because I realized when I wanted to put people in categories of being bad, it just never really worked. Which is annoying. It’d be so much nicer to be able to do that.

Oh, it’d be way easier for sure. Just to be like this motherfucker.

Expanding that to gender, I really like the aspect of the book that deals with these lesbians raising — as far as we know — a cis, straight boy. I’ve definitely thought about that if I ever had kids. Like, oh God what if they’re a straight boy, I wouldn’t know how to talk to them! But also I’ve done a lot of work to realize that my fear of men is more a fear of patriarchy. And it’s not helpful to think in a gender essentialist way. I like that Sammie is also struggling with that. She’ll say something about boys, and then will be like, but that’s not true because gender is complicated. But then later she’ll be like, no boys are different.

Yeah, that was very important to me. I didn’t just want it to be two women who identify as lesbians raising a child — I specifically wanted them to be raising a son. There’s a lot of stuff that would be fraught about that for two lesbian moms. There’s this idea that two women can’t raise a son, because there has to be a father figure with some specific masculinity otherwise the child will be fucked up. And that’s obviously not true. Children get fucked up, but the lack of masculinity is the least of our worries. But I wanted Sammie to feel so completely out of her depth. She feels like she knows so little about masculinity and that means she doesn’t know how to talk to Samson. But when it’s just the two of them there are moments of real tenderness where they get to just be parent and child without all the rest.

But they’re in a situation where they’re well off and they’re in a “good” neighborhood and he has all of the tools for success. And he’s a cis white male. So I was interested in how they would have conversations about how he moves through the world to help him understand these layers of privilege. And I’m equally as interested in the conversations they aren’t having. Sammie will say to herself that she should think about things in a certain way. And then just she doesn’t. Instead she avoids the things that are happening.

Like he’s working at that bowling alley and it seems very likely that he’s spit in this girl’s drink. And she starts to have a conversation with him, but it’s a conversation she can’t even handle appropriately. And then that’s the end of it. She doesn’t have any further conversation with him about it. She doesn’t know how to deepen his understanding of why this would be a problem outside of just being an asshole. Maybe there’s an expectation that because they’re two lesbians they’d be better at it, but maybe they’d actually be worse? Not all lesbians, but these lesbians. Anybody is capable of not wanting to deal with conflict. They just kind of deal with it and try to get through it and then someday he’ll go off to college. That felt interesting to unpack that. Like surely lesbian moms will do a better job of explaining feminism and privilege to their son. And I’m like, yeah, probably not.

She’s so exhausted that she doesn’t want to do these things. And you just want to be like, hey, maybe if you did these things, you would be less exhausted moment to moment! If you actually confronted some of these things, you could be less exhausted!

Also we think of queer people as being so much more open to self-expression, but Sammie keeps telling Samson he needs to cut his hair! It annoyed me so much. As a kid, I had really long hair that I loved, but at a certain point, there were just so many comments from my mom and sister that I cut it. And as a closeted trans girl that felt like a real shift for me. I sunk into myself. Hair is important to queer people! And, I mean, obviously Samson’s name is Samson. And the scene where Sammie gets her haircut is a pivotal moment. So, I guess, I just… want you to talk about hair.

I grew up in a very evangelical household, so the story of Samson is deeply embedded in me. His mother was barren for years and years and years and prayed and begged God for a son. And then she finally gets a son but God is like, Okay, well, I let you have a son, but actually you have to let him go off and be at the temple. He’s immediately taken from her and she never really gets to have him. So I was thinking a lot about that.

Bible stories built up a lot of my formative years, because my parents only got me books from the Baptist bookstore. And they were so terrible. Truly some of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life. There was this series called the Mandy series, which is literally — it sounds like I’m making it up — but these books are about — sorry I know I’m off topic.

Please. Tell me what these books are about.

They are so bad. They are literally about a blond-haired blue-eyed girl who’s 1/16th Cherokee. That’s what the series is about. It feels like something fake. Like I’m making it up. But no, they’re real. Mandy is like, Oh well, I’m different because I’m 1/16th Cherokee. And I’m blonde and blue-eyed and go to boarding school. Those are the books I was allowed to read. And then anything with the Bible or devotional stuff. The Bible was so embedded in everything. So the idea of Samson as an adult with his hair is this idea of God having a lot of control over his whole life. Samson is born because his mother wills him into existence, but he doesn’t get to stay with her because God wills where he goes. He has strength but his actual life is determined by what God says and what he’s allowed to do and not do.

And then I also wanted Sammie and Samson to be linked by name. Because the way she handles him — whether it’s biting him or telling him he needs to cut his hair — she feels like his body is her body. She feels like she should have control over it. And there’s also this thing parents do where they say an offhand thing and don’t realize how much it hurts. I know there are plenty of things my mom said to me and didn’t think anything of it and I thought about it for a million years. Like my mom wouldn’t let me leave the house one time, because she said I looked too much like Ellen. Which… I was wearing a sweater vest.

(laughs) So, honestly, a pretty apt read.

(laughs) But like I’m sure she never thought about that again. And I thought about that for the rest of my life. Obviously. I’m still bringing it up right now! But I do think there’s this way parents feel a kind of ownership over the bodies of children. They feel like, well you’re mine, you’re mine. So I have control over every part of you. I have control over how you behave and what you like and what you don’t like and how you look and what you’re going to be. It felt important to have a lot of that in there. Because I feel like that’s how I ended up internalizing the story of Samson as a child.

And then there’s so much queerness with hair. Every time somebody goes through a breakup, they get a really extreme haircut.

Yeah, I mean, even Sammie saying the reason she keeps her hair long is because she was attracted to butch women. Obviously butch/femme dynamics are a thing and are important for a lot of people. But for Sammie she’s just thinking, Well, I’m going to fit this role, because I’m attracted to this kind of person and they usually want me to look like this. She’s not thinking about what she wants. Like what’s her relationship to gender? What’s her relationship to presentation? She’s not thinking about that. I was so excited when she was about to get her hair cut, but I don’t feel like we even get to learn how she feels about it. Maybe she doesn’t even know. All she can think about is how other people are reacting to it and that made me so sad. And I don’t think it’s a leap to imagine Sammie’s mom being just as critical of her hair as she is of Samson’s. Not to blame our parents for everything, but I think what you’re saying is really true. There are things our parents say to us that they don’t think about and then we think about them forever. And I feel really complicated about that! Sometimes I’m really indignant and like how dare you have done that! And other times I’m like, you were just trying to raise a kid and that’s really fucking hard and you were doing the best you could. And it’s not like my parents had perfect parents. Even straight people have issues with their parents that influence how they raise their own children. There are all of these generations of trauma and mistakes compounded.

Up until Samson is a teenager, I was really with Sammie and feeling for her. But in the latter half of the book, I just kept thinking about Samson. And with that identification with Samson while still in Sammie’s point of view, the book made me want to be kinder to my parents. Sammie maybe crosses some lines from lovable fuckup to not so lovable, but I just felt how hard it all was for her even as I witnessed her hurting her child. I don’t know. Again, being a person is just so hard.

Yeah, sincerely. It feels like a completely natural thing to go between those extremes. To go from this really fucked me up to I have a lot of compassion about this thing. It’s a spectrum of all different kinds of crap, right? And there’s no reasoning out why things happen exactly because there usually isn’t one reason. It’s a lot of little things smashed together. It feels deeply human and very messy, because humanity is very messy and relationships are very messy. You can relate to someone and understand them and then feel like well, actually, maybe I don’t, I think they’re an asshole. And just swing back and forth. That feels like relationships with pretty much anyone. Or maybe that’s telling about me.

No, no. I mean, I guess, there have been a few times in my life where I’ve met people and their families and they really seem to not have any conflict. But also who knows! It’s like the social media thing. Just because my family doesn’t hide our conflicts when company is over doesn’t mean that other people don’t. We don’t really know what’s going on with anybody. But I do think there are ways that we can all move towards being healthier and being better parents and better children and better partners.

God I hope so.

But part of it is actually admitting to the conflict and admitting to the problems. Like you were saying, after Sammie bites Samson she could have taken a moment and actually talked about it. But for that to happen we need a world where they could go to a therapist and discuss this without her worrying about having her child taken away. It just requires more compassion and more forgiveness and more complication across all of these interpersonal and social structures that we just don’t necessarily have. It’s just really complicated.

Yeah, I think that’s the long and the short of it — it’s just complicated. And I think it makes people exhausted and people just don’t want to deal with it.

I recently read After Delores by Sarah Schulman and in the intro to the 2013 edition she says, “Today, literally 25 years after the book’s initial publication, it would be impossible for a novel with a lesbian protagonist who is as honest, irreverent, eccentric, and alone as After Delores’ to be published by a mainstream press.” And when I read that, I was like, That’s not true! And I realized the reason I said that was because of Mostly Dead Things. And that intro is very much a rousing call to action about why we need that. And I very much agree and you obviously very much agree. So I’m just curious if you think things have changed since 2013. And, more broadly, what do you feel the importance is of having a book about someone like Sammie?

It’s one of those things where when something gets published and there’s a reaction to it other similar things get published. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Okay I’m going to talk in a circle right now. My brain is chaos.

(laughs) Go for it.

So Kayla’s been working on this queer books project for Autostraddle and watching her go through and looking at what actually was available — available meaning what got reviews or some kind of write up. It’s been really interesting watching how that moves. One book does numbers and then more follow. But that’s just following mainstream media.

I was actually at Lambda in 2013 with Sarah Schulman. And watching what has come out since then — I mean, even just this year — is incredible. People were asking me what queer books I was interested in this year and there are just so fucking many. And they’re all so good and super different. They’re talking about queerness in a lot of messy ways. Did you read Pizza Girl that came out last year?

No.

That book fucking rules. It’s so fascinating and it feels like a queerness I haven’t been able to see in this kind of way in mainstream literature. And there have been a lot more since then. But it’s also about what’s given recognition. Because these things have always existed. It’s about what’s allowed to have public space. What gets a review in the New York Times? But we can even look at books about queer parenting that have come out this year. Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby has so much queerness and parenting and cool shit in it. And that’s not something I’ve seen a lot in mainstream writing before. And there’s so much other stuff coming up that’s very queer and different. And about lots of different experiences. I have to hope there will just keep being more, because there needs to be a breadth of experience of what families look like and what queer people look like. I think it’s just one of those things that takes time. This is a topic that I have a lot of opinions about, but don’t have any kind of coherent thought other than the fact that I always want more.

Definitely. And I am really grateful that since I came out in 2017, I feel like so many queer and trans books have had irreverent protagonists who are kind of fuck ups. I’m so grateful for that. I feel like you can get into so many more interesting things with a protagonist like Sammie. I guess, theoretically, you could have a book about someone who isn’t fucked up, but I don’t know. I don’t know why you would want that.

I don’t care to see it!

(shared lesbian fuck up laughter)

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Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 198 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this conversation. I loved Mostly Dead Things, and can’t wait to read With Teeth! Thank you to both Drew and Kristen, I so enjoy reading both of your work.

  2. Two more books to add to the list 😄

    But also, thank you for
    “If you don’t have community and you don’t understand who you are, you would start to lose any grasp on reality. You don’t have people around you to act as a touchstone and offer some perspective.”
    Nothing to do with the book, but after shielding alone for 16 months, I felt like has been happening to me, and reading those words helped in a ‘maybe it *is* just in my thoughts, not actually real’ kind of way, that I didn’t know I needed until I read it.

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