Rae Theodore and I both attended HippoCamp17, Hippocampus Magazine’s annual Creative Nonfiction Conference, where Rae led a session called Finding Your Tribe, or How a Writing Group Saved My Life. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Rae in the months after the conference. Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is a beautifully wrought memoir, and I’m excited to have Rae on the Ball this week. She is truly a gifted writer and an amazing human, and I’m fortunate to count Rae as a member of my tribe.
About Rae Theodore:
Rae Theodore lives in Royersford, Pa., with her wife, children and, in stereotypical fashion, her cats. By day, she works as a staff writer for one of the world’s largest communications firms. By night, she writes about living in that middle place where boy and girl collide. Her favorite day of the week is Tuesday because that’s when her writers’ group meets.
About LEAVING NORMAL: ADVENTURES IN GENDER
Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is a literary memoir that takes an unflinching but humorous look at living as a butch in a pink/blue, boy-girl, M/F world.
Here’s my theory: I’ve always been a butch. When I was a child, it was called being a “tomboy” (also known as “embarrassing my mother”). Back then, I liked to think I was a boy-girl hybrid, perhaps grown from special heirloom seeds.Later in life, I came out as a lesbian, which explained my fondness for flannel and sensible shoes, as well as my masculine ways.
Still, something wasn’t quite right. I watched spectator-like as my hair got shorter and my clothes started coming from the opposite side of the department store. When someone called me “sir” for the first time, I realized I had unintentionally crossed over into foreign territory — that sliver of space that exists in the middle place between the absolutes of boy and girl.
Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is a story for anyone who has ever felt different, especially those who have found themselves living in the gender margins without a rulebook. Also, for girls who really liked Charlie’s Angels and Olivia Newton-John.
(courtesy of author’s website)
Interview with Rae Theodore + Giveaway for LEAVING NORMAL: ADVENTURES IN GENDER https://t.co/YB5EO0RRqF
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) February 24, 2018
Now, on the the virtual interview:
Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?
I participated in NaNoWriMo a few years back and wrote a terrible novel. I was going for literary fiction, but it was probably closer to YA. I know what you’re thinking and thanks, but no, it’s terrible. Actually, I have a bunch of novels I started but never finished. I always have good ideas for the first few chapters but then lose my steam about halfway through. There I sit with nothing. I hate conflict, which doesn’t make for a very adventurous or interesting plot.
I participate in a weekly writers group and sometimes find myself writing fiction to a prompt. People always ask what I’m going to do with the scene, and I tell them it will most likely stay in my notebook. Although the idea of flash fiction appeals to me. I’m hoping to attend a flash workshop in the near future and learn how to tell a story using a minimal amount of words.
I would much rather write about my own life. It feels more comfortable. Perhaps I’m self-involved, but I’m obsessed with looking at my life through a magnifying glass and trying to make sense of it all. It’s thrilling when I discover a new truth.
Have you ever met someone you idolized? What was it like?
My wife and I went on an Alaskan cruise last summer. It was a literary-themed lesbian cruise. A gift from my wife for my fiftieth birthday. On the cruise, I had an opportunity to meet Dorothy Allison at a book signing.
“Hi, Pretty,” she said in a southern accent that could have melted the Hubbard Glacier. To be honest, she flirted with all of the butch lesbians.
My wife didn’t attend the signing and was waiting for me back in the room.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“It’s a pretty good day when Dorothy Allison flirts with you,” I said.
So, when I’m having a bad day, I think of the cruise and Dorothy Allison and how she called me “Pretty” in her thick, southern accent. And I remember how lucky I am to be living this life where I get to call myself a writer and do cool writer things like sign books I’ve written and meet writers who have inspired me like Dorothy Allison.
I’m hoping to see Margaret Atwood speak in April, so again, lucky, lucky, lucky.
As for nonwriters, I would love to meet Olivia Newton-John, because she was my first crush, and Joan Jett because she’s Joan Jett.
What’s your next big thing?
I just finished a manuscript for my next book, My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys. It’s a collection of stories (and a few poems) about growing up in the late 70s and 80s in an extremely gendered atmosphere. I disclose more details about my coming out story (I had been married to a man for almost ten years and came out in my late thirties) and about living as a butch lesbian. Some of my favorite stories in the book, besides the drum story, include one about how the clerks at my local Blockbuster were the first ones to know I was gay because of my rental selections and another about how I flunked sewing class but felt like a Greek god in metal shop.
The book is slated for release this August by Regal Crest.
For the record, I’m still bitter about being forbidden to play the drums. It could have been Joan Jett and I singing about not giving a damn about our bad reputations.
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
Writing. Maybe it’s that whole Dorothy Parker thing of hating to write but liking to have written. With the manuscript for My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys completed and passed onto to my editor, I’m looking forward to some literary “experiments.” Like I mentioned, I have an interest in flash, and I’d like to learn to write poetry. I’ve played around with poetry and have even gotten some pieces published, but I’d like to improve my skills and learn where those line breaks are supposed to go.
Plus, I’ll be able to get one of those “Fucking Poets, Man” T-shirts and accessorize with a beret.
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. I read it after I came out and wished I had read it as a young woman. I’m pretty sure it would have altered the way my life played out. Opened doors I didn’t even know were there.
That’s one of the reasons I write. I try to write books I wished were available to read when I was learning about myself and the world.
I used to think I was the only person in the world who looked like me or felt the way I did. That’s such a sad and lonely feeling.
Find Rae Theodore on the web on Twitter or Goodreads and keep up with her writing on her website, The Flannel Files: Rae Theodore’s BUTCH blog about living in the middle of girl/boy.