Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Q&A with Patricia Grayhall



Patricia Grayhall, a pen name, is the author of the new memoir Making the Rounds: Defying Norms in Love and Medicine. She is a retired physician, and she lives in the Pacific Northwest.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir, and what impact did it have on you to write it?


A: Three years ago, when downsizing, I came across a box of journals and letters I hadn’t looked at in 40 years. Who knows what you might find when you go delving into the past? Perhaps some answers to questions that were unresolved or too painful to contemplate at the time.


The past isn’t dead; it lives on inside of us and influences us in the present whether we are aware of it or not. As I contemplated my personal journey in the late 1960s and ‘70s--coming out as a lesbian, a woman training to become a doctor--when neither was approved by society, I realized that my story has relevance beyond the personal.


Many young people today do not know what it was like before Title IX, before Roe v. Wade, and when women were largely excluded from becoming physicians. I felt my story is one our culture needs to hear, especially now.


It is relevant not only to lesbian women and LGBTQ people but also to men and straight women who have never lived the burden of being told their passions amount to “wrong feelings.” But even more so, my story is relevant to those marginalized people—gay, female, disabled, of color—who are struggling to fulfill dreams that others take for granted.


My story also demonstrates the power of platonic friendship between the sexes.


Q: You wrote the book under a pseudonym--why did you make this choice?


A: I have written about an era of personal growth that does not show me in the best light. I was a flawed and complicated young woman. The pen name allowed me to be very honest about what I felt and experienced coming of age in the ‘70s when life was difficult for ambitious lesbians. I felt freer to write about my former self under a pen name, including one especially cringeworthy chapter.


I also wished to protect some of the characters in my book who are still my friends: Cass, who has been married to a man for 27 years and has never told him of our relationship; and Gillian, who never acknowledged being attracted to a woman; and some of the physicians and patients, of course.


Who I was in the memoir will be fixed in a reader’s mind though now, decades later, I am a very different person. My pen name is not a cop-out. It is all there in my memoir. It simply allows me to tell my truth without hurting those I love.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “The struggles, deeply felt emotions, and coming-of-age triumphs make this memoir touching and personal, and it will stir reflection in those who read it.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I was thrilled as a debut author to receive a starred Kirkus Review.


While writing my memoir, I felt once again the passion and pain of my late teens and 20s. Sometimes it was all too much, and I had to put pages aside and take a walk. However, it was necessary to experience those emotions again to create a narrative that could connect with and evoke similar feelings in a reader, tempered with understanding and meaning. The review suggests this was successful.


Having experienced that slice of life in my memoir on a visceral level, I hope readers will appreciate that the drive to love, to belong, to achieve, and to live a life of meaning is universal to queer and straight people alike.


Q: You describe events that happened in the 1960s through 1980--how similar (or different) do you think your experiences might have been in more recent decades?


A: In recent decades:


The experience of becoming a physician would have changed dramatically. Women in my medical school class would have comprised over 50 percent rather than 5 percent. I would have female role models as professors and physician mentors in residency training. With more women physicians the culture of medicine (and patient outcomes) would have changed for the better.


Coming to terms with my sexual identity would be easier as well (in many, but not all parts of the country). I’d have more support from teachers; parents less fearful for my future; people like me in the media who were not living tortured, miserable lives and who didn’t have to die or go back to men at the end of the story; and more opportunities to meet others outside of the bar scene.


I would not have had an illegal abortion at age 19 in someone’s bedroom in Nogales, Mexico, but would have greater access to birth control, and safe options of care if I chose to end the pregnancy. That is, if I lived in a state that doesn’t limit a woman’s right to control her own body and criminalize miscarriage and abortion.


Finally, I would have the freedom to write my story and have it published, so that my experience as a woman, as a lesbian, and as a physician becomes part of our shared history.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A romance novel with my partner. So much easier than a memoir.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Writing your book is only the beginning. Then you must explain to the world why it matters.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment