Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Q&A with Carolyn Hays



Carolyn Hays is the author of the new book Letter to My Transgender Daughter. Carolyn Hays is a pen name for an author who has published more than 20 books.


Q: What inspired you to write Letter to My Transgender Daughter, and how was the book's title chosen?


A: What happened to our family in the Deep South, shortly after our youngest transitioned, upended our lives. Someone had made an anonymous call to Child Protective Services accusing us of child abuse for supporting our child.


We quickly learned that if our case went to court and we found ourselves in front of a Republican-appointed judge, we could lose custody.


For a long time, there was huge progress in trans rights. Things were looking better all the time. Then there was a swift backlash. While once I'd thought that what happened to us would become a strange story, something no one would ever believe, instead it became a new law signed by the governor of Texas.


This year alone there were 574 anti-transgender bills introduced in the US. The book wasn't simply something to share with my daughter. It became urgent. 


Q: In an article for LitHub, you wrote, “It was hugely liberating to write the story with anonymity. I wonder now, if I hadn’t written it under a pen name, would I have been so raw and honest?” Can you say more about that, and about why you chose to write the book under a pseudonym?


A: We decided as a family — in particular what felt best to my youngest daughter — to have this book published under a pen name for our safety. We don't regret the decision, and I am still thankful for the freedom that the pen name allowed me.


It allows the writer to be one step removed from perceived reactions and therefore to go where they might not have. It might be a good tool for people to use, especially when writing first drafts. 


Q: What do you see looking ahead for trans people in the United States, given the current political climate?


A: We are putting off a lot of decisions until after the presidential race in 2024. It could be catastrophic for trans people, their loved ones, their families and friends, their relatives and communities. (When you target a minority, you don't just target them. There is untold collateral damage.)


We talk a lot about how we live not in the United States but the 18 States of America because those 18 states are the ones where our daughter is protected by law and allowed her full civil rights. She'll be looking at colleges in those states and Canada. We're also just unsure of what's coming next and that uncertainty is difficult. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book, and how have readers responded to it so far?


A: It was impossible to write the book until I figured out that I was writing it for my daughter. Writing for a wider audience was impossible. How to address an audience that could know nothing about the trans experience and, at the same time, writing for someone who is living the trans experience? And so I don't have any one singular take away.


I will say that I've loved the feedback from trans people who have been moved by the book. The direct address — those moments when I talk to my daughter — can become a door that swings wide open, and I want the person on the other side of the doorway to feel the love I have for her. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've published many novels under my own name and continue to publish. My husband and I are currently working with state legislators to shore up protections in our own state and working with families who need support. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This country is suffering from a hysteria around trans people, and transphobia has spiked. I want to be clear about who's to blame.


Politicians are running anti-trans campaigns and drumming up fear in order to win votes. Conservative social media influencers and talk radio personalities, far-right pundits and podcasters are stoking fear in people in order to gain followers. These folks are creating fear and hatred for their own personal gain.


Meanwhile my daughter is a joy to be with. She's funny and smart, doing well in school. Even during her teen years, she's really a delight. She's not someone to fear or to hate.


We need to hold the fearmongers accountable, those in power who are targeting trans people. There's nothing to fear. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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