The Hero’s Journey: TG Style

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When I began writing the first in my Hero series, I started off with a desire to marry Joseph Cambell’s theories as outlined in Hero with a Thousand Faces to genderfluid fiction.  I thought it would be interesting and fun to use the theory– which has served as the basis for an array of very successful movies from Star Wars to The Matrix to Knocked Up– and apply it to the case of a man who finds himself trapped in the body of a woman.

For those who aren’t familiar, Joseph Campbell was a scholar who decided to study all the world’s myths.  He was intrigued to discover that certain stories were told in every culture throughout history.  The names changed, the settings, but the essence of the stories was the same.

One of the most persistent was that of The Hero’s Journey.  You can find all kinds of sources out there on the particulars– here’s one—  but the core of the idea is that the hero’s journey is universal because it is all about growing up.  When the story starts, the hero is self-centered, selfish, dependent– like a child.  But, through the course of trials and revelations that occur on their adventure, they are transformed into someone who is other centered, independent– like a parent should be.  This story has universal appeal because everyone is either growing up or has grown up.

And so, I started my own story with a character, Pete O’Malley, who had been a tough guy cop, and now finds himself trapped in the body of a beautiful stripper.  Not only is he a woman– and this is a problem for a lot of reasons including the fact that he was an unconscious chauvinist– but he has also lost his status as an NYPD officer.   So, when the story starts, he is mired in a case of the poor mes, focused entirely on himself and his own struggles, and not worried in the least about how his actions and attitudes or even his sex-change– may be impacting other people.

I won’t say anymore about his journey here, but you can read it for yourself if you haven’t.  The story was meant as a stand alone story, but I found myself interested in the character of Pete as well as the others we meet along the way, and so I eventually wrote a sequel and a kind of flash sideways that explored how Pete’s partner dealt with his own sex-change and why his response was so much different than Pete’s.

In all the books, I wanted to have my characters discover their best, heroic selves as a result of their being turned into women, and in each case I felt the character’s personality would have an impact on how they adjusted and accepted or struggled against their new lives as well as their obligations.

I feel the Hero saga is among my best work, and as I finish the third book, I am excited myself to see how all of these characters continue their heroes journeys, and how those journeys transform and remake them into different and, in most cases, better people.

 

New Book

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This time, I want to tell the story of a gender swap from a woman’s perspective.

That’s the idea I came up with to get started on my newest ebook.  I have written a lot of genderfluid books in the past couple years– more than 1000 pages worth, and I am always striving to find ways to challenge myself to write something different from what I’ve done before.

This time, I decided to do a first person account of a husband and wife who switch genders all told from the first person perspective of the wife as her husband gradually turns into a gorgeous little female and she turns into a tall, muscular male.

I think it will be a lot of fun as most of my books have always focused on the male experience of being swapped into a female body or gradually changed into a woman.   This time, I will focus just as much on how the woman feels about her own transformation as well as the conflict she feels as the big, strong man she married blossoms breasts and becomes smaller, weaker and more vulnerable, now looking to her for protection.

Once I had the idea for the perspective, other parts just started to occur to me.  I dreamed of the couple trapped on a desert island, and once that happened I knew I would have to write a classic TG story with my own twists and turns.  I began to see scenes from the story, including what will likely be the opening scene.  It’s all coming to me now as I work, drive, sleep, and so now the story has to be written because I know that until I do write it I won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

I haven’t seen the end yet, but I am excited and curious to see where these characters take me.  I am excited for them, to see what they discover about themselves and how they deal with their changing bodies and challenging new environment.  It will be fun.  It always is, and the biggest challenge for me now is to just let the characters and the story take me where they want to go, to resist the urge to make it happen in a different way than what has to happen.

Here I am.  At the start.  Let’s see where we go!

 

Five Questions with CBlack

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CBlack’s Page on TGComics

Hey, folks!  Five Questions returns with an interview with the TG author and comics creator cblack, which many of you will know from his prolific production at TGComics!  I am a huge fan myself, and want to thank CBlack for taking the time!  Enjoy, all!

 

1. What are your top three TG experiences in terms of books, films, videos, songs?

#1— Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. I saw this on late night TV when I was a teenager and was hooked. I’d never seen anything like it before and the images of Ralph Bates turning into Martine Bestwick and then feeling herself up still gets a rise out of me.
#2—I Will Fear No Evil, by Robert Heinlein. I read this in college, and re-read it, and re-read it, and re-read it… You get the idea.
#3 — Frankenstein Created Woman. Somebody at Hammer Studios must really like me! 😉

2. Why does the theme of TG interest you as an artist?

Good question, because I’m not so sure of the answer myself. I’m not TG myself or even gay (of course I can immediately hear readers going, “Yeah, sure you’re not! Denial!!”), but human metamorphosis has always intrigued me. Originally, it was movies and comics where a plain girl transformed into a stunning, sexual beauty. (The classic Cinderella-syndrome.) But that eventually evolved into a deep fascination with men morphing into stunning, sexual beauties. Artistically, creating the changing men and then presenting the final woman in various sexual and social situation is where I get the bulk of my fulfillment.

3. As a follow-up to the second question, I feel you as much as any artist have explored a wide range of different kinds of TG themes. Can you talk about why you feel you have looked at so many different aspects of the TG world and if any particular themes interest you more than others?

I mostly try and explore different TG themes to keep my comics fresh and different. I don’t want them all to rehash the same thing over and over but just with different characters in different settings. I don’t know if I have a favorite theme, but most readers would recognize that a lot of my comics take place in a college setting. That’s probably because I spent a LOT of time in college (I refuse to say exactly how many years) and my experiences there still influence me today.
But, as I’ve written more and more situations regarding the TG community, I always do research and try to incorporate as much factual information as possible (as factual as you can be when a truck accident causes a jock to turn into a hot coed). This research has allowed me to learn a great deal about the community and develop a deep respect for those in it and what they have to deal with.

4. Can you talk about your journey as an artist? Who were your influences? What was the process like for you in terms of reaching the point where you felt ready to put your work out there for the world to see?

I think my first foray’s into TG art were in High School when I was copying (tracing) images of sexy women from comics. (I had to trace because my hand-drawn artistic skills are abysmal!) I then started to “reverse engineer” the drawings to make them more masculine so I could reverse it and eventually see the F —> M progression I wanted.
My computer-based interest started with basic programs that morphed images into one another. (I can’t remember the name of the one I used, but I still see others using it today.) When I discovered Poser (I think it was Poser 4 at the time), I was like, “Oh My God! This is the coolest thing ever!!” I’m now using Poser Pro 2014 (and sometimes Carrara) to do my work. If you could see the comparisons of my early works to current ones, you can really tell the difference in the programs evolution, as well as mine.
My biggest influence in the TG community online was obviously Mako. I don’t remember exactly how we connected, but she had established the Siren Song website and allowed me to put my work up there along with hers. We then started collaborating on a few things. Mako also introduced me to Second Life where she had a whole island dedicated to the Siren Song world. Being able to live in SL as a woman was a very eye-opening experience, to say the least!

5. What has been the most positive aspect of publishing your work?

It’s got to be the number of people who are reading my works and their feedback. When Femur first asked me if we could start publishing my comics, I had no idea there would be so much response. I guess I just never realized how widespread the TG community (or those who just like reading about it) was.
I guess I also can’t ignore the fact that my income from the sale of the comics has also been beneficial… in paying off my student loans from all that damn college! 😉

6. What’s coming up next? Let’s hear about your next projects!

I’ve been working on my next project since right after “College Life” came out. Since I started doing this, I can’t seem to stop. As soon as I finish one project, I start fiddling around with images until I get an idea for a new project. This project is tentatively titled, “SuperEgo” and takes place in a (Surprise!!) college setting. As the title implies, it’s a little more psychological in nature than some of my other works. It’s currently at about 1200 images and I still have at least one more chapter to go. I hope to have it out by spring (my real-life and Femur’s schedule pending).

CBlack!  You are the best! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience.  Can’t wait to read your next one!

Weird Scenes in NY Basements

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Hedwig.  This pictures is not from a stand-up show.  I just like it!

I’ve been hitting up the open mic comedy scene in NYC the last couple of weeks.   In New York, there are dozens of places all over the city where people can come and in exchange for 5 dollars they get a 5 minutes of time at the microphone. These typically take place in bar basements, comedy clubs before the pro shows, occasionally coffee shops or restaurants.

What does this have to do with genderfluidity?

A lot.  The thing is, a lot of people show up at these mics because they want a chance to express their rage.  They may think they are comedians, but they are really just angry people, usually white males, who feel entitled to vomit their hate and anger into a room full of strangers under the guise that, hey, it’s a comedy show, so I can say anything I want.

What they want to say a lot of the times is that they hate gay people, and anyone who isn’t hetero-normative.  Recently I was at a mic where a comedian identified herself a bi-sexual and did her set about the trials and tribulations of being bi in a mono world.  Some of the material was funny, but I was the only one that laughed.  The room was cold, unwelcoming. She and her friends left after her performance, and I felt bad for her, but also proud that she had the courage to get up on stage and do her material knowing full well how the room might react.

Shortly after she left, another “comedian” came on stag, grabbed the mic and began screaming, “I am sick of people who feel they have to get here and tell me their sexuality.  Choose a side, bitch!  That’s what I’m saying and choose a side or just start eating ass!”

The crowd cheered, laughed and applauded.

Earlier in the show, a gay comedian had gotten up and talked about how frustrating it was for him that white males would get up at these mics and gay bash, and people would laugh. He was still there, and was among those who wasn’t clapping for the blatant gay bashing.

Not surprisingly, the list of people subjected to open hate speech included African Americans, Jews, gays, bi-racial people and, of course, liberals–  ie, whites who are not hate mongers.  “I’m sick of these liberal pussies and their political correctness!”  Cheers and applause.

The book on millennials is that they are supposedly more open to genderfluidity and racial tolerance than previous generations.  Folks, I was sitting in a room full of millennials, and I can tell you the notion this generation is tolerant is bullshit.  They just know what to say when they take a survey, but give them a stage and a spotlight, and the hate just pours out of them. Not all of them, but just as many as in my generation.

How to respond?  I don’t believe in answering hate with hate.

I am tempted to answer hate with hate, but I don’t.  I think that just fuels the cycle.

Instead, I do bits about male insecurity, and how much of the behavior that guys do to seem “macho” comes from fear.  I talk about how in a group of most men, I can’t praise woman for anything other than her sexual desirability without being mocked and ridiculed, and I suggest that any man who reacts with fear and annoyance to hearing a phrase like, “I am in awe of Tina Fey’s intelligence” should accept and embrace the fact that he is still afraid of girls.  “Accept it.  Embrace it.  And then work on it.”

I get mixed reactions.  Some rooms freeze me out.  Sometimes people thank me.   All reactions are fine.  I do not own other people’s reactions.  I can only do what I do, and let them feel the way they feel about it.

I do feel like I need to keep going to these mics, and hopefully eventually clubs, and I need to bring my message to people because it is important to me that we keep moving forward, keep connecting.  There has been progress, but the forces of intolerance and hate are still out there, and they are always looking for targets, and from what I have seen, there are a whole lot of young people out there just dying for a chance to cheer and laugh at some plain old fashioned gay bashing.

 

 

Tangerine: Spoilers

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The film Tangerine explores the lives of two transgender friends living in Los Angeles, features transgender performers in the lead roles, and explores and celebrates their lives and struggles without ever being self-consciously a statement about transgender issues.

What I mean is that this film is a film about people.   And in the same way a similar movie might have been about two friends who happened to be straight, or two friends who happened to be doctors, or any two people who happened to be other things, this one explores the lives of two people who happen to be TG, but who are not limited by that aspect of their identities, and who are neither valorized or mocked because of it.  There is no sense that the audience has any obligation to pay special attention to the fact that they are TG, or to view the film like a movie in a sociology class where the subtext is, “This is how TG people put on their shoes!”   They are people like other people, and that is among the film’s triumphs.

And what do these people want?  The same things as everyone else: they want to be valued, loved, understood, and it is their pursuit of these universal human needs to drives the drama of the film and almost brought me to tears on several occasions.

Alexandra has planned a big concert and invited all of her friends as well as everyone else in the neighborhood.  She loves to sing and hopes for a special evening sharing her love with her friends, who have all enthusiastically promised to come see her.   When she gets to the venue, not even one person has shown up, and she stands outside arguing with the manager, insisting that people are on the way, refusing to believe that not even a single person cared enough to make it to the show.  I ached for her both because she had been abandoned, and because she refused to believe she had been abandoned.  I know that feeling.   When I was a kid, the last time my mother tried to throw a birthday party for me no one came.  No one.   And I could see the pain and shame she felt as much as I felt my own.  I didn’t even realize no one liked me until I was sitting there in our dirty little house, watching my mother calling neighbors and listening to their excuses.  I know that feeling and experience is shared by many people who are not “normal.”

Finally, one person does show up, Sin-Dee, who has brought along a woman she is kidnapping–  see the movie– and Alexandra performs for her friend and the other lonely people who spend their Christmas Eves at seedy bars.

Sin-Dee is the more temperamental of the two, and her quest on this Christmas Eve has been to find the woman who has been sleeping with her boyfriend and confront them.   During this confrontation, she learns that her boyfriend has cheated on her not only with the one girl, but also with her best friend, Alexandra, whose concert she alone cared enough to see.

The second betrayal breaks her heart.   She is devastated, and she wanders off into the night to turn some tricks, looking for some way to get out of herself, to stop feeling what she is feeling, only to have a car full of frat boys throw a bottle of piss in her face.

The movie does, in scenes like the one above, show some of the abusive behavior with a transgender person might face, some of the disgusting acts that happen.  These women are as far from Kaitlin Jenner and the Victoria’s Secret fashion show as you can get, and their lives are full of hardships, not magazine covers celebrating them for their courage.

So, when Sin-Dee is horrified, despairing, broken, who comes to the rescue?  Alexandra.   She comes over and helps her friend, and the two of them at least have each other.  They are not along on Christmas Eve, and they are not defeated.   They each seem determined to keep on living, to get up and make it another day.

There is a third character searching for connection in the movie, an Armenian cab driver.  He is married and has a child, and he loves men, and particularly Sin-Dee.   The last we see of him he is alone in his living room, standing in front of a Christmas tree, with a lost and lonely look on his face as he faces maintaining his marriage, keeping up his obligations, continuing to live in the closet.  How much worse to be alone in the presence of others?  To be a stranger to yourself?

The film could, I suppose, be accused of typing transgender characters in the sense that they are sex workers.  One of the criticism of the portrayal of TG people in the past is that they tend to be criminals or prostitutes, drug addicts.

But, see the movie. It doesn’t have that feel of otherness about it.  In fact, it brings attentions to harsh realities:

Ms. Taylor (Alexandra) now finds herself in a position similar to Ms. Cox, (Orange is the New Black) as a spokeswoman for transgender people, appreciative of the increased visibility yet dismayed at the soaring rates of homicide, suicide attempts and unemployment that plague this world. “Visibility is very important, but it’s not changing the day-to-day lives of everyday trans people,” Ms. Cox said. “We need another culture shift.”

They are people.  They may be poor. They may be TG.  They may be or do a lot of things good and bad– but what we see in this movie is that they are people who just want to be loved and live their lives, and that is a wonderful thing to see.

It’s available for streaming!  Tangerine On Netflix