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> Kai Cheng Thom Answers YOUR Questions
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, Our Shared Shelf Moderator
Apr 23, 2019 08:22AM
We are so thankful to the amazing Kai Cheng Thom for being so generous in answering some of your questions! I loved reading her responses and hope you will too!
Check out her answers below.
Thanks to everyone who sent a question :)
What is something that you wish cisgender people better understood about our transgender sisters and brothers?
I wish that cis people would understand simply that trans people are complete human beings, with complex internal lives, just like cis people. I wish cis people understood that trans people do not need to emulate cisgender appearances and culture in order to be worthy of dignity and respect.
I also wish cis people understood that trans people require pizza to survive, and that they would as a social practice buy us more pizzas as a matter of course.
What was something you better understood about womanhood once you started presenting as female? (note: I know you were born female, I'm just not sure on the correct vocabulary to ask this question)
I learned that women oppress each other as much as men oppress us – women participate in creating hierarchies of power, with trans women and women of colour usually placed at the bottom.
What are some of the vocabulary words that you wish more cisgender people knew?
Why did you/the main character leave Josh?
Great question! The main character isn’t me, but she and are very similar in many ways, and we share some life experiences. I would say that the main character explains this as best she can in the final chapters of the novel – she tells the reader that she doesn’t want to get “trapped in
someone else’s story.” She leaves because she understands that the kind of love she has with Josh would allow her be comfortable, perhaps, but it would not allow her to be free. This is one of life’s most difficult lessons – that even when we are with a partner who loves us and treats us well, we might need more from life than they are able to give us.
How much of this book is based in reality, and how much of it was fantasy?
That’s a secret 😉
I just have a few questions for you, mostly from the perspective of seeking better understanding.
I wanted to ask if you, as a trans woman, think that if we didn't have the social constraints of "man"vs "woman", i.e. gender-norms, gender-stereotypes, gender roles, the like, do you think there would still be a desire for some people to be the opposing gender that they were born or non-binary? Do those societal constraints play a role in wanting to be a different gender? If we didn't have "gender" and only had "sex" would there still be trans people? (a lot of different ways of essentially asking the same question, just not sure what the best wording is).
A great question, and if I understand it correctly, you’re asking if people would still be “trans” (at least in the sense of changing their gender at various points after being born) if social constraints on gender expression (like misogyny and patriarchy) didn’t exist, right?
The short answer is no, I don’t think trans people would exist as we do today, but I also think that cis people wouldn’t exist. In a society where we were truly free to express ourselves in whatever way we liked without gender restraints, it would be understood that gender expression is fluid
and that experimentation with different forms of expression (clothing, make-up, pronouns, social roles, etc) was a natural and healthy part of human development. Surgical and hormonal interventions to change sex characteristics would be understood in the same way that we understand people getting other body modifications such as tattoos, piercings, and cosmetic surgeries. Basically I’m saying that in this society where no one was trans, everybody would be trans! All of us would be free to shift and change our gender expression as much as we liked.
What a utopia that would be!
As a society, we've started to censor a lot of things to try and eliminate the possibilities of offending groups or giving poor examples to children as to how to handle/approach/view different groups. Do you think complete censoring of jokes is helpful, or do you think some jokes should be let through? If so, what types of jokes are appropriate to pass censorship?
Well, I don’t know that we’ve censored all that much, but I do agree that as a society we’ve become very sensitive about language and saying the correct thing at the correct time. I think we should consider the context in which anything is said, and have a more loving approach to
handling conflict. On the other hand, I notice that minority groups continue to treated quite poorly around the world. LGBT people can still be barred from employment, prevented from accessing healthcare, and even killed, for example – and I mean in North America, where I live, as
well as in other places. We are living in a moment where bigotry and neo-fascism are in a resurgence. So I would say that it’s important to be considerate of how we think and speak about marginalized people.
Was there ever a time in life when you wanted to give up and why?
And if it was true, How did that make you stronger as a trans women?.
Absolutely! I very much wanted to give up the struggle when McDonald’s discontinued its fast-food pizza menu. I also fell into the depths of despair when video rental stores ceased to exist.
Around this time, several of my favorite children’s book series, such as The Animorphs by KA Applegate and the Baby-Sitters’ Club by Ann M Martin also ended. Essentially, the end of the 90s was a very hard time for me. Fortunately, that has only hardened my resolve to carry on the 90s
aesthetic in my fashion choices and my writing – and I think you can see this in my novel! Have you noticed that no one has a cell phone in Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars?
The more I was reading your book the more I was perceiving all the metaphors and even the majority of the character were ways to describe parts of the main character or maybe you. So I am
wondering, did you dissociate your self into different parts along your journey? How did you do that?
I think we all have many different selves, and parts of ourselves. Any person is a child to someone, potentially a sibling or a parent to someone, and also a friend, enemy, boss, employee, or random person in the adjoining plane seat to someone else. The main character, or the “narratress” as I like to call her is not me, but she is a fantasy version of me – hyper-stylized and with many of her strengths and weaknesses exaggerated. The other characters, like all characters in all novels, of course come from me, but they are actually much more based on other trans women I know in real life. I think we all make fantasy versions of ourselves in order to survive painful moments, life challenges, and the banality of the ordinary world.
Your book is full of magic and dreams. I perceived dreams or illusions as ways to escape, to dissociate from reality. Some sort of protection. This protection may be a too heavy armor that prevents us to grow up but I know that those dreams may also be used as fuel to escape from a toxic
mold. In your books, this magic is definitely a fuel. How were you able to overcome and fly by using this energy?
Love this question – Fierce Femmes is based largely on action-movie and pulp-fiction tropes, and in particular some of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. It’s a form of wish fulfilment in many ways, in the same way that comic books and superhero movies are wish fulfilment: Who doesn’t want to be the centre of a heroic journey? Who doesn’t want to feel powerful and special? My novel creates a world where trans women are powerful, if flawed, heroines at the centre of their own world.
This brings me to my last question that was sparked by Sometimes to be somebody else, you have to be nobody first. That sentence struck me or resonated with me I should say. I guess that if you wrote this down means you probably went through that. This interests me a lot because when I was younger I made the choice "to die to reborn" (the other options being to kill myself or to let what I call "the poison I was born with" corrupts my self and drives me crazy). So if you indeed had to be nobody to find your self, how did you manage to succeed?
This is a really important question, so thanks for sharing it. I don’t know if I have a great answer.
All I can say is that I had to be brave, and to believe that becoming someone else was possible.
1) I love analysing how authors structure and format their writings. In this case, you’ve written some confabulous entries, and finished off each part with a letter to your sister. How did you
come to the decision to format it this way?
(It reminds me of the actor Simon Pegg’s autobiography, but in reverse. Every chapter he would end with a fictional piece he had written, starring his robot butler!)
Well, again, I feel like I need to keep reminding folks that the main character is not me (the book is the character’s memoir, not “my” memoir), and so the little sister character is not in fact my sibling (though I do have an actual sibling about her age, to make things more confusing). I
wanted to give the audience a glimpse of the many different possibilities for what was “really” happening in the text, and to make readers question the difference between fact and fiction. Can two very different stories both be true at the same time?
2) Also, when it comes to writing, I think I would find it emotionally difficult to write about personal stories. Were there any physical or mental barriers that you had to come across whilst writing Fierce Femmes? Did someone or something make certain parts easier to write? Or was it quite therapeutic or cathartic?
Like I said, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is actually far less a personal story or autobiography than it is a fantasy story with some real-life inspiration, so it was actually quite fun and invigorating to write! I agree, writing personal stories is much more difficult.
3) It has to be asked... the title!! It’s a beautiful, bold and extravagant title, alone it has suckered in a lot of people before even reading it! How long did it take for you to work on getting just the right title?
It actually came to me immediately, in a dream – I’m not joking! I’ve always loved long, extravagant titles, and it shows in all my other books, too (a place called No Homeland, From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End
of the World). I think this started around the time I started to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose books all, of course, also have long and wonderful titles (Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of A Death Foretold, Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores).
The writing and imagery in Fierce Femmes is so evocative, wildly imaginative and poetic. I'm so looking forward to reading more of your poetry. Can you tell us a bit about your writing/editing
process for poetry vs. longer form? Do you free write, then edit? Do you outline the story?
I actually rarely edit in the traditional sense (until my publishers make me)! Stories tend to come to me in a complete arc – I imagine endings first, then beginnings, then points in between in rapid succession. The writing process is about giving “flesh” to that skeleton. So I always know where I want the characters to end up eventually, and there are important destinations on the way. But there’s a fair amount of free-writing, too!
Poetry come in a flash for me, like lightning. It either happens or it doesn’t. It feels like a miracle, really.
, Our Shared Shelf Moderator
Apr 23, 2019 08:26AM
(1) I saw an interview you did discussing Fierce Femmes and you talked about how the book is both an apology and love to the trans community. Could you speak a bit more on that and why you felt the need to speak on this idea of community being both a place of sanctuary but also sometimes conflict?
All small communities are bonded by shared experience, but fraught with difference as well. I’ve lived in many small communities – religious, queer, student, trans – and I have always encountered conflict within them. I think this is human nature at work. The big question is how we deal with conflict in our various tribes, packs, communities – do we allow them to tear us apart, or bring us closer together? The latter is easier said than done, of course.
(2) In another discussion group on Our Shared Shelf, we talked about the antagonism that is sometimes present in the feminist community between cis women and trans women. Have you experienced this antagonism? And what would you like to see more of in the feminist movement?
I’ve really experienced almost nothing but kindness from cis women feminists (with some notable exceptions), but I’ve been lucky in that respect. I do see “both” sides of the issue when it comes to trans vs cis feminism, and I wish more folks on both sides were committed to really understanding one another – I believe that if only more of us started from a place of love when we had these debates, we would get further with them rather than further entrenched in opposing camps.
(3) I've read that almost half of transgender people will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life, and I also read your article for Buzzfeed ("How Trans Women Are Reclaiming their Orgasms") stating this statistic and basically making it so any kind of sexual contact could be terrifying on a psychological level. Can you talk a bit about the role of the ghost friend in Fierce Femmes and whether it was a way to explore safely the character's sexuality/sexual desires?
Ghost Friend! Along with the killer bees, Ghost Friend is my favourite and most mysterious aspect of the novel. I barely understand them myself. Yes, Ghost Friend is most certainly connected to the main character’s sexuality, and her exploration of safety following the killer bee attack. Ghost Friend is, perhaps, the ideal lover in the main character’s imagination, or maybe a friendly spirit come to help her in her time of need. Ghost Friend comes from the feeling that so many survivors of sexual assault have – that no one living will be able to touch us without hurting us or getting hurt by us. Ghost Friend is longing, is prayer, is love for oneself that survives after everything else has been destroyed. Ghost Friend is hope.
(4) I know your main form of expression has been poetry, what was it like to switch platforms to start writing a novel? Did you have a preferred form of expression: spoken word performances, poetry, novelist, children's book author? And what would you like your body of work to accomplish?
Well, I started out wanting to be a novelist, but poetry came easier, likely because it is (usually) shorter and has no rules! I probably wouldn’t have written a novel for several more years, except I had read in a magazine article once that trans people die on average at age 23 (this is untrue, by the way). So when I hit 23, I though that I’d better get on with it and push out my novel before I died – so I wrote most of it in one manic burst over two weeks.
Mostly I would like people to enjoy my books and find them fun to read, but also a bit thought-provoking. I would also like a great big pile of my books to be burned someday because the High Commission finds them too seditious and dangerous. I think that would be a great endorsement.
What was your main source of inspiration to write this incredible novel?
Well, thank you for calling it incredible. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was inspired to write Fierce Femmes by a couple of real-life events:
The first was a summer night when I was living in Montreal in an area widely known as a red-light district. A man followed me home and asked to come inside. I declined, and he started to pound on the doors and windows and try to break in. After several minutes of trying to figure out “anarchist” alternatives to calling the police, I finally gave in and called 911. When the police arrived, they essentially misgendered me and then did nothing. The fear and anger that came out of that experience (and many other similar experiences) led me to wonder: What if trans women hunted cis men the way they hunt us? What if we tried to make men afraid to walk the streets at night in the same way women are afraid? Wouldn’t that be both horrible and delicious?
The second was the Quebec Student Strike of 2012, which was an enormous social movement that took over the lives of most young adults living in Quebec (the French-speaking province of Canada) that year. In Quebec, post-secondary education has historically been extremely affordable due to ongoing activism in this area. In 2012, the government decided to raise tuition fees, and all hell broke loose. As a student myself at the time, I got very involved in student strike activism, along with hundreds of thousands of others. The movement, like many social movements, quickly became embroiled in questions: What kind of activism was the “right” kind? Should we expand our peaceful protests to include direct action like blocking roads, shutting down public transit, physical altercations with police? Certainly the police had no qualms acting violently toward us. Fierce Femmes is an exploration of those questions – of how and when and why we might choose to use violence as a form of resistance to social oppression, and what might happen next.
Were the Fierce Femmes you depicted in your novel based on real life women you know? :)
Yes, and I shall say no more about that!
in the book there seems to be a real struggle coming to terms with who you are, how do you feel about yourself now? and how has writing the story helped?
s isn’t really about me – it’s about the main character, and about the social themes of violence, trauma, and forgiveness. There’s an idea out there that all writing by trans people is autobiographical and therapeutic in nature, but really, I just wanted to write an action-adventure with romance and zombies and ghosts! It was great fun.
In an interview back in 2016 you said your book was a desire to write a love letter and an apology to other trans women in your life. You also mentioned about all the drama, love, anger & hurt in the trans community (and among all women) and how it doesn’t get discussed much in search of solidarity. If you were to write another letter, would it still be a love and apologetic one?
Absolutely not! I apologize for nothing 😊 Just kidding. No, to be honest, I’ve come quite a ways since my book was first getting published. Certainly all my writing is about love, yes, and my next is actually a collection of essays called I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE. But as for apologies, well, I’ve learned to feel less ashamed of the space I take in the world and the boundaries I set for myself.
I wanna be a orthopedic doctor but also a writer, and writing a story is my passion and also read about orthopedic. But u know, i can writing starts now, and study about orthopedic need some hardwork ( i am on junior highschool) should i be a doctor? Or a writer? Or now a write then a doctor? Or both of them in the same? Thanks
You can be anything you want to be, and you can be many things at once. I would encourage you to hold onto all of your passions – don’t let the anyone take them from you!
: Your bio says you're a #socialwoker - as am I - did your work inform much of your characters and their strong emotions and fierce determination (I imagine characters being aggregates of several, if yes)?
I actually recently left the profession of social work, for a number of reasons, including personal health. Social work didn’t really inform the book so very much, to be honest. My characters are much more based on friends and family than they are on former clients. To be honest, I quite dislike the way that social work taught me to see other people as “clients” and case studies rather than as fellow human beings (not the case for all social workers, certainly, this was just the way my education seemed to go). I will also say that there is quite a tension between the women of the Street of Miracles and social workers – social work has historically left out or outright oppressed marginalized communities such as trans women and sex workers, and most of my characters are both.
How did you find your story?
It came to me in fever dream after eating too much lasagne one night.
What was your favourite part of the book to write? The most difficult?
The fight scenes were my favorite! The most difficult was the chapter where the main character bakes a red velvet cake, because while I’m good at cooking, I am a terrible baker and I didn’t know how to make the chapter feel realistic.
How do you feel knowing that a lot of people all over the world are reading your book? Love from Brazil!
It’s so incredible! I never dreamed my little book would go this far. Love from Canada, and solidarity!
Apr 23, 2019 09:49AM
Thank you so much to her and to Team OSS. It seems she took time to answer every single question. This was very kind and her answers are, without hesitation, insightful. ❤️
I cannot wait September to read her next book!
Apr 26, 2019 12:14PM
It was so nice that she answered all of our questions! That brightened up my day. If I ever meet her, I'll buy her a slice of pizza.
, Our Shared Shelf Moderator
Apr 29, 2019 11:10AM
Thank you Kai for answering all the questions and Jo for sharing all the answers, I really enjoyed reading her responses to everyone.
And yes Allison, I will buy her pizza too if I am ever fortunate enough to meet her!
(last edited May 06, 2019 07:59AM)
May 06, 2019 07:58AM
Jo wrote: "Continued.... RE: Veronica: (1) G ..."
Kai Cheng Thom
: Ghost Friend is hope."
I am reminded of a
-esque coping mechanism which interrupts a dangerous memory by the author's version of Virgil from
, but could Ghost Friend be Beatrice in your eye? Beatrice guides Dante through
. I must have snoozed my notifications while the "Hold Shelf" was stocked.
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