Instead of interviewing myself, I thought it might be fitting for my vanished twin to conduct this interview. Take it away, vanished twin.

Leah Dieterich’s Vanished Twin: Let’s pretend this is an audio interview and I need to check the levels. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Leah Dieterich: You just wanna talk obsessively about food, don’t you? I guess old habits die hard. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I am trying to have big breakfasts so I don’t starve myself all day and then gorge on a shit-load of food right before bed like I used to do in college. I’m old now. I try to finish dinner by 7pm at the latest. I have the most fucked-up dreams if I eat or drink alcohol too late at night. This is what it is to have a body which ages, which is something you don’t have to deal with, I guess! This morning I had steel-cut oatmeal with ghee, Maldon sea salt, raw walnuts and half a banana sliced on. top. I gave the other half to my daughter who (at this point—though her tastes and practices shift rapidly) only like to eat bananas if she can peel and hold it. She loves oatmeal too, only the steel-cut variety, and she eats it with her hands. It’s incredible.

 

How do you describe the book Vanishing Twins to people? What’s your elevator pitch?

Depending on the person, I might say that it is about my hypothesis that I was supposed to have been born a twin but that my twin vanished in utero and I’ve been trying to find this twin in various relationships throughout my life.

The facts are as they are. They are in black and white; they can’t be changed. As a baby, I lived with my mother and father in Sunrise, a suburban city just east of Fort Lauderdale. The romance of the city’s name is not lost on me.

When it happened, blue and white Hanukkah lights were strung in windows all around our neighborhood and plastic Santas on sleighs sat on the roofs. It was December, 1978. While I was toddling around the family home in diapers, my father, Paul, died in circumstances that can best be described as tragic: he took his own life.

Tragedy begets change, sometimes reinvention. My mother and I left Florida for England when I was 9 and she remarried when I was 11. A few years later, I was legally adopted by her new husband, Steve, who raised me as his own. While I love my stepfather deeply, the biology of paternity is a halachic matter when you are planning a Jewish wedding, as I was, a couple of years ago. In the process of preparing to marry in the faith, I had to dig into some family history.

Men are so hot right now. Just look at the options; wherever you go, there they are, and the books about them abound. Adding to the essential essay collections that deconstruct what men are and what to do with them— Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, The War on Men by Suzanne Venker, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin, and Are Men Necessary by good old Maureen Dowd – comes a single essay called I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya, which examines her own varied experiences with gender identity. Men as bullies, lovers, friends, strangers and selves (but pointedly, not fathers). I’m Afraid of Men reads as part memoir, part polemic, part double dare to the reader to take a look in the mirror. It should be required reading on college campuses.

Vivek is always at work on multiple creative projects, which include running her own press to promote the work of fellow queer writers of color who happen to live in Canada, and her own aptly named poetry collection, even this page is white. As a recording artist she has shared the stage with Tegan and Sara and been remixed by Peaches. Her series of self-portraits (made with collaborator Karen Castillo), recreates vintage photographs of her beautiful mother, and were made as Vivek was in the process of transitioning. “Trisha” has been on view at the Ace Hotel this summer in NYC, and is moving to the Portland Art Museum this fall. You can order the book on Amazon or here.

Nothing bad has ever happened to me but it will and I have that to look forward to.

Bad things have happened to Ashleigh but those things are not my things to tell.

It’s Friday and I pick her up from work and we drive to Weldon because Ashleigh wants to get me out of the house and there’s a trail in Weldon.

It’s called the Canal Trail and we can walk on it.

We park the car and we walk on the trail.

I’m wearing shorts and Ashleigh is wearing shorts and there are these little black insects and I think they are biting me.

“Those are called no see ums,” Ashleigh says.

They keep biting us and we keep walking.

We sit on a bench and look at a pond or a lake or I don’t know what it is.

Some small body of water.

Behind us, two men meet on the trail and discuss things that we don’t care about, and then they are gone and it’s just us and the water and the no see ums.

We look at the water and then we’ve had enough and we’re hungry so we get back on the trail and head back toward the parking lot.

We see an old condom wrapper embedded in the dirt.

A long time ago someone had sex out here in the woods.

It’s hard to tell what day it is.

Wednesday feels like Monday.

Monday feels like Thursday.

I drive Ashleigh to work.

I take Ashleigh to work.

I drop off Ashleigh at work.

It’s a two-lane road.

The speed limit seems to change every half mile.

It’s 35 and then it’s 55 and then it’s 25 and then it’s back to 55.

I drive about 70 the whole way there.

I still don’t have a job.

And Jay Leno collects cars.

He has about 150 of them.

I know this because I listened to an interview with him yesterday.

I don’t even like Jay Leno.

But I have a lot of free time.

Before I drop off Ashleigh at her office I tell her that I’m going to go on an adventure today.

I say, “I’m going to Greenville, North Carolina today.”

I say, “I’ll eat some good food.”

She says, “Good. Go to B’s Barbecue. That’s the spot. But get there early because once they run out of the hog, that’s it.”

I think she worries about me.

So, you’re trans. Don’t you think the obvious first question is: When did you know you were a boy? Did you always feel “born in the wrong body”? And, while we’re at it, was your family cool with your transition? And how wild is it to know what it’s like to be BOTH genders?

I don’t think that any of these are obvious first questions, no. 

Wait–but you write about being trans. Don’t you?

Sort of! Did you read Amateur?

I did. 

What would you say it’s about?

Here’s the start of the story and it’s a good story and this one is true.

Ashleigh Bryant Phillips is from North Carolina and we met on the internet because she went on a book tour with my friend Bud Smith and Bud told her some stories about me and then Bud told me some stories about her.

We exchanged numbers and texted and talked on the phone and I told her to listen to the song ‘House Cat’ by Mark Kozelek and she sent me a video of a hooting owl.

And then she sent me a postcard.

 

Language needs a few new relationship words. Particularly boyfriend.

I’ll allow the issue of boy having a troubled history to speak for itself. Except to add that Black jazz musicians in the 40s began calling each other man because of the Jim Crow practice of referring to them as boys. This then is the root of the all-encompassing pronoun-slash-exclamation man used by most musicians, then bleeding into beatniks and out to many other bonded male groups: athletes, actors, (poets?).

But also, while women don’t mind (even, in my case, prefer) to be called girls, men don’t usually refer to themselves, individually, as boys. As in I’m a boy who likes ___. Yes, there’s the old standard one of the boys. Or boys’ night out. Or even my boys (although that could mean the male anatomy that comes in a pair, but I’ve never heard a woman refer to her breasts or ovaries as “my girls.”)

 

 

As I drove further away from downtown, the houses and sidewalks became progressively neglected. Like forgotten memories in an old attic. Like the unloved pages of an old dusty photo album, some complete, yet frayed–overflowing with used-up cheer. Others, abandoned, with only the peculiar unblinking gaze of an unnamed child–questioning and accusing all at once—staring out from among dubious, brown, square-shaped stains, the only proof that there was more to the story; that more had once existed. Proof that here was once a happy, bustling, productive community. A thoroughfare of dreams, once cherished and kept tidy and neat, to proudly display the depth of love, the fullness of life, of one family. One community. With its empty lots between every other house and its broken sidewalks and time-tested aluminum fences dislocated by century-old oak trees, Columbia’s North Main Street was such a forgotten piece of history.

Get to know me: I die for books but I live for television. The former is my bff, the latter is my one true love. Give me a meaty, well-written drama with an ensemble cast of Emmy nominees who can transport me to another time, place, or life experience, and I’ll binge it on a loop until it becomes embedded in my emotional memory like a song. Earlier this year, ER, the 15-seasons-long saga of daily life at County General in Chicago from the perspective of its emergency department, finally became available to stream (on Hulu). Created by novelist Michael Crichton, the show debuted in 1994 and holds up like a motherfucker; even its so-called bad seasons toward the end that no longer included anyone from the original cast make Grey’s Anatomy look like General Hospital when it comes to its medicine. Never pandering to its audience, ER calls procedures by their proper names and manages to educate, even as it works to destroy you emotionally with its too-often relatable human dramas. So, for months I’ve been watching all 335 hours of the show at home. Since episodes are often on as background noise the way some people do with NPR, I figured I’ve absorbed at least 1,000 hours of medical school by now, practically a junior resident. Right when I was missing the high of seeing an undiscovered episode ever again, I had the pleasure of meeting editor Megha Majumdar at Catapult, who told me about Paul Seward, MD, a now-retired pediatrician turned emergency department specialist, whose first book Patient Care is just as mesmerizing a read as seasons 1 – 4 are to watch. I couldn’t put it down.

 

In the winter of 1992, my sister got married.  A year before the wedding, she asked me if I would grow my hair shoulder length for the occasion. At the time, I was twenty years old and just beginning to come to terms with owning a transgender identity (though I didn’t yet have words for it). But the dynamics of my gender “situation” had been playing out in my family life since my earliest memories. Stuffed into dresses for synagogue despite putting up a fight  (always a losing battle), or hiding in the dining room so as not to be stuffed into a dress (laying on the chairs tucked under the table) until I (quickly) got too bored to stay there, and then was summarily stuffed into a dress and off we went. I hated dresses, but I actually liked synagogue. The rabbi had a thick New York accent. He was a teller of fables, the kinds with foxes in them, and grapes, and though there was a moral at the end of each story, his stories were about the journey as much as the destination, and he always had a playful lilt to his voice and a twinkle in his eye.

 

A month after the shooting, I held a yard sale. Out with the self-help books, the roller skates, the painting of the fortune-telling cat. Have to make enough money to get out of Orlando.

A pink woman crisscrossed my lawn, a Margaritaville visor shielding her broad face from the sun as she connected the dots: The Judy Garland vinyl, the stack of old Vogues, me in my denim cutoffs sipping a mimosa at 9AM. She tilted her head my way, and maybe in that moment put it all together. He’s gay. He’s available. He must have something to say about Pulse.

Was I friends with anyone who was murdered that night, the visor was curious. I smiled so I wouldn’t lose her. It was too early to talk about dead bodies, however, was she interested in a drink or perhaps a gently-used cocktail shaker I can’t figure out how to open, though I’m sure if you just run it under hot water…

She was proud of me, she said.

So no to the shaker?

Proud of us.

I had to make enough money to get out of Orlando.

Pulse, the bar with the watered down drinks and the impossible parking and the annoying chain-mail curtain you had to push through to enter, was gone. People like us were wanted gone.

So what was it that she was proud of? That I didn’t die? Or that I found a way to keep living? I know what she wanted, it’s what everyone wanted when they gave me their sad looks.

Tell me about it you poor, poor boy.

Congrats on publishing your first book, The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death Defying Acts. How exciting! It must be wild to walk down the street and have people recognize you and take pictures with you and stuff!

That’s never happened.

 

Hm. Even when you stand in a bookstore and hold the book up in front of your head so a passerby can see that your face matches the face on the back of the jacket?

Right. Not then either.

Gaze

By Tamara Sellman

Essay

 

It’s a perfect night for sleeping outside. I told my husband so, but he said I was crazy.

Why would you want to do that?

I dunno. Fresh air? A chance to be swallowed by the night sky? To watch the Perseids?

I spend all day at work on a computer. Craving the aboriginal—dreamtime in suburbia—is nothing if not an act of psychic survival.

Whatever.

I flatten a sleeping bag on the sun chair, plump a buckwheat pillow. I hear my husband now, snoring through the open window above me. I unzip my down wrapping, find carbon-free climate control by slipping my foot into the cool August night.