T Cooper: The TNB Self-InterviewBy TNB Nonfiction
January 14, 2014
Yeah. It’s so fun, quick, and easy.
Were you surprised to be included on The New Yorker’s 20 under 65* list?
Yes, totally. That was crazy. Such an honor. Although in truth, I would gladly give back the honorific to be five inches taller. It sucks being a short dude (except when I’m in Miami, New York, or Southeast Asia). See the chapter entitled “40 Successful Men of My Stature or Shorter” (pg. 215) in Real Man Adventures for further explanation.
Instead of just telling me to go read a chapter in your book, why don’t you tell me about Real Man Adventures.
I have a lot of them in the book.
Are you in a bad mood?
Why are you being such a dick?
Ask my wife.
You can actually read all about why I am a dick in the book. See: “Ten Things People Assume I Understand About Women but Actually Don’t” (pg. 59); “The Violence Chapter” (pg. 95); and “The First 48” (pg. 179).
Can you tell me anything about your memoir?
Bloody H-E-Double hockey sticks! It is not a memoir! Even though I know everybody says that about their memoirs. But mine really isn’t! It’s more of a literary “collage,” made up of interviews, reporting, artwork, poems, lists, essays, and even a little fiction—all autobiographical in the sense that all of this material generally takes up the subject of masculinity in our culture—and specifically takes up the subject of my becoming a man. Which is notably different from almost every other book that says it’s about “becoming a man,” because, of course, I wasn’t born male.
Here’s the part where you and I both think it might make sense to say something about my experience publishing such intensely personal material. Well, my publisher was amazing; from the very beginning they let this book come out of me however it was going to come out. A true rarity and privilege indeed. Furthermore, my editor [Vendela Vida] was inspiring to work with. In sum, I don’t think I would’ve published this kind of book (especially with this kind of subject matter) had she not been the editor, and had McSweeney’s not been the publisher.
There, that’s more of a customary Q&A answer. Way to go.
Why does everybody get their panties in a bunch when you use the word “Tranny”?
A lot of transexual women will say something like, “If you don’t understand why that word is offensive, then Google the word ‘tranny’ and see what comes up. Go do it, now. See? Horrible imagery that none of us wants to be associated with. Terrible, ick, gross, disgusting pathetic sex workers. Bleh.”
But I have wonder-tranny goddess Kate Bornstein on my side, so I can say “tranny” all I want. She says it. Actually, I tend to use “transie” more, but then you can read about that in the book, too. (See “A Conversation with Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw, Seasoned Tranny,” pg. 193.)
So you’re bringing “transie” back?
In truth, I don’t really use either of those terms much, which is more a function of just being what I am in the world, a man wandering around doing regular man things, and not really thinking about or having to talk about transie-related stuff in the course of going about my life as a husband, father, writer, dog owner, regular-looking guy shopping for a stereo from Best Buy, you know? (Though I have never bought a stereo from Best Buy, and I know nobody buys stereos from anywhere anymore, but that was the first example that popped into my head.)
How’s this interview going so far?
It’s okay. I am actually typing these answers in the backseat of my Volkswagon, waiting for my younger daughter to finish her piano lesson with a scruffy guy named Ben who usually wears one of those lopsided hats, what are they called, Newsboys maybe. Before I left the house, my wife said, “Here, you can edit this while you wait,” and handed me some copy related to the Young Adult book series we are writing together (Changers, the first book of which is coming out in February). Anyway, I said, “No, I can’t edit that, I have to do this self-interview thing for the paperback release of Real Man Adventures.” And she said, “Your whole book is a self interview.” And I said, “You know what, you’re totally right.”
Speaking of your wife, I notice there are two interviews with her in the book. What was that like?
It was good, I mean, narratively speaking I think they really do what I wanted and needed them to do within the arc of the book. I think she gave me pretty honest answers to the questions I asked her about being married to a man like me. Also it’s of note how many people have come up to me after reading the book and said that she seems like the best wife in the world and I must really love her. Which she is. And I do. In some ways, the book is nothing more than a love letter to her.
How has your family responded to the book?
I cannot adequately communicate how much I fucking hate that question. I interviewed my brother (see “An Interview with my Brother,” pg. 137), but I didn’t interview my own parents for the book—instead I interviewed the parents of two different transgender (FTM) friends of mine. (See “An Interview with a Mom,” pg. 75 and “An Interview with a Dad” pg. 87.) So what happened after the book came out in real life isn’t really something I want to talk about or think is relevant.
Okaaay. I’m going to switch things up here, and since your daughter just finished her piano lesson and climbed into the car, I’m going to pass the mic over to her and let her ask you some questions.
That sounds like a good idea.
This is M—. What was the last song you bought on iTunes?
How was your lesson?
Fine. What was the last song you bought on iTunes?
I bought Eminem’s new album.
What was last picture you took on your phone?
I think it was of you and that bulldog puppy named Tallulah we met in Atlanta. She’s licking you in the face.
Where do you get your inspiration for stories?
I guess from the world. From people, sometimes just somebody’s face, or an old brown suit some guy’s wearing while standing at the bus stop as I drive by.
How many dogs have you had? Give their names in order from when you were young to now.
Flower, Token, Tonga, Jake, Max, Flour, Murray, Tycho, Rosie, Milton, Elvis.
There were two Flowers?
One was Flower, like that grows and smells nice, and the other was Flour, like you cook with. I don’t know what you want me to say: she was white, and I named her when I was something like 9 or 10.
Would you rather have somebody steal all your work, publish it and then become famous, or have all of your work deleted?
You’re sharp. I’m going to go with the first.
Would you rather be Albert Einstein or Abe Lincoln?
That’s a hard one. I guess Einstein, because he seemed to have a sense of humor and maybe a little fun. Plus I wouldn’t want to have chronic depression like Lincoln. Mary Todd? Not a looker, and I’m very superficial and have to have a very attractive and vibrant wife. Plus, she was even more depressed than Abe.
But Lincoln changed like, everything in history.
Good point. I’ll think about it.
If you couldn’t be a writer what would you be?
Probably an emergency medicine physician, working in an ER. But if not then maybe a vet. When I was your age I wanted to be a marine biologist. What are you going to be when you grow up?
I thought I was asking you the questions.
If you changed your first name, what would you change it to?
It was a relative’s name, many generations ago in Latvia or somewhere.
Who’s your favorite superhero?
All my friends at school say you look like Wolverine.
I get that a lot. I even read it about myself online somewhere. Plus remember yesterday when that guy in the Trader Joe’s parking lot walked by me and yelled, “Oooh, I just saw Wolverine. I just saw Wolverine” as he walked by me?
Well, you do.
author photo by Ryan Pfluger
T COOPER is the author of a few novels, including the bestselling Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes, and The Beaufort Diaries. His most recent book is the nonfiction Real Man Adventures, recently released in paperback by McSweeney’s Books. Cooper is also co-author (with his wife) of a four-part young-adult book series called Changers, the first installation of which will be published on Feb. 4, 2014 by Akashic Books. (Check out the related empathy project launching alongside the book at WEARECHANGERS.ORG.) Cooper’s shorter work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Believer, O: The Oprah Magazine,One Story, Bomb, Electric Literature, and many others. He has also written for television. More info is available on his website.
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