Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl with Saraid de Silva and Andrea Lawlor

Hello!

This book made me think about how my relationship to myself is lifelong.

Today we meet Saraid de Silva and we’re talking about the book that saved her life: Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor.

Saraid de Silva is the author of Amma and a screen writer on the TV series Shortland Street.

Andrea Lawlor teaches writing at Mount Holyoke College and has received the Whiting Award for Fiction. Their publications include a chapbook, Position Papers.

Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl takes place in 1993 and follows Paul Polydoris who tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flaneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Paul transforms his body and his gender at will as he crossed the country––a journey and adventure through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.

Connect with Saraid and Andrea

instagram: @saraiddesilva
Saraid’s linktree: linktr.ee/ammasaraiddesilva

Andrea’s website: anderlawlor.com
instagram: @anderlawlor

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Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
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Transcript

This transcript is auto-generated by our recording platform Riverside.fm. This transcript does not include episode narration and contains the original full interview between J.P. Der Boghossian and today’s guest. It is approximately 85% accurate and will include spelling and grammatical errors. For any quotation purposes, we strongly recommend referencing the audio.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Hey everyone! Well, we’re talking about loving the queer community today. My guest joins us all the way from New Zealand, which is a first for this podcast, and we’re discussing a novel that you need to be ordering right now if you haven’t already read it because it is literally the perfect novel for Pride. And if you don’t believe me, well, the author is here too, so get ready to go to bookshop.org. My name is JP de Bogosian, I am your host, wishing you a happy Pride to you and your queer loved ones. Welcome to this queer book, Save My Life.

Saraid de Silva
Kia ora, my name is Sarai Da Silva, pronouns are she, her. I live in Tāmaki Makaurau in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and I work as a screenwriter, and I also write fiction.

J.P.
Saraid’s debut novel, Amma, just came out this April. The novel is global in its scope, taking place in Singapore, New Zealand, and London. It follows three women navigating time, shifting cultures, and queer identity. Sarade is also a script editor for a New Zealand soap opera, the medical drama, Shortland Street. She joined the series in 2023, and Shortland Street is one of the fastest turnaround soaps in the world.

Saraid
We record, I think, like a hundred scenes a week. So 20 scenes a day. It comes out five episodes a week, 22 minutes 50, which is a half hour TV show, and it’s been going for 32 years. 31 years. It’s just like very embedded in the fabric of this country. Like it’s a real, I don’t know how to describe it because I don’t know what really an American equivalent is. Sarade grew up watching Shortland Street and there was one story arc that particularly stood out to her. There’s this gay wedding that I remember so well as a child and it was just like very, just very seminal for me. There’s like always some queer storylines but this is just like a… particularly beautiful queer wedding, and it was how I found out what a civil union was too.

Andrea Lawlor
I’m Andrea Lawler and I wrote a novel called All Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl and a chapbook of prose poems called Position Papers.

J.P.
Andrea also teaches a course on queer and trans writing. In it, the students read fiction and poetry, created on fiction and comics, where they’re looking for queer and trans specific modes of writing that exist across genres and that can serve as models for the students in their own writing. And Andrea’s course sounds so good and makes me wistful for all those queer college-lit courses that I never got to take.

Andrea
I do a Femme Shark Week and I teach the Femme Shark Manifesto. And lots of Femme writers, you know, from the 20th century and today. But students are always really blown away by the Femme Shark Manifesto, which is to me, I don’t know if you’re all familiar with it, but it’s from Femme Shark. Kimi Maki, number one or something. I think it’s from 2007 and students are like, wow, way, way back then, people were talking about these things, which I, you know, then I’m like, I’m gonna blow your mind with the 90s. But I love teaching, I love teaching fem-writers especially. I always teach Kai Cheng Tom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars. And I also teach Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing. Those are two writers I always have fun with.

J.P.
Here’s my conversation with Saraid and Andrea. So, Saraid, what is the book that saved your life? So, the queer book that saved my life is absolutely Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. I feel like this book, every queer person who knows me has either read it or has been told to read it or has been like, had a copy like pressed on them. Or we’ve all just like passed it among one another or talked to one another about it. Anyway, like it’s just so, it’s so central. It’s so amazing. Should I talk about why it saved my life or why I loved it?

J.P.
Real quick, Andrea, would you like to describe it to folks who haven’t read it yet?

Andrea
Sure. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a coming of age novel about a queer shapeshifter named Paul Polidorus who can literally change his body at will. and does over and over through the course of the book, which is set in the early 90s. And Paul is moving through different queer scenes in the US from small town Iowa City to Michigan Women’s Music Festival, Provincetown, San Francisco, New York.

J.P.
Thank you. Saraid, how did the book come to you?

Saraid
So I used to work in a bookstore. And a couple of hot people came in trying to buy the book. And that was sort of, I don’t know, I was like interested in who was reading the book. And then the other people that I work with, you know, all talked about how good it was. So I obviously bought it and read it. But yeah, I was like drawn to the book. by who I saw reading it, I was like, I think that I will like the same book as you.

Andrea
That’s my favorite thing I’ve ever heard. That’s all I want for my book is to bring people together. I’m glad that people were hot too.

Saraid
Yeah, me too.

J.P.
That is unique. I love that. Because all the stories are different of how people find the book. Sometimes they’re not necessarily looking for them. It’s just the cover pops out at a bookstore. Sometimes it’s given to them. Sometimes they find it in a book list. So this is amazing that it was someone being hot. But you’re reading it and getting into it. What were your first reactions? Wait. So where were you in your life journey? Was this in your 20s, teens?

Saraid
I think it was just before I turned 30 that I read it for the first time. And I was working in a bookstore. I was doing my masters in creative writing. I was sort of trying to change my life a little bit, I guess. And it was the pandemic as well. Reading the book for the first time, I was like, I felt like I had been allowed in. I felt like I was in somewhere that. I didn’t know how badly I wanted to be there. And I felt like someone was talking to me like, like they wanted me there too. That’s what reading the book felt like. Pack for me, what was there? What did that mean to you there? It’s just, it was just the way it’s written and just Paul’s mind. It’s so like, he’s so specific and he’s so into his own community. and he thinks so much about like different queer people and about what queerness means and about his place in that world and or in our world. I think it didn’t feel like there was any shorthand. It didn’t feel like there was any explanation that didn’t need to be there. It was like Andrea and Paul assumed that I already knew what was being talked about in the book, if that makes sense. And I just, I love that so much. I love that in like all writing, I think, whether it’s location specific, vernacular, or like community specific. I love to be spoken to like I’m already part of something. And this is so much what that book, what this book does.

J.P.
May I ask where were you in like your queer life journey when you were reading this book for the first time? Like, were you out? Were you still like navigating the scene? Like, what was that like for you?

Saraid
Yeah, that idea of out is so interesting to me because we have this politician here called Chloe Storbrick who is the co-leader of the Green Party here. She said something really amazing about that when she came out. She was like, I was never in. I don’t know what you want to say about me being out because I never told you I was any one thing like you assumed or whatever. I kind of feel like I was never really. into, I’ve always had a very easy, maybe not always, but for most of my life I’ve had a pretty harmonious relationship with my own queerness. So yeah, I was out for all intents and purposes and I was in, I think my first, my long-term queer relationship. Yeah, that’s where I was at in my queerness.

J.P.
You had mentioned in our pre-show communications about how the unrestrained love for queer people that was represented in this novel was so important to you. Would you like to share more about that?

Saraid
Oh my God, yeah. It made me realize what was lacking in so much of the rest of my life. It actually made me really sad that felt new. consumer piece of media where like that didn’t exist in so many other queer things. The way that Paul loves being queer and the way that Paul loves queer people, it feels like everything should be like that. And I didn’t realize till reading this book that everything wasn’t. Yeah. And it’s so true. Like I was just like, I was like, oh my god, like I am attracted to people. because of their queerness? Like, does that, I don’t know if that makes sense. That sounds like a dumb thing to say, but like, you being queer is hot to me, or like you being queer is cool to me, or you being interested in your queerness makes me like, that is just so… I love that you were hugging the book when you were even saying that. That was amazing. And it’s also just, it’s also just so funny, Andrea, do people tell you like, that enough because

Andrea
I’ll take it. Thank you. I’m glad.

Saraid
After Diane breaks up with Paul and he’s on the bus and he alternates between crying and wishing he’d worn tighter pants.

Andrea
I mean that’s just autobiography. Is it funny? Thank you.

Saraid
It’s so glam.

Andrea
I’m so delighted. I mean it’s delightful to find somebody who would, you know, share that sense of humor.

J.P.
I’d like to take a minute to dive a bit more into the book Paul takes the form of a real girl. So the novel opens in Iowa City. Paul is a film studies student and a bartender at the only gay bar in town. And he discovers that he is able to shape shift. He can make his body hairier, more muscular, or he can shift to have breasts and a vagina. At one point he changes his body to be like the type of girl he wants to have sex with. and then he changes into a body resembling the men at Leather Bar so he can have that experience of sex. He comes out, if you will, about his ability to his friend Jane. At one point he shifts his body to be Polly, a femme lesbian. He goes with Jane to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival where he meets Diane. They start a relationship. Jane outs Polly as Paul. In terms of the plot, there are questions of will Diane and Polly stay together? other people like Paul out in the world. And of course, one of the driving questions is, who are you and how do you understand your place in the world when you love the queer community so much and can shape shift to have so many different experiences of it?

So, right. So, shape-shifting is obviously a really big part of this novel. What was coming up for you with this idea of shape-shifting and like your own life? What was that about that was resonating with you? Was that something that you wish like you could do? Were there areas where you felt like maybe metaphorically you were having to like shape-shift within your like the community that you were navigating? Like, I’m curious about the idea of shape-shifting for you.

Saraid
Oh, that’s interesting. There’s this really funny thing. that Paul does in the book a lot and that I know queer people do to one and one another a lot, where you, where you put other queer people in queer categories. And sometimes when you tell someone what category they’re in, they’re like, no, I’m not. I think that is that related to shape shifting, because that was a conversation that I was having with a few people at the time, like my girlfriend at the time said something to me about how I was high femme. And I was like, what are you talking about? like, hi, you and I know high fem girls, we know, we know what they look like. I’m not that. And it was so weird that she saw me like that. And I think I had just I think that it’s just like, Paul’s so like, da da. And he’s reading all of these things from people all the time. And maybe that made me read myself and read my community differently or something or. or realize that we were all looking at each other like that? It’s just a really interesting conversation to like, it’s really interesting how like your gender expression is like perceived by other people and whether or not that’s the same as the way you perceive it, isn’t it, like, or your queer expression or, yeah. Does that answer the question?

J.P.
Yeah. This isn’t a class.

Saraid
Did I get it, right? What do you guys think about that?

Andrea
I mean, I think… Like that sort of taxonomizing impulse that we have, queer and trans people, I think it makes sense. We’re trying to figure out how to be a person without relying on the received messages. But there is some lore and there are received messages from within the community and then you kind of try to figure out who you are within that. I remember I had this girlfriend. You know, very serious, like six month long distance type of a, you know, at like 20 who I thought was like this was… And I, looking back, I very much wanted to be her. And at the time, she’s very butch, and at the time, and I had mostly, you know, I think like if we look at the rest of my life, it’s mostly mask for femme. But at this moment, I was sort of like, oh, this person. And I remember she said… something like, you know, in five years, you’re gonna be too butch for me. And I was thinking to myself, what I already am. You know, like, and I was sort of like, oh God, you see me as a girl. Like I’m not, I thought we were doing a different thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But yeah, I think it’s sort of, I mean, that was, you know, many, I learned many important lessons in that relationship. But I think we do like try to figure out who we are in relationship to others using these kinds of. identities or labels. I think so much of the more recent move to like respecting people’s self-determination is just so lovely. You know, like as that becomes more and more of a cultural norm, it’s exciting to sort of feel like, well, maybe we can play with some of that if it’s fun and it’s flirty to play with gender. Yay. But when you’re kind of putting it on people and not respecting their self-determination, it’s less hot.

Saraid
Mm-hmm. Oh, no, yeah. Definitely. Definitely this one. Yeah.

J.P.
When I was thinking about this conversation, prepping for the conversation, I was thinking I got thinking about shape-shifting as something that almost seems inherently queer. I think there’s sometimes where it’s reactive, where we feel like we have to, you know, shape-shift based off of people like relational, like family members and, you know, that idea, quote unquote, of the closet and how they even that’s shape-shifting even now. The difference between, you know, 10, 11, 12 year olds and how they’re coming out versus like what I had to deal with. And I think that it was really interesting to me though, how Paul really does, I mean, it just seems so inherently queer to shift and shape all of these different norms that we have and who we can love and how we can love. And again, that unrestrained love for queer people, I literally wrote it down and I’ve got circled here, Saraid, in that email that you sent us. It’s just something that’s so… poignant to me. And I am curious then, in Andrea, shape-shifting, like where did it come from for you? Like how did you know this was someone that you wanted to write about and give them this very specific power?

Andrea
Well, I think I was always, you know, I think like many queer kids and gender non-conforming or trans kids, I was always looking for those shape-shifter stories. And as a young… person reading Orlando or Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. Those were the texts that were sort of like, whoa, that’s saying something really important. I mean, the other, I had already encountered other kinds of queer texts that were also speaking to me, but the Shapeshifter story felt like it’s not so logical and it’s like we get to have mythology, we get to have archetypes that are ours. And we’ve also been here. you know, in some form for all of human history and all of like, you know, all world mythology has shape-shifters of some nature, right? That’s like a real through line. And I think, you know, I was trying to figure out how to write about things I didn’t totally understand in my life and I also knew I wanted to write fiction. I didn’t start writing until I was 30, so I was also sort of like, I don’t know. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’d never taken writing classes. I thought I want to write fiction that was sort of, you know, I love fiction and I read novels. So I wanted to write one, but I didn’t know how to do it, so I was like retelling Greek myths as a way to try to… to like have a plot. Just like hang the world and the characters on this other external skeletal structure. And then that kind of fell away. But so much of the, you know, like Ovid and so much of the Greek stories are, and the Roman retellings are about shape shifting and transformation. And like Ovid, so queer and trans. And so that for me is like where it all kind of came from. I was never doing any like intentional, I’m going to write about a shape shifter.

J.P.
Interesting. What were the things that you felt you didn’t understand about the world that you were figuring out and writing, Paul?

Andrea
Well, I think when I first started writing, I was sort of like, why did I do that strange and seemingly uncharacteristic thing 10 years ago? As one does, writing fiction, I was trying to understand myself by writing this thinly veiled autobiographical fiction. And in fact, some of the pieces of Paul really are coming from that, where I was sort of, I started working on this in the early… you know, 2002 or 2003, something like that. And I was going back to events of like 10 years before and they didn’t seem like, that didn’t seem like historical. That seemed like my recent past or, you know, dramatically at the time, my youth. If you could go back in, or if you wrote it today, how would it be different? Well, I don’t know because I wouldn’t remember anything. I mean, I don’t know. I had to do a lot of like really deep. you know, sort of like fact checking my own memory and getting back into that world. And I’m, I’ve lived like many decades of adult life since the, I mean, I’ll be 53 next week. Like I’m, um, yeah, so I’m, Happy birthday. Thank you. Aries, Aries. Aries, yeah. Um, but you know, I think I spent, I, sometimes think about this. I spent my thirties writing about my twenties, um, and thinking about my twenties and you know, not. every day, but slowly. I’m working on a project that was looking at that. And then, in some ways I’ve spent my 40s also thinking about something that I was, thinking about the way I was thinking about my 20s and my 30s. And now I’m looking at other parts of life. And I think if I were writing, I wouldn’t write the same book now. And where Paul would be today is a different question that I won’t, that I’ll leave for now.

Saraid
Paul today, like Paul would eat on TikTok. Like I feel like Paul would really, really. When Paul talks about- Paul at 23 or Paul at 53? Nah, Paul at 23. I mean, maybe Paul at 53. I don’t know Paul at 53. This is, yeah. You know, that’s different. But when Paul talks about what he’s good at and it’s like- you know, knowing what things are stylish a little bit before other people, knowing who wants to, knowing, knowing who wants to have sex. Like this he’s made for tech talk, like the things, you know, when that, um, when his flatmate, oh, no, not his flatmate. The person he has a threesome with is like, oh, um, so what you’re mostly good at is looking good. It’s just specifically. Yeah. So when you say where would Paul be now, I can imagine young Paul present today, like very, clearly in my mind.

Andrea
Me too.

Saraid
I wanna, can I ask your question Andrea? When we were, I don’t know how to ask this properly, but I’m just reading off my laptop because I wrote it down. I sort of, I do wanna like hear more about how you see the magic of the book because like Diane is a very, you know, Diane’s not. in the same way that Paul is special, so is Diane, like in her own way. And I sort of wanted to know, like, where their talent sits for you, or like how you thought of them like that, or if that’s reflective of how you see the world, or not why you did it, because it makes so much sense, but just sort of how you think about that.

Andrea
That’s a lovely question. I think I was trying to get at something I’d been observing. Maybe about how some, how people can have these qualities or characteristics or ways of being in the world that can seem, you know, you said special, really special in some way, and sometimes they can be very subtle. And I love, you know, I love magic realist novels, like, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 11 Time of Cholera, or any kind of that sort of like Latin American magic realist tradition of that real subtlety, you know? And that I always think about what Garcia Marquez said in this interview, in the Paris Review, he said, if you wanna make people, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, nobody would believe you, but if you say there are 42 elephants, right? And it’s sort of like that precision around, you know, you get really concrete and you make the magic really Bernstein says like normalized magic So like magic is just accepted right and I and I sort of feel like We do oh, we like we know like you know somebody’s really charismatic You know somebody who really can Just change the energy in a room when they walk in or you know like we all know people who have what feel like almost supernatural abilities But they’re also just living their lives going to their jobs, it’s just sort of part of who they are. And I think sometimes I do think of queerness and maybe I would now say transness as certain kinds of like having superpower qualities. So I think I wanted to just get at that experience but without moving into the realm of allegory. It’s just, it’s like a little less reasonable. It’s a little less, the correspondence is less one to one and it’s just, to me that’s more like life. Good answer, yeah. Love, love, love that. Do you, I mean, so you’re a fiction writer.

Saraid
Yes, I am.

Andrea
Do you use sort of like magical elements in your work or is that something that comes out for you?

Saraid
Yeah, yeah, it is, it’s sort of. There’s a kind of a thing about here in the book. There’s a character whose hair sort of shows how she feels. Wow. Yes. And I do. Yeah. I do feel the same way that like, that is, that is for me, part of how I see the world. So it didn’t feel intentional, as you’re saying, like, it’s like, why did you do it? That doesn’t, that’s hard to answer because it’s just part of things, isn’t it? So it kind of, kind of what you’re saying reminded me of… I hope I’m saying their name right. Ikewaki Emezi’s first book. Oh, Freshwater. Freshwater, yeah. There’s a part in it where these two characters are talking to one another and they sort of say something about how one of them is like, we don’t have the same gods, but like we recognize each other. And this, I don’t know, this is kind of reminding me of that. It’s like, I’m seeing the way that you see the world through your kind of rendering of like these two different things that like. shouldn’t exist or whatever in the same plane that they do. It’s like, yeah, I don’t know. It’s like our God, you can kind of see people’s gods and see people’s other beliefs through the way they’re writing. I really like, yeah, I really love that. That’s also Paul and Diana, they’re like exist in these different worlds, but in the same one. I love that. Thank you. That’s it. Yeah.

Andrea
And I’m so excited about your book. Congratulations. And hair is such a rich, interesting thing to play with. That’s exciting. I can’t wait to read it.

J.P.
Well, tell us about it, Saraid!

Saraid
Oh, yeah, it’s about three generations of women in a family. I’m really, it’s really hard. I think it’s quite hard to talk about. You know, sometimes I’m like, well, you know, I wrote the book, so you could read it. And then everything’s in there. And it’s so hard to synopsize something like that. But yeah, it’s about three generations of South Asian women in a family and sort of they move through a lot of different countries and it’s a lot about revenge and violence really. Yeah. All right. I mean, I’m excited to, yeah, that sounds really,

Andrea
how long did it take you to write it, can I ask?

Saraid
Yeah, four years from where to go pretty much. So that was quite quick. I mean, yeah, cause you took, this took a minute, right? This took a while. Oh, I just wasn’t writing all the way, you know, it’s not like I was writing straight through. But I think that, you know, like you were saying that you’d been in a master’s program for creative writing and so that seems quite soon also like that’s exciting that you’re like you finish something and it’s coming out so soon. That’s exciting. Yeah, I was relatively unemployed and I knew I wouldn’t be able to live in my mother’s house forever. So I sort of had this time limit and I was like. Because the amount of money and time it takes to write a book is very intense. Like I don’t know how people do it.

Andrea
I have absolutely no idea. And you know, I have a job now because I have a book and it’s wonderful to have a job and I love having a job and I love my job. And you know, I can write poems during the school year, but I don’t know how you write another I hope I’m hoping next year to get back into a longer project. But it’s very hard to write. If somebody’s not totally supporting you.

Saraid
Yes, yes, yes. Like my mother letting me live in her house, exactly. How does your mother like your work? Or do you let her read your work?

Andrea
My parents, I’m sort of like, thank you for your support. Do not read my book. Really? Do you have that at all? Well, my parents are in their mid-80s. And they’re lovely and they’re supportive. But I was also sort of like, you probably don’t need to read this. Really? Interesting. Really? Yeah, that’s surprising. You know, my mom’s a feminist and I think her only, she was like, am I in it? And I was like, nope. And she was like, good enough. It was good.

Saraid
My book is called Amma, which means mom. So my mom was very, very interested to read it. I didn’t let her read it until I got the proofs. And then she sat down and read it in like five hours. I don’t think she like got up to pee. She like just like front to back read it. gave it back to me with her notes. Oh my God. Amazing. Yeah, she did. She did like it. Andrea, can I ask another? I wanna ask.

Andrea
Anything. It’s like Reddit. Ask me anything.

Saraid
Okay, amazing. Okay, so I’ve just read it again. So I just read it for the second time, but when I say second, I feel like I refer to this book quite a lot because I’m just like, I have to like, I just wanna remember the way he said something or I wanna show someone something. But something that I really realized from this reading of it was the way that the different places that Paul’s in retain different memories for him. And the place is really aligned to the memory. Can you just talk about that? A place and a feeling or… I’m gonna shut up and let you talk.

Andrea
No, I think that’s a great, yeah, absolutely, that’s a great question. Yeah, I think place is really important. for me. The way I guess I think about fiction is I think I come from a sort of social realist understanding of or a desire to think about cause and effect, to think about the way setting and character relate. And that’s interesting to me in fiction in general. And it’s interesting, it seems right to me that people’s historically located subjectivities in some ways dictate or their life options, like what’s possible for a character is gonna be based on, in part, this sort of historical subjectivity that may have to do with race, class, embodiment, where in the world you’re living. And so I think that, because that relationship is really important to me, and because I think of that as inherently political, place feels like, I don’t wanna say an ethical obligation because that doesn’t feel like what. writing is for me, but it’s sort of like an aesthetic, the aesthetic and ethical desire to represent the time and place as, you know, I’ve observed or for my, like what I feel like might be true, whatever that means. That feels important. So like I love certain kinds of intentionally anachronistic writing, you know, I think that can be delightful and funny and also like really fresh. but I never want to have any sort of like unintentional anachronisms or get sort of like factual setting detail wrong because I want to be as much as possible really feeling like this is grounded in something we can agree on. And then I’m going to tell the story or see what my characters are going to do in that context. Does that answer your question at all?

Saraid
Yeah, no, it definitely answers my question. The way that he… The way that Paul feels in San Francisco, it made me think that if he left San Francisco, he could also leave those feelings behind and he feels like he knows that. And then I’m like, but if he went back, those things would all explode for him again. Because that’s how locked in we are when he’s in these different places. So that, yeah, totally answers the question and makes sense.

J.P.
What’s happening in San Francisco for folks who haven’t read the book?

Andrea
Well, sort of towards the… end of the book.

J.P.
Like without spoilers. Tell me what’s happening in the book without telling me what’s happening in the book. Please.

Andrea
Oh, Paul is in San Francisco. Hot stuff. Yeah, that’s all I got. I don’t know. There’s not a lot. I mean, spoilers is such a funny concept in this. And there’s not much plot. So. I don’t know that there’s much to spoil. Yeah, I mean, I think by the time Paul has gotten to San Francisco, he’s kind of licking his wounds. And he’s also growing up a bit, experiencing some consequences. I think, you know, for me also, I think Paul is changing, but that change is happening really, really slowly. So part of it is, yes, like what’s possible to feel in San Francisco. I think that’s probably different than what’s possible to feel in Provincetown or in New York or… I know I’ve felt like a different person in all of those places. And I think through the couple of years that the book sort of follows Paul, some small amount of change is happening. And Paul learns of an event. Oh, it’s so hard to talk about things without saying what. And I think, you know, like sometimes… Yeah, I got nothing.

J.P.
Let’s just, I’ll move on. Okay. Let’s drop the whole spoiler thing. No, go for it. No. So Saraid, I love, I love it when folks are telling us about books that they start handing out to people or they start like quoting at people and be like, you need to read part of this. So tell me more about that. Like what is it about Paul, like what are the circumstances where you’re like, Oh, you need to read this or here’s something that’s going to be helpful for you in reading this book.

Saraid
I think a lot of So a lot of my friends who’ve already read it or who read it really quickly or who told me about it, you know, who read it before me, it’s not a… it’s just a very easy, like, this is amazing, you’ll love this. But I think I have other friends who don’t read fiction that much and who don’t know what fiction would give them or who don’t know how. good a book can be, or how specific to them a book could be. And that’s who I talk to about this book quite a bit, because I think if you don’t read a lot of fiction, sometimes the books that you get told about a lot, or the books that you hear you should read, or the books that you beat yourself up for not reading, those books have nothing to do with you anyway. So I don’t know why. If sitting down and reading a book was already something that like you didn’t make a lot of time to do and a lot of people don’t have time to do that, you know, then why would you start with something that already had no sort of dialogue with you? And, and so then I, so that’s especially who I kind of like, tell about this book or who I’m like, don’t worry about all that shit. Don’t worry about all that stuff that you feel like you should be reading. Like, you could be reading something that is going to hit you so hard. What was possible for you to do or say after reading it the first time? It made me think about how my relationship to myself is lifelong, and how I don’t need to be the same as I was, and how the people who knew me at one stage of my life might not know me at another, and like, that’s all good. It made me feel like… living my life outside of hetero patriarchal norms was okay, and how I could actually revel in that. It made me look, I think I said this in the email that I wrote JP, it made me want to refer back to my own community, specifically here in Tarmacay, and what we look like to one another and how we relate to one another. Because of how specific Paul is about his own fan, it made me look at mine and be like, huh, how would I render us? Or how would I bring us to life? Or what’s specific about our time now? And how do we talk to one another? And also just, as I said, just how much Paul loves being queer made me feel so energized. What was new about how you were connecting to your community then? Like how are you rendering them that was different than before reading Paul? Well, like if I was writing my book, so I was sort of like, okay, there’s, you know, there’s a lot of queerness in my book and, and how are we like, how can I do us justice or, or what would I want to say? There’s like a, there’s a queer self-defense class in, in my book and I, and sort of pulling from like, people I know who would be in that room anyway, or kind of made me think about how it’s like a real honor to do that, I think. And then wanting to try and do that well. And do it for us, because as I said, right, that’s what I love about this book. Like it feels for people who are already, not wanting to explain, not worrying about straight people reading the book, not worrying about like, people from a different, totally, people who I wouldn’t want to hang out with anyway. I’m not worrying about what they think when I’m writing. Yeah. Can I just say that’s so thrilling to me that that’s your response because that, I love that so much and it makes me super excited to read about your world, your book, your friends, you know? And I think like that’s the thing I always love is like, what is it like now? I always want to know. Like, what is it like, you know, in this? in this scene, what is it like here? What was it like then? So I love that that’s sort of like for us by us. And it feels like as big as possible is the us. Like, yeah. I mean, is anybody actually straight? For real. I don’t, I don’t, okay. I’ll ask you, cause I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it’s been bugging me. And I would love both of your wisdom on this. You’ve been thinking about this a lot and it’s been bugging you. Yes, actually. Yes, because I was reading an interview and I won’t name the celebrities’ name where they, because it’s the second time I’ve heard someone say this, where they’re like, I am queer except for the sex act. What? I don’t need to do with that. Yeah, they’re like, I am basically gay except for the sex part of it. And I’m like, are you like a tourist then? Is this like an amusement park? Like, are you playing dress up? Like, I don’t understand. And this person is actually like legit. up until reading that, I’d be like, oh yeah, for real ally, like totally, like, what are you talking about? Like, I worship at the altar of you. And then said that and I was like, huh, I don’t like you anymore. But do I like that? I don’t know, what is that? What does that mean? I don’t understand. That’s dumb. I mean, you know what I think, and this is maybe just as someone, not to pull this, but as someone who’s much older than both of you, I will just say after like a number of… decades now of queer life, like everybody who seems to sort of be like, you know, in the life, as we used to say, is there for a reason, you know? Like there’s, I’ve just experienced it over and over, like everybody who’s, you know, super excited about queer stuff, but it like isn’t queer, is queer, you know, like people could be listening to this podcast, and I hope they are, who identify in all different ways and then… you know, probably there’s some space under the very big umbrella for that person. That’s so generous and I love that part of that generosity you’re saying like comes with knowing more. Well just like how everybody turns out to be queer, that’s what it is. It’s like every celebrity I’ve ever thought was hot has turned out to be queer, you know, like I’m just sort of like they’re all queer, everybody’s queer, you know, like every singer I’ve ever thought was a great singer, as turned out. It’s just like, everybody eventually is queer, right? I know, I don’t stand by that. That’s a very flippant Paul thing to say. I can’t think of it.

J.P.
No, because I’ve gotten that from folks when I’ve been bringing this up with friends and I think for me, where I kind of get stuck about it is, well, how do we then transform the structures, right? If everybody’s queer and we’re allowing for folks to say, well, I’m queer except for the sex act, them just, this is how I’m going to disclose that I’m queer and maybe it’s a different, you know, maybe they’re, I don’t know, ace pan, like we don’t know yet. You know what I mean? In 10 years, I could completely revisit that, which I want to give space for that. I absolutely want to give space for that. But then how do we, the exercise of power there for someone to be like, well, I’m going, I’m queer except for the sex act. So I’m queer and straight. Do you still get straight privilege? Like, do you still get to have a say about queer marriage? Or you know what I mean? Like, are you the same person 10 years ago that was like, I’m just not ready for queer marriage yet. You know what I mean? Like, I’m still, for me, I’m trying to figure out the power element of that. And maybe that’s my like trauma of being like, super problem with, you know, authority figures, but you know, sorry, Sarai, go for it.

Saraid
Oh, no, I’m sorry. No, cause you were talking. But like, with that concern you were talking about, Even people who are deeply or not deeply, but even people who are queer and have queer sex can like be violent in those ways towards other members in their community. Absolutely. It honestly doesn’t like, it might not make that much difference. But I really like what you said, Andrea, about like if you’re around in the vicinity of queerness. There’s a reason. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we want you here. Yeah. Because maybe people who maybe I don’t know, but you did say, JP, that person is like embedded in the queer community. So, right.

Andrea
So, yeah. But, you know, I think it’s like if people who are occupying those sort of positions that we, you know, where it might be like, they seem like they’re living a straight life, but they identify as queer or something like that. And I think like, A, we can’t know what, you know, you don’t really know what’s going on. for other people, but B, to me, it’s like, are you learning from queer culture? And I think there is. I think there are queer and trans cultures. I think there are queer and trans, you know, like ways of making art. And I think that to me is if you’re learning, if that’s where, if you’re making work and you’re learning from the culture and you’re in the conversation, then sure, have a say, you know, or like help dismantle. helped be part of the movement for sure. I think that there’s this poet, Trace Peterson, who she was one of the original editors of Troubling the Line, the trans and genderqueer poetry anthology that came out from Nightboat like 10 years ago. Anyway, Trace says this thing, she was teaching a trans poetry writing class and she said, I always love this and I always quote it, said, you know, we’ll hold space for everybody’s possible transness. Knowing that all writers, all poets can learn from trans writers. And to me that’s like, yes, let’s do that. Like, and, but can we actually articulate what are the, like, sort of like queer and trans, like, cultural contributions? What is our heritage? Or, like, and how it’s inflected by all our different cultures and experiences. You know, like, what are the ways? So it’s sort of like, it’s not like, oh, everything’s queer so nothing’s queer. It’s like everybody has access to this mode. I mean, that’s what I would, I just like the, you know, I’m a joiner.

J.P.
I’d like to thank Sarade and Andrea for joining us on the podcast today. Since the debut of her novel in April, Sarade has been participating in various readings and writing festivals in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Mostly what’s next for Sarade is striving to carve out a space to start writing her next book project. You can order Ama online. It’s not on the American Bookshop.org yet, but it is available on the UK Bookshop.org. You can also find it at UK publishers such as Blackwells and Waterstones, and they should be able to ship to the States, but double check before buying. You can follow Sarade online. Her handle is Sarade De Silva on Instagram. We’re also including the link to her link tree in the show notes and on our website. Since last summer, Andrea has been working with a poetry writing group called the 100s. The idea of the group is that each person is assigned a day of the week where they send 100 words to the group and then the next day the next person takes an image or a word from the previous day to write their own 100 words to build on the previous day’s work. Andrea is also in very early talks about a possible television adaptation of Paul Takes the Form of a Real Girl. Stay tuned, more details at 11. and it’s going to be organized around, get this, star signs. It’s called Pocket Stars. You can follow Andrea on Instagram, at Ander Lawler, links in the show and on our website. Well, that’s our show for today. Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds, accounting and creative support provided by Gordy Erickson. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, K. Jason Bryan, and David Repan, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kafer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Parrazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Ida Goatberg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard. Our soundtrack and sound effects were provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisquerbook.com slash music for track names and artists. We are on social media at thisquerbook and at JPDebergocion on Instagram. We also have a Facebook page. As always, you can connect with us through our website thisquerbook.com. And if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the homepage. And until our next episode, happy pride.