A Possibility Space for Queerness and Transness with Henry Holden and S.A. Chant

Welcome to our LGBT podcast! In this episode we’re talking with Henry Holden (he/they) about Peter Darling by S.A Chant. This novel is a sequel and really a re-telling of Peter Pan, in which Peter is trans, an adult now, and starts a relationship with Captain James Hook! For Henry, he told us, that reading Peter Darling was,  “the first moment that I saw a potential future for someone like me. And I think it was the first time I was allowed to let myself say, ‘Yes, you’re trans.'”

Plus, S.A. joins us for the conversation and we get into where the idea for this novel came from, as well as queering fairy tales and how Peter Pan can represent a possibility space for queerness and transness.

Buy Peter Darling at our Bookshop page: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

Connect with Henry on Instagram: @the_names_henry

Connect with S.A. at austinchant.com and on Twitter: @essaychant.

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[theme music]

J.P.: On today’s episode….

Henry: For me, especially for my journey of realizing I was Gay, and then realizing I was Trans, it really took the universe  to shove it down my throat and say, “Hey! This is a character that is literally you going through this process. This is where they came out at the end.” I’m like, “OH!” That is what I needed. 

J.P.: I’m talking with Henry Holden about Peter Darling by S.A. Chant. This book is a sequel and really a re-telling of Peter Pan, in which Peter is Trans, an adult now, and starts a relationship with Captain James Hook! 

Plus, S.A. joins us for the conversation and we get into where the idea for this novel came from, as well as Queering fairy tales and how Peter Pan can represent a possibility space for Queerness and Transness. 

After this episode, you’ll never look at Peter Pan the same way again. 

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[theme music ends]

J.P.: I’m really excited to have Henry Holden and s a Chan joining us to talk about Peter Darling. We want to start with some introductions first. So I think we’ll start with Henry if you’d like to start with your pronouns and a little bit about yourself.

Henry: My name is Henry Holden. My pronouns are he/ they and I currently live in Madison, Wisconsin recently relocated from Seattle, Washington and I work at a cancer clinic there.

J.P.: Wow! Great. What type of work do you do there?

Henry: It’s protocol management so I’m kind of the ferryman of information if you will.

J.P.: I always ask everyone this because it’s a book podcast but I’m always curious for guests like what was your favorite book growing up or favorite story to hear as you were growing up?.

Henry: My dad read to us CS Lewis and Tolkien but specifically The Horse and his Boy was a favorite and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe so those were kind of the two main ones.

J.P.: Nice and what are you into reading these days?

Henry: I just started reading Magic for Liars.  I just finished Austin Land which is fantastic if you love anything Jane Austen. It’s just a delight. An homage for fans. It’s hysterical.

J.P.: Good. We got another book recommendation from today’s episode and SA, would you like to introduce yourself with pronouns and a little bit about your background?

S.A.: Hi. I’m SA Chant. My pronouns are he/him or they/them. I’m a full time writer and I live in Seattle, Washington.

J.P.: Henry, so tell us, what is the book that saved your life?

Henry: The book that saved my life is Peter Darling. I discovered it when I moved to Seattle in 2019. The beginning of the year also felt like the beginning of a chapter. I could feel the inspecting of gender happening. I went to the library because I’m one of those people that is like what are the research books that I can find about this? I did all the research and learning and watched the Youtube videos. Finally I was like, okay, it’s time to start consuming fiction in the Trans community. One of the books that popped up was Peter Darling and I was like, oh my gosh, it’s meant to be because I adore the story of Peter Pan although not the Disney version. Oddly enough, I like all the versions but that one! It just kind of seemed to be one of those meant to be kind of moments. When I started reading it, it was like the first moment that I saw a potential future for someone like me. I think it was the first time I was allowed to let myself say yes, you’re Trans! That is what I did when I read it straight through. I think I just sat on my bed and read it for like 6 hours. I was like, that’s just what we’re doing today.

With end closing in, I’m just like, okay I’m gonna be okay! I’m Trans and that was like THE moment for me! That is, I think, what really saved my life in that moment because I was new in a city and very lonely.

I reread it again in 2020 as the protests were happening in Seattle. Everybody was really, really freaked out about Covid of course. I had just been recuperating from top surgery that I had in February. So I reread it again and I had a very different experience reading it a second time as someone who had been an out Trans person and had just done top surgery. I really saw it from the perspective of Captain Hook at that point.

I was seeing just the idea that you can also be attracted to men! That’s wild because previously I was like okay you know, I like other Trans people or femmes. But it wasn’t until rereading it a second time I was like, oh yeah, you do like guys too! You do and it’s okay. It’s like I had two journeys with the same book!

J.P.: That’s great. I want to dive into those moments but to help our listeners out SA, . could you describe the book and a little bit of its plot without giving out way too many spoilers?

S.A.:  Absolutely. Peter Darling is sort of a retelling but also kind of a sequel to Peter Pan. It takes place many years after the timeline of Peter Pan and the conceit that I was working with was what if Wendy Darling and Peter Pan were the same person? So that Peter was sort of represented a possibility space within which that person who is a Trans man is figuring out who he is and what he is allowed to be. It’s also just a fun romp! It’s meant to be kind of a fun  almost  sort of a vintage, swashbuckling action book because I wanted to capture that essence of Peter Pan that is also just kind of fun, you know?

It’s a fun story. It represents  this explosive imagination. The original has this quality of really being just this meandering journey through the minds of children and young people. I wanted to take that kind of quality and show a meandering journey through the minds and possibility space of a young adult who is coming into himself as a Queer person and particularly as a Trans man so that’s what it’s about.

J.P.: I love that phrase of coming into your own. Henry, you said the book popped up for you. Were you doing an internet search and then went to the library or were you at the library and then it popped up there? 

Henry: I went onto the library website and I just searched Trans and it was for fiction and that was one of the few that popped up at that time. There’s a lot more now, happily. I’ve gone back and checked a couple of times and it seems every year, there’s just a couple more that are added to the list and I love it. When I first searched in 2019, I think there were three that they had so I was like well, we’re choosing this one.

J.P.: Walk me through that. What was it about Peter Darling that you responded to? Was it the title, the description, the cover or all of it that made you say, this is the one I have to read?

Henry: The moment I saw Peter Pan I was like yes! I’m not a religious person but I do feel like sometimes the universe is like here you go! For my journey of realizing that I was Gay and then realizing I was Trans it really took the universe to pretty much shove it down my throat and go hey, this is a character that is literally you. They’re going through this process and this is where they came our at the end. I’m like oh, that is what I needed to have happen. The moment I saw that it was Peter Pan and it was about gender identity, I was like yes 100% because that was  the media that I consumed growing up. It was always like girls wearing guys clothes. It wasn’t until I got into my 30s that I was like, that’s why I’m drawn to that genre of storytelling because I am Trans!

J.P.: What was it about Peter Pan the character that you have been drawn to throughout your life?

Henry: I think it’s because he for me has always been someone that wills things into being. Yes, they give him magic fairy dust but really the iconic point of the character is his embodiment of innocence and youth. Also it’s very much that he wills it to be. For someone who is female or a fab individual that was raised to be like you are secondary and you cannot will things into being. it is iconic to aspire to being able to will oneself to fly. The ability to make an entire world exist and to bend to my will, there’s something very freeing and escapist about that.

J.P.: I Love that! As you were getting into the book could you share a passage or something that was happening that was really like, oof like this is really speaking to me right now.

Henry: There’s flashback scenes and so you have it start with Peter returning to Neverland and bumping into Hook and all this kind of stuff. As you’re going along, you have flashback scenes of Peter back in his life in London either before he left the first time or later on in the book after he returned again because he genuinely got lonely and missed his family and he had to rejoin society as a woman. So those moments actually were really impactful because those are the ones that are really rooted in reality for lack of a better term. Seeing it from the P O V of he never mis-genders or mis-names himself. Characters around him call him Wendy but it’s always from. He’s  internally he’s always saying he and that sort of thing and it was just really interesting for a baby Trans that was a real mind melding thing. Being like, oh my gosh, he knows who he is and the rest of the world just cannot see it. So he escapes to Neverland and he puts on this shell of Peter Pan which is a fantasy of what he wants to be and that’s where he exists until finally he returns and then he goes back….I got really emotional, especially for the scenes when he finally comes home after he’s like I miss my family. I miss my siblings.I miss my brother so dearly. I want to go home. I think that I am strong enough because I’ve lived in this identity and reality of being a man and being Peter Pan or being a boy  long enough that I think that I can come back and I can show them. I can convince them of my truth. He comes back and they freak out! The dad is just shouting and. brothers are really kind of confused and really nervous because the dad is so angry. They put him away into a washroom thinking,  well we’re probably going to have to call a Psychiatrist. That kind of language is going on and Peter’s like oh no, okay, the whole point of me coming here is to be with my brothers and they’re going to separate me from them. So he goes okay, no I was just kidding. It was all a joke you know?  I’m Wendy. It’s okay and he lives like that for I think 10 years as Wendy again in order to be with his family. Finally he cannot take it anymore. He wished for Tink to come back and bring him  to Neverland. The door is being beaten down by the father and they’re screaming for him and he’s about to leap out. There is this moment where Peter’s like, I don’t know if this is reality or not. I don’t know if I’m about to leap to my death or if I’m actually going to go back to Neverland but I’m willing to risk it……That was so devastating because the author could have taken it in a very dark way right? Intimating that this might have been all in his head. We don’t know you know. Maybe he did die in the real world and he escaped into his soul. Maybe he escaped into Neverland. You could have done that pivot which I’m glad you didn’t because I would have been really sad. I mean those moments were heart wrenching. I think that was the biggest thing was that it was just so heart wrenching to see. He even talks to the characters back in Neverland. Ernest is a new creation. There’s a little conversation of  going back to your family. He’s like I have no family. Hook tells another character, I genuinely think he doesn’t have a family. It’s kind of like we’re all understanding that it’s that chosen family. Yhey might have been blood family to you but if they don’t choose you then they don’t get that title anymore and then you have to go and search for your found family. There’s so many layers to this book. I was really impressed reading it this third time because I was like man. there’s just so much. There’s just so much happening because Hook is portrayed as a Gay man in this story I believe. I mean he has feelings for another character in Peter Pan. I don’t think he has feelings for any female character. So I’m assuming he’s Gay. Yeah, thumbs up. From the jump, you see that he is Gay because he’s kind of lusting after one of the pirates.

J.P.: SA just gave a thumbs up.

SA: That was a Gay thumbs up.

Henry: We’re not shying away from the fact that this is a Queer book. His relationship with Hook and how they go from being adversarial to being enemies to lovers. But I love the fact that I don’t necessarily think that they’re toxic. Sometimes those enemy to lovers tropes can be very toxic. Peter is like I see why I was drawn to Hook because Hook is the only person who took me as I am, didn’t think I would break think and that I could handle myself in a sword fight or any sort of conflict with him. like I felt like we were equals and that’s why he was drawn to Hook. I was like that is amazing! Because that’s very much what that feels like when an older Queer is talking with a baby queer and being like yes, I see you and I’m going to accept you. You’re telling me that this is who you are I’m going to say oka.  For baby Queer who has never had an adult say yes I accept you as you are, I could see why they’re like, oh my gosh, you have to be in my life even if we’re sword fighting. It’s okay. You’re accepting me as I am. You’re listening to me, hearing me and you’re respecting what I can do and so that relationship is really interesting.

J.P.: Right?

SA: You might stab me but you’re gonna think that you’re stabbing a dude, so we’re good.

Henry: Yes. Exactly. and that’s what was so sweet about later there is a scene where there’s a conflict and they get trapped in a cave together and this is where they have a lot of bonding between these two main characters. Hook is so sweet and it’s not that he doesn’t necessarily have to be but it’s very much of you feel that older Queer moment of being like oh you didn’t understand so spoilers… 


J.P.: Oops. Hey, this is J.P. You didn’t think I would let any spoilers get through, did you? Let’s wait a second for the conversation to move on from the spoilers. Oh, still not done. Ok, well now a question for you? Would you want to be a Patreon supporter of our podcast? We’re an independent affair and your contributions not only keep us on the interwebs, but they keep us accessible to deaf and hard of hearing audiences. You can join our friends Awen Briem, Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie Arnold., and Stephen D.! There are three monthly membership options you can choose from, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

Alright, let’s see if we’re done giving away spoilers. Oof. We’re not?! Ok, well, let’s talk about our Bookshop page. Bookshop is an independent retailer alternative to Amazon. You can buy Peter Darling on our Bookshop page, as well as all of the other books we feature on this podcast. Plus, we get a 10% commission when you do. Support this podcast all while getting yourself a fun new read for the New Year! 

Ok, we have to be done now. Yup. We are. Let’s send you back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Henry: ….Which I appreciate because you do read it differently knowing that and that’s what’s interesting. It’s one of those books that it’s really, a solid second and third read because you pick up on other things.When you’re like oh my gosh, this character has been existing in this headspace and you didn’t know because of the twist.  

J.P.: SA, I have all the questions. First of all like the choices that you’re making and even hearing Henry unpack this story  what it was meaning for them, I want to about the choice that you’re making that this is the subject matter that I want to write about.

SA: It’s funny because the writing process of this book was very much one where this always happens to a degree but I really figured out what the book was and what it was about midway through draft two or three. The writing process was very chaotic,  even by writing standards which is usually chaotic. *It was just because my good friend Amanda Jean who was also the editor for the book was an editor for a small Queer press at the time and she was running a collection call that was going to be for a bunch of themed novellas. It was an enemies to lovers collection. It was all themed around that and I was like, okay, I really want to write something and submit it to this. I was really at the time interested in just Queering fairy tales, traditional stories, folk stories and things that were in the public consciousness but that were not usually understood to be Queer. As a Queer I had been Queering those stories in my head as long as I could remember reading them. I was picking out those elements and I wanted to bring them to center stage. So I wound up just making a list of all the stories I could think of that had some kind of resonance to me and were either in the public domain or traditional folk stories.

There were a bunch on the list and it also included stuff like Labyrinth. I do love the Goblin King so much. 

Henry: Oh my gosh! Please do that, please!

S.A.: I just made a list. What are the things that I would Queer? I was a couple of years into coming out as a Trans man at that time. That was top of mind. What are the stories that had some kind of gender or sexuality resonance for me? I also had the weight of my attracted to dudes moment, which is part of that coming out process, which I think many Trans guys do. A lot of the things that resonated were were things that made me feel kind of Gay in a Gay man way. When I was a kid, it was the 2003 live action Peter Pan starring Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook. It did awaken something in me as a youth. Yeah that man? They knew what they were doing.

J.P.: Right? Totally.

Henry: Yes, oh yes, we all felt it.

SA: A lot of this book did wind up being a very emotional process for me to write because I was also separating from a lot of my birth family at the time and in the midst of all this emotional turmoil but it really did start from just sort of lust for Jason Isaacs as the core emotional conceit of the book. for quite a while. As I was going through it even just talking to other Trans folks before and after I wrote the book, there did start to be this sense of like this is for some reason a really Trans resonant text. I met and spoke to so many Trans men and also some transfems for whom this text had for some reason captivated them from the time they were young and working through why that was was a big process of writing the book for me. What is it about this that for some reason. I and other Trans folks are like something about this is speaking to us. I think a lot of that has to do with the kind of character Peter is like you were saying Henry. He represents this power to create himself and to create a world out of his imagination. He also represents a kind of refusal to go along with growing up in the sense that growing up literally in basically every version of the text means conforming to a very specific form of growing up in a very specific social role.

You know in the versions where we see Peter grow up it’s to become kind of a boring stodgy man who works in an office and has 2.5 kids and a white picket fence because that is what the text is placing him in opposition to. He is the force in the imagination and in the minds of the children who is saying do you really want to grow up or do you want to come hang out with me and my troop of boys and fight Captain Hook? I think he represents the possibility that maybe you don’t have to go along with growing up now. The original text says actually you do. I think also worth examining is that Peter is literally the antagonist in most of the early versions of the work. He is not an antagonist in the sense that he’s a waring villain because Hook is there to be that but he is the force that Wendy has to overcome to grow up and be a woman. Examining that through the lens of  okay, but what if Wendy was like fuck that, I’d like to be Peter Pan. If I had the options here I would like to be Peter Pan. Thinking through that, if you want to be Peter Pan but it sucks to be Peter Pan in a lot of ways and the original text is a lot about examining what Peter does not get to have and it’s placing him in opposition to getting to have an adulthood that’s real and getting to have romance and be loved and be part of a family. You want to be Peter Pan because Peter Pan is the only option available to you other than grow up and be whatever the fuck society tells you you have to be. If you do choose this, what are your options beyond that? Can you still be a real person? Can you still be a real adult?

That’s why he’s kind of fixed in this eternal youth because he has no way or no path open to him to be an adult. That’s a huge part of what I wound up looking through because I was in college at the time I was writing the book. The book came out four months before I graduated so I was very much in a space of like, oh god, who am I going to be and how do I grow up? Trans folks who refer to coming out as a second puberty for many reasons: a lot of them involving your voice cracking, but even aside from that it is a real reworking  of yourself and who you’re going to be. It’s a sense that you need to find a new trajectory because the one that was assigned to you is not working out. A lot of things came up as I was writing it that I didn’t even realize were present in the text.  The other one that I think you also kind of got at in his relationship with Hook is both the sense that there are people who will allow you to be that and who will shine a light back on you. I also ultimately looked at it through a lens of kink as well. They’re kind of creating a fantasy space for the two of them where they can experiment with behaving towards each other. 

J.P.: You’re anticipating that question. Okay, good. Go for it. I want to know about this choice too.

S.A.: They’re creating a space for each other that is maybe not what you would call a conventional courtship or a conventional way of working out your romance with each other but because it has this structure of a fantasy and it has the structure of a play space that is open to them talking to each other and communicating with each other in different ways and also enjoying this space where  they fight each other to the death over and over. It became a very kink-resonant text as much as it was a Trans resonant text for me as I was working through it because I found it was a fun way to explore that idea. With every draft that kind of came out more and more.

Henry: Well, we see that we see that with Our Flag Means Death. What they have done with pirates is the fact that piracy is like a very Queer space already. So actually making it Queer makes sense. It’s kink, this sword fighting. This is all just foreplay. Like you said there’s so much fan fiction around Hook and Peter in the Queer community already. It just kind of lends itself to it. It’s almost like if you think about it, it feels like if this was a true story, the true story probably is that this is a Queer relationship and it was J M Barrie who was like, oh no, I’m actually going to make it a cautionary tale for straights.

Henry: Because they won’t have a future and you should grow up and get married and have kids you know? If you think about it that way, I’m like oh yeah, it makes sense that this is actually probably the real story.

J.P.: Prepping for today, I was like how did this not come up for me to read that this is so Queer and I was a fan! I have never actually read the book.

S.A.: Case resolves the real story.

J.P.: Ah, the original book. But the movies were at every stage like there was the Disney one that I’ve recently watched again and thought oh my gosh like how did we watch this as a kid? This is so problematic on so many levels. It is terrible. It’s racist.

SA: It’s pretty rough. It’s really rough.

Henry: I never liked it. It was always so Peter was kind of mean and a brat. I  like that you actually touch on that in your story. He comes back and he completely jumps in feet first. into the role of being a child. Children are very cruel because they haven’t developed that empathy yet. I mean even Hook mentions those things like you were being that much of a brat. You were being that cruel you just weren’t aware because you were a child but now that you’re an adult or you’re entering into adulthood you’re seeing it in a very different light because you now have empathy for living beings that you shouldn’t be stabbing people. Welcome to adulthood. It’s bad. I think that’s why like that original Disney Cartoon I never liked it because Peter is not a hero in that story. He is like you said he is that Wendy has to get over him to get to adulthood.

J.P.: Adulting is hard.

S.A: Yeah, the original text is really interesting. It was one of the things that I read a couple of times while I was writing the book because it is as problematic if not more so than the Disney version. It is also a deeply racist text and it is deeply grown out of a lot of very colonialist ideas about Neverland as a play space for little white boys, right? 

Henry: It’s like Westworld for little light boys.

J.P.: That!

S.A.: At the same time it’s a very interesting text. I do recommend reading it if you can stomach a lot of the unsavory elements of it because it’s written in a really weird way. I have never read another book like it. It has a narrator that is talking very directly to the reader and kind of guiding them through but also allowing them to kind of choose your own adventure their way through. There’s a bit where you’re kind of following the pirates around to get introduced to them and it’s like you’re following them around with a camera and the narrator is like let’s kill one just so you can kind of see how it’s done! It’s a weird, weird book. Peter is very much supposed to be this wild, chaotic, horrible little gremlin. JM Barry was a children’s author and he clearly liked kids but he also is very cognizant that they are horrible little gremlins and don’t have empathy. A lot of it is about how these kids are just like yeah, we’re going to leave our parents. You’re not going to worry about us right? They then need to grow into the sense of they are probably going to miss us. Dang. I guess we have to leave the fantasy play space and go back to our parents who are sobbing and horrified that their children have flown out the window. 

Henry: What I remember is there is a scene where Peter is like, we’re only going to eat imaginary food and everyone is starving and if it wasn’t for Wendy everybody would have starved to death because Peter was not going to let anybody eat anything but imaginary food! 

S.A.: Wendy is there to be like, hey Peter, actually you shouldn’t hang on to  this. This isn’t cute anymore. You know this is no longer cute what you are. Peter is very much kind of a tragic character in the original because it starts out with him as this fun capricious little sprite who you know spirits children away but you also then see him through the ages fail to change and evolve the way that the rest of the characters do. It shows him being ultimately completely alone because everybody else leaves over time and there’s even a horrifying epilogue to the original that they have left out of most other iterations where he comes to see Wendy when she has grown up and she has children of her own. He doesn’t even remember most of the other people. He doesn’t remember Hook. He doesn’t remember anybody that he’s killed. He barely remembers Tinker Bell because she’s dead. 

Henry: Well, he can’t because he can only have happy thoughts so he can’t remember anything bad.

S.A.: He just chucks stuff out when he’s done with it. There’s a horrible line that fairies don’t live that long and he doesn’t even remember her because she died at a certain point. So he’s very much meant to represent what it is to get stuck in eternal youth and all of the drawbacks of that. He’s not ultimately at all like I think Disney still kind of conveys him as a happy young man and capricious sprite. They kind of cut out the fact that it really sucks to be Peter Pan. You really don’t want to be Peter Pan cursed with immortality. Being a child forever is not actually great.

Henry: It’s a curse more than anything.

SA: To still believe that it’s great, you have to be like Peter and reject all of the knowledge that might let you know that this kind of sucks. I’d like to grow up.

J.P.: Henry, if I can jump forward in time when you read it the second time. What was your experience re-reading it? Was it an epiphany or were you like, hey I just want to read this book again? 

Henry: I think it was an epiphany moment because it had been lurking in the back of my mind for a year. I had just finished top surgery. We were all trapped inside because of Covid  and it was on my bookshelf. I kept looking at it and being like not yet. I’m not ready yet. Then I was like okay today’s the day we’re gonna reread it because I think that there’s something else in here to tease out and  it was that relationship between Hook and Peter. I was past the Trans stuff quote unquote and being like okay, I’m solid in that but then seeing a relationship between  a Cis gay man and a Trans man. I’m seeing that unfold and what that looks like. They made mistakes. They learn from them. The ending and how they got together was something that was really impactful for me because I didn’t see myself as ever being desirable to a Cis gay man. I was a Trans man so having Hook who is iconic, be attracted to someone like that and accept them was powerful. When it’s discovered that Peter is Trans, Hook doesn’t even  react to it at all. He’s like no, I love you for you. I fell in love with you and for who you are not because of your outer shell and that was really huge for me to read and hear that. Especially during that time that was really really stressful for a lot of people. I think what was really impactful, that really changed my relationship with other people and what I was looking for in a partner and being finally open and being like yes. I am worthy. I am good enough. I don’t have to be xy or z to be desirable because I think I always had feelings and attractions towards both men and women. But it’s like they didn’t fit. It wasn’t corresponding because when I came out as Gay I’m like oh I’m a Lesbian, okay good. I like girls. This is easy peasy. Then when the gender stuff came up I was like okay well I can still be attracted to girls because then that’s kind of a straight relationship. Then it was like oh but I still have these feelings for guys. But maybe I don’t.

And it really did take reading the story again and being like no you do and that’s okay so yeah, it saved me twice.

J.P.: I’m curious. There’s a couple of things that resonate with me there. First,  is the idea of seeing a book on your shelf and knowing, not yet because I’ve totally had that experience myself. I know I’m coming back to you. I’ve looked at a book and been like, oh I need you. like Come on over here. Where have you been? I’m also curious that you’ve been having this realization and new understanding of yourself during a pandemic!

How did you relate to the world and other humans in it during a pandemic? We were all trapped in our houses and could only really meet each other like through Zoom.

Henry: Well, I got fired. I was unemployed during that time as well. So I was literally trapped in my apartment with nothing to do. I didn’t have the internet because I was poor. I had the library. I had books. I had friends and that was pretty much it.  I think a lot of people went through a self-discovery of what they wanted to do and what they wanted to be during the pandemic because they were forced to. They didn’t have any of their distractions in their life. So much stuff was going on politically and emotionally with us as a country and around the world. I think a lot of people are also reassessing what they valued in life. This thing that I felt was a roadblock for me wanting to do this. I no longer see it as a roadblock. I don’t see it worthy of being a reason not to do a thing. I mean that was when I even rediscovered my love and passion for writing and that was another big inspiration. This is a story of Queers reclaiming what Disney has made straight via straight washing. A lot of fairy tales are very very Queer. Disney then went along and was like no, we’re going to make it completely straight and clean for all the Christians and you know, that’s a brand. Totally acceptable, whatever. I kind of had this new passion of what I feel I was put on this earth to follow. I started rewriting on my own with Aladdin. I got really inspired. I was like damn, we’re gonna do an enemies to lovers love triangle with Aladdin. Let’s go! Now it’s kind of like every time I see like Disney doing this or someone doing it and telling us this is a fairy tale, I’m like well you just sit back and watch. I’m going to rewrite that and make that Queer as hell!  That’s where it started in the pandemic. I started after reading this book a second time. It is really important to have career authors. Yes, do original work. But also I love the idea of retroactively going back through and saying,  nope we’re reclaiming it. It’s like just move on. They did not intend for that to be a not so subtle Trans narrative but they then redid it and they completely straight washed it. I was like  no, no, no someone needs to come along and fix that and say no, that’s a Queer story, just stop. I don’t know. Man, a lot happened in 2020…..

J.P.: It makes me wonder if a few years from now instead of calling it the great resignation, are we going to look back on it and say that was actually the great realization.

S.A.: Pandemic cracked a lot of eggs. Cracked a lot of eggs.

Henry: Genuinely. Yes.

J.P.: I’ve talked to authors on this podcast some of whom said,  I wrote the book and I needed to get it out of me or I wrote the book and I changed so much from the writing of it and some folks were like no I really didn’t. I’m just a writer. I write and then I move on to the next project. So I’m curious, what was the experience for you writing Peter Darling? Did you find yourself thinking and relating and loving to the world in different ways as you went along in the writing process and after you finished it?

S.A.: I actually relate a lot to what you were saying Henry  about having it be a space where you could imagine relationships with Gay men because that was certainly a part of the process for me. I was trying to stake out a space where that felt possible. I had known I was attracted to men for a long time but not that there was a space for me to feel loved and to feel the possibility of that love and so writing it was a way of saying I think this is possible. we know without getting too deep into the details since then I’ve discovered that. Yes it is possible. I can confirm. That process of writing it was kind of staking out unfamiliar territory for me., especially with imagining an icon! The mental image of Jason Isaacs and feeling like could I be attracted to Jason Isaacs…. Jason Isaacs if you’re out there, Let me know! He’s great. 

Henry: I adore him so much. Anything he’s in, I’m like yes!

S.A.: Listen Mr Isaacs, you’re great. I know you have a happy marriage. please continue but you know. .…. I wanted to claim that possibility space and to free it from this sense of anxiety and of the feeling of not being worthy of hat kind of love. One of the things that I did really wrangle with was how am I going to handle this revelation that Peter is Trans within the story? I was also at that time getting really frustrated with the constant need to justify myself and the constant need to come out and the constant need to have these conversations over and over again. and find out if an individual person thought I was worthy of love. So I wrote a lot of versions of various scenes where either Hook is like hey, I know you’re Trans. We’re not going to talk about it anymore. Alternatively, I could actually have a scene where they talk about it and I was very fortunate to in addition to Amanda Jean who is one of the main editors on the project I also had another editor James Loke who is also Trans who’s amazing! We talked about that a lot. Ultimately we were like what if we just took out that scene? I literally wrote to James and said, can I just not  write this scene? I hate every version of the scene!

I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it so many times. I can’t stop tripping over it and other media about Trans people at the moment where we have to sit down and debate essentially whether or not this character is worthy of love or have it be this kind of savior moment where it’s like the cis love interest coming in to be like I don’t hate you because you’re Trans! For a cis audience I always felt like those scenes were intended to be heartwarming. But for me, it was just this intense anxiety of like, what are we going to do with the scene this time? When you’re Trans those scenes are just your life….all the goddamn time! It’s not fun. It’s not cute. It’s not heart warming. 

Henry: I’m so glad that you didn’t. I’m so glad that you didn’t because your choice of purely doing it in one line of ‘it’s a boyfriend shirt’. That is pretty much what it is is. Pan gets his boyfriend shirt.

S.A.: Like he was your boyfriend shirt. Yeah.

Henry: And it’s oversized which is also a very Trans experience of always wearing an oversized shirt. It was really sweet and beautiful because it was you. It’s you reading between the lines of what’s going on in that scene. and that felt really real in that moment as well because I think that that’s what.

S.A.: Deeply.

Henry: That felt really real in that moment as well because I think that that’s what would have happened in real life. We’re not going to have a big moment about it. We just survived. We just survived together and we’ve already declared our love for each other. There’s literally nothing else that we need to talk about. Do you need a shirt?

S.A.: For me, imagining it from Hook’s point of view, he’s kind of putting together what is real and what is not. He’s thinking about what Peter’s relationship with his family clearly is and how Peter appears to him. I wanted to play it off  like he had a moment of being hmm, that’s what you’re so fucked up about. He didn’t then feel the need to relitigate that and that’s I think where I settled on what if this is basically a romance novel. What if I didn’t need to entertain the idea that Peter is going to be rejected by his love interest at the end? I decided to just wave that off and I was much happier with the book once I had made that choice and much happier when I had decided to stop expecting that moment to happen in real life. It does. It still does of course. But. I stopped making so much space for it in the relationships I was having and stopped entertaining the idea that it was okay to have people reject me in any context because they knew that I was Trans. We’re not going to have a space for that. I’m going, to the extent that I can move through my life as if being Trans is not a disqualifying factor in anything. That’s hard and obviously the world trips that up on a regular basis because there is still.

obviously lots and lots of prejudice against Trans people and maybe more than there was when I wrote the book. You don’t have to make space for it in your heart and you don’t have to make space for it in your intimate relationships. You shouldn’t. That was a change that happened within me and that has continued to happen. I’ve tried to build on it as I’ve gone forward with my life since writing the book.

Henry Which I would say that’s an important message to any Queer writers. Don’t write for the straights. Don’t write for the cist white.  Your audience is you. You need to write the story that you want to read and other people that are like you. They will find it and they will love it. That’s something that I feel we’re trained and we have to untrain ourselves to do is to be creating content for the masses or the default population. No, write it for your population. Write it for your people. Write for you. I think that’s so important. That’s what you did with this story. You did not write it for straight audiences. I hope that there are straight cis audiences that read this book and were like wow, that’s amazing! But you didn’t do any of that, attention, we’re going to take a pause and explain anything. It was like no, you keep up with it or figure it out on your own time but this is a story I’m telling.

S.A. If I can give book recommendations,  really quickly, two of my favorite books that I have read recently had that quality and were really inspiring to me to keep trying to make that true of my work as well.

J.P.: Obviously it’s a book podcast. 

S.A.:Detransition Baby by Tory Peters and Manhunt by Gretchen Felker Martin both of which are written by Trans women authors and they are just not for cis people and obviously happily, it seems that many cis straight folks and cis Queer folks have read those books and loved them. But they don’t take the time to be like, allright imaginary cis person, let me hold your hand through the most one on one level shit that we can do so that eventually we can get to an interesting book. *It takes the assumption that either you have already done that work or you’re going to put the book down and go through one a learning process and then eventually you will catch up to Tori Peters who has a galaxy brain. Gretchen Felker Martin who is one of the most bold and audacious writers I have ever read. Those books are both incredible for being that and for not dumbing themselves down and taking space away from their stories and from the truths of these characters to be in like baby mode. I think as creators, most of the time we need to stop doing that and we need to stop making so much space because it doesn’t doesn’t lead to good stories. It doesn’t lead to good storytelling to constantly be assuming the worst of your audience or at least assuming that they need you to hold their hands. There are enough stories out there and enough resources out there to hold people’s hands and then you read a story like Manhunt or like Detransition Baby that doesn’t do that and then instead is like hey, what if we dug into the gnarliest, realist stuff that we could dig into? And it’s amazing. These books are so good. Anyway, read Detransition Baby and Manhunt. Yhey will mess you up. They messed me up. Anytime I read a book that makes me cry more or less every page, I’m like yeah, that’s the good stuff! 


J.P.: I’d like to thank Henry and S.A. for joining me today. Henry is working on a variety of writing projects right now. As he shared with me, he has so many ideas, finishing one project gets tricky when you go “oh hey! Another idea!” Something I can very much relate to. You can follow Henry on Instagram, his handle is @the_names_henry

S.A. is currently working on a new novel Sweet Vitriol. It is the start of a murder mystery series set in a pseudo-1930s fantasy world diving into censorship and anti-Trans politics through the eyes of several Queer and Trans characters. For S.A., they see the 1930s as a parallel to today, so I can’t wait to see what’s inside this new novel.

For updates, follow S.A. on Twitter, @essaychant or on their website austinchant.com

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J.P.: Cheers for listening today! All of our episodes are executive produced by Jim Pounds, which includes booking new guests, sales calls, and getting my pretty face on TV!

If you haven’t subscribed to our show on your favorite podcast listening app, why not? Click follow already! For folks in the Twin Cities, you can listen to all of season 1 on Saturday mornings at 7am on AM950, the Progressive Radio station of Minnesota.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life!, 7 Minutes in Book Heaven, or our crossover episodes. And next week is a new episode of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven with author Eli Cohen talking about his new book, A Body Hair Experiment. 

Until then, see you Queers and allies in the bookstores!