Bending gender with L. A. Witt

Recently, author L.A. Witt and I spoke about our new releases featuring transgender protagonists. L.A.'s latest novel Static is available June 26 from Amber Allure and my debut novella The Devil's Garden will be available from Carina Press on June 27. Static by L. A. WittDamon Bryce is worried sick when he doesn’t hear from his girlfriend after she visits her estranged parents, but when he checks up on her, he’s in for the shock of his life: She’s a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population who can shift genders at will. Thanks to her parents, though, she’s been forcibly given an implant that leaves her static—unable to shift—and male.

Alex Nichols desperately wants the implant removed, but getting it out isn’t nearly as easy as putting it in. The surgery is expensive and dangerous. Left in, the implant carries its own set of risks, with the potential to cripple or even kill him. On top of that, he’s carefully kept his identity a secret from more people in his life than just Damon, and his parents aren’t the only ones appalled by shifters.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical effects and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how their relationship can get through this unscathed.

Especially if Alex is a static male permanently.

LAW: First off, give us a little rundown of The Devil’s Garden, your upcoming release.

JK: In The Devil’s Garden, Ume Sky is a prestigious temple courtesan whose patrons are mainly the priests of the temple god in one of the city-states of a vast river delta like the Nile. After the accidental death of a violent patron, Ume is forced to go into hiding, returning to the life she left behind. As a courtesan, Ume is a woman of means; without the status afforded by her position, she is only a seventeen year old boy named Cillian Rede who turns tricks in alleys.

JK: You also have a book coming out that deals with trans issues and gender fluidity. Tell me a little about your new release Static.

LAW: In Static, my two main characters – Alex and Damon – have been in a relationship for a couple of years when Damon learns Alex is a shifter, someone who can change genders at will. To make matters even more complicated, Alex has been forcibly given an implant that renders him static (unable to shift) and male. The story deals with Alex trying to both cope with having the implant and get it removed, but also salvage his relationship with Damon, and Damon’s struggle to help and support Alex while also trying to make sense of what this means for their relationship.

LAW: Did you set out to write a trans/genderfluid character, or did you start with a character who took you in that direction?

JK: Honestly, I don’t remember. The Devil’s Garden is a prequel to a novel in which the main character identifies as genderless and other characters reincarnate as the opposite sex and have to deal with reuniting with partners from their former lives. So there was definitely already a thread of gender fluidity running through the story. I think I had a vague idea of some Shakespearean cross-dressing fun a la Twelfth Night, and then as I began to write Ume, the story of Gwen Araujo was in the news—a seventeen year old trans woman who was beaten to death for being discovered to be biologically male. Somewhere along the line, the two became inextricably entwined in my head. The Ume I see looks very much like Gwen. The novella is dedicated to her.

JK: The transgender element in your book Static is a little different from mine in that your character Alex is born with a genetic predisposition to shift genders. What inspired you to reimagine both gender fluidity and the traditional “shifter” story in such an interesting new way?

LAW: I was playing around with the idea of writing a shapeshifter story, since the concept is a popular one, not to mention an intriguing one. I was trying to think of a different approach to it, and when I thought “what if someone could shift genders?”, then it was just a natural progression to “what if someone lost that ability?” Additionally, in the month or so prior, I’d been getting a very thorough and enlightening education about gender issues, particularly relating to transgender and genderqueer issues, from author M Jules Aedin. I think I’d been subconsciously looking for a way to explore some of that in fiction, and between everything I learned from Jules and the idea of a gender shifter, Static was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

LAW: Tell us about a specific challenge you faced when writing your book.

JK: One thing I worried about while writing it, and still worry about, is that because of the way the story plays out, I had to have certain scenes in which Cillian’s POV was presented as male. When in courtesan dress, the character is fully Ume, and thus I use feminine pronouns for Ume’s scenes. I know this doesn’t accurately reflect how trans people see themselves, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to portray all trans people that way. But it seemed right for my character.

JK: I noticed we both have similar phrases in our book blurbs. In Static, Alex is “Stripped of half his identity....” In The Devil’s Garden, Ume has her “elite status stripped away….” For my character Ume, it suggests not only having something taken away that’s intrinsic, but also speaks of her feeling “exposed.” Do you think there’s an element of that for Alex?

LAW: The exposure is definitely a factor for Alex. Some people in his life know him as a shifter, some know him as a static male, and some know her as a static female. When he was given the implant, it meant he had no choice but to come out to people in his life who didn’t know the truth about him: co-workers, his not-very-tolerant boss, and most of all, his boyfriend.

And much like your character, it goes beyond just exposure. Alex is both male and female. Some days, his mind is one hundred percent male. Some days, she’s one hundred percent female. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle. All his life, he’s been able to adjust his body to match his brain, and now he can’t. Another shifter describes being stuck in the wrong body as being like wearing a pair of uncomfortable dress shoes: At first it’s annoying. Then it’s miserable to the point of distraction. Then it’s so maddening you can’t think of anything except taking off those damned shoes. But for a shifter who’s been made static, those shoes won’t come off. Ever.

LAW: You mentioned in a conversation that you see transphobia/trans-hatred and misogyny as being two sides of the same coin. Can you expand on that?

JK: It seems to me that both homo- and trans-hatred stem from an underlying assumption that the only thing worse than being female in this world is being a male who exhibits any kind of perceived femininity. (And women who exhibit perceived masculinity in this paradigm, of course, are simply trying to co-opt male privilege, so they fare no better.) The men who beat Gwen Araujo to death were enraged that they’d been aroused by someone who turned out to be biologically male. By extension, someone might perceive them as less than male, and so she had to be destroyed.

Of course, I’m generalizing a bit here, and I don’t know exactly what went on in her murderer’s heads, but this is how it’s always seemed to me when I see that kind of rage and viciousness: at its heart is a pathological fear and hatred of women.

JK: In your story, you deal with the “coming out” aspect of being transgender as well as transitioning, something that isn’t as much of an issue in mine. What special problems does this present for Alex’s partner Damon?

LAW: Damon struggles a lot with how to reconcile his feelings for Alex with his own sexuality; he’s straight, Alex is physically male, and Damon can’t exactly force a physical attraction. He loves Alex, and he doesn’t want to abandon him, but it’s more than a little challenging to adapt to the fact that his partner is now male. He also has some misgivings about the fact that Alex kept this from him for so long; on one hand, he’s hurt Alex didn’t trust him enough to tell him she was a shifter. On the other, he feels guilty for not being someone Alex could trust with that information. Add in Alex’s long history of depression and alcoholism, plus the fact that the implant itself could kill or cripple him, and I think we can forgive Damon if he can’t quite fit it all into his head.

LAW: The Devil’s Garden takes place in a fantasy setting, of course, but in what ways do the character’s experiences reflect the experiences of people in our own world?

JK: Cillian is thrown out of his home by his father at the age of twelve when he’s caught wearing a virgin’s veil. Forced to make a living for himself on the streets, Cillian uses his femininity to his advantage, discovering that when he’s perceived as a woman, he has power he could never have as a man. Internally, Cillian has always felt female, and so becoming Ume is a fulfillment of Cillian’s inner reality. I think (or at least I hope) that plenty of people in our world will be able to relate to that.

JK: I know we both have a lot of projects on our plate; being a writer can be a bit of a wild ride. ;) What’s next for L.A. Witt fans?

LAW: The short answer? A lot. Fans have been asking for a sequel to The Distance Between Us (Samhain 2010) for a while now, and they’ll be getting one this year: The Closer You Get comes out in November. Cover Me (Carnal Passions 2010) is also getting a sequel, Trust Me, which will be out July 6th, plus the third book, Search Me, which will be out this winter. Out of Focus, a BDSM gay ménage, will be out from Samhain on August 3rd, and I have a few more novellas due out this year – Ex Equals and On The List, both from Amber Allure – and two collaborative steampunk books that will probably be out sometime this winter.

In early 2012, Samhain is releasing the first book in the Tooth & Claw series, The Given & The Taken. This will be my first foray into the world of vampires and werewolves, and could probably be described as a paranormal ménage thriller romance. Or something. It falls under a lot of categories.

Plus I have a few more releases from my hetero pseudonym, Lauren Gallagher. Disengaged is coming from Champagne Books in September, and an additional book in the Light Switch series will be out this fall. I’ve been focusing more on L. A. Witt this year, but I plan to get a few more Lauren books out in 2012.

So, yeah. A lot. It’s been a busy year!

JK: Thanks so much for talking with me about Static and The Devil's Garden. I'm running over to Amber Allure right now to pick up your book!

L.A. WittL. A. Witt is an erotica writer who is said to be living in Okinawa, Japan, with her husband and two incredibly spoiled cats. There is some speculation that she is once again on the run from the Polynesian Mafia in the mountains of Bhutan, but she’s also been sighted recently in the jungles of Brazil, on a beach in Spain, and in a back alley in Detroit with some shifty-eyed toaster salesmen. Though her whereabouts are unknown, it is known that she also writes hetero erotic romance under the pseudonym Lauren Gallagher.

To learn more about L. A. Witt, please visit her website at