Abigail Tarttelin, the author of Golden Boy agreed to speak with me again.
Lianne: Hi Abigail! Thanks for coming back again.
Abigail: Hi Lianne! Armed with a cup of tea now! How are you?
Abigail: No, Green. I drink it all day!
Lianne: Ah. I’m great. Not sure I could drink tea all day, though.
Abigail: I know it’s a bit crazy. But I’m British. It’s what we do!
Lianne: I used to travel some for business. After a day in the air I like black tea with a shot of Bailey’s
Abigail: oo that sounds lovely!
Lianne: So, you’re working on a new book?
Abigail: No I’m working on a screenplay. I have a great friend I met on a job two years ago that I write with.
Lianne: Sounds like fun!
Did you accomplish your goals with Golden Boy?
Abigail: Which goals?
Lianne: You were writing about gender, neh? And wanted to express some ideas. Have readers reacted as you had hoped?
Abigail: By and large yes! My aim with Golden Boy was to add to a discussion, and perhaps also to bring that discussion into a wider forum. I wanted to pose questions rather than offer conclusions and I think readers seem to be galvanized to do their own thinking about gender norms, which was what I had hoped to achieve.
Lianne: I suspect that people will react in a wide variety of ways. Some of the things that resonate with an intersex person may fly right past someone else.
Abigail: That’s true.
Lianne: Mind you, I think you did an excellent job of presenting issues faced by an intersex teen.
Abigail: Thanks so much, Lianne. That really means so much coming from someone who has had to deal with these things on a personal level, and I’m really happy that you think so.
Lianne: One of the complaints I got about Confessions was that the protagonist didn’t stand up for herself more. But Max seems to have the same personality issue. Or perhaps it’s just his resilliance. There’s so much pressure to be what others expect. It’s not always overt, though.
Abigail: Yes, and I think this is a major difficulty with gender and sexuality issues for teens. There is so much negativity and feelings of fear and guilt surrounding the concepts of sex and gender that adolescents find themselves overwhelmed into silence. And I think it’s a really good point – for Max and Jamie – that this is also indicative of an inner resilience and an attempt to not bring an argument about who they are to the table, but to withhold themselves from others and remain as they are, inside.
I do think it’s hard too, from my own perspective as well as Max’s, to stand up for yourself when you’re an amenable person surrounded by strong personalities.
Lianne: But why are you amenable? And, perhaps that means you’re stronger? With Max, he seemed okay at the beginning. Lots of kids are insecure about anything to do with sex.
Abigail: I think amenable, in the sense of being open and responsive, is a great thing to be! But when you reach adulthood, as Max does, you find there are decisions to be made that will mark the rest of your life, and you have to stand up for yourself in a way you didn’t when you were younger.
Lianne: Lots of kids are insecure about anything to do with sex.
Abigail: That’s very true.
Lianne: I’m glad it wasn’t Max who made the final decision regarding the medical procedure. I would have been upset with you.
Abigail: I think Karen’s point of view in the book, particular with her influence over Max and his medical decisions, is one of the most divisive parts of the novel for readers. On the one hand, she’s being a good mother and trying to take hard decisions off his hands; on the other hand, perhaps she goes too far with a choice that Max should have taken responsibility for.
Lianne: And, actually, I had to put the book down for a while after he got his mom’s attention.
Abigail: I know. It was such a sad scene to write, and I’m pretty sure I had to take a breath afterwards before beginning the next chapter.
What did you think of Karen?
Lianne: For some parents of intersex kids, it’s about them. For Karen, it was about her. I don’t care how much she claims to love Max. What she did was unconscionable. Doctors panic about intersex. The kids can’t afford to have parents who do.
Abigail: That’s very true. That’s one reason I think it’s so important to have books like Confessions and Golden Boy, that speak to parents and adult readers.
Lianne: Yes. And I wish you success!
Abigail: And to you!!
Lianne: Fortunately, the growth of support groups has meant an increasing number of activist parents.
Abigail: Yes! Which is wonderful.
Lianne: I understand you’re doing an audiobook? Mine is in process.
Abigail: Yes, Simon and Schuster are putting out an audiobook. I read the part of Sylvie. I really hope people like it! I’m so interested to hear the final version. I have heard snippets from each of the narrators, and they all sound fantastic! It’s still set in England, so all the voices are English.
Lianne: Is she the character you most identify with?
Abigail: Sylvie is probably the character I sound most like in any case! Max and Sylvie equally I very much identify with. I was very like Sylvie as a teenager – although nowhere near as cool or confident, particularly with people I had crushes on!!
Lianne: I’ll be interested to hear what Max sounds like. I assume he had enough Testosterone to change his voice.
Abigail: Well in the book, I think it’s nice because people can really make their minds up. For me, his voice wouldn’t be so deep. I’m interested too to see what it sounds like in the audio book!
Lianne: Can you share something personal that might surprise your readers?
Abigail: Ok, a thought: I am the luckiest person I know, largely because I haven’t always been lucky. I have had to work really hard and think outside the box to get to where I am as a writer and a person, and the fact that my career and achievements aren’t based solely on luck means that I’m prouder of those achievements than I would have been otherwise. I think this is a thought that could be very relevant to intersex readers. Your gender hasn’t been handed to you on a plate, and you have to make choices that others never have to. But perhaps that means that, in the end, you can be prouder of the person you become, because you had to fight for yourself and assert who you are every step of the way.
Abigail: No problem You are the master of your own fate, and not a product of a gender role you arbitrarily received, and had to submit to.
Lianne: I liked the way Golden Boy ended, at least in terms of the issue of intersex still being unresolved. Even if Max had ‘normalizing’ surgery, he’d still be intersex.
Abigail: I agree. As much as we change ourselves, we are still ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with Max.
Lianne: It is important, however, to get to the point where intersex (or whatever) isn’t the all-consuming focus of your life.
Abigail: Totally. That’s really the point of the book. Max is Max. There’s nothing wrong with him and intersex isn’t the only facet of his personality. What happens in the novel hopefully makes the reader ask ‘Why is it such a big deal?’
Well! I am late for a date!! Not a romantic date, a work one…! I have to go. But it’s been so lovely talking to you again!
Lianne: Thanks so much for taking the time.
Abigail: Thank YOU! Very best of luck with Confessions and talk soon!
You can read our first interview here at MuseItUp Publishing;s blog