A Conversation with Meredith Russo
Courtesy of Meredith Russo
A transgender woman who wrote her book for transgender teens, but would like everyone to read it, Meredith Russo discussed some various topics with me. I learned some things through this interview. Thank you for that Meredith!
My Review of If I Was Your Girl can be read here.
Purchase If I was Your Girl on Amazon
**In this interview you will see the term ‘cis gender’. The term cis gender refers to a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us about yourself.
Meredith: Um! I’m an Aries and an ENFP, I play a lot of video games and D&D, and my favorite color is red. I’m a novelist from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I’ve lived my entire life except for a short stretch in Massachusetts. I’m a trans woman, and a mom, and I own a cat who doesn’t like me very much. My book, If I Was Your Girl, just won a Stonewall, and I have no idea how to process that yet.
JRR: Congratulations! That is quite the achievement. Hopefully the awards will keep coming. Now, did you always want to become an author?
Meredith: No. For the first seventeen years of my life I thought I wanted to be either a classical musician or an artist, preferably drawing graphic novels. I didn’t have the dedication to practice either of those though so they went fallow, and meanwhile I was writing fanfiction with my friends all the time, so in college I just sort of accidentally sidled into writing.
JRR: And now you have written this great book! What inspired you to write If I Was Your Girl?
Meredith: I wanted to write the book I needed when I was younger. I wanted to write a book where transitioning isn’t the event horizon of the character’s life, where good things happen to a trans character, and where the bittersweetness of any book’s ending is tuned more to sweet than bitter, because this is something that hasn’t really existed for young trans people until now.
JRR: If I Was Your Girl is a Young Adult novel. Whom do you want to read it? Teenagers, adults, cisreaders, transreaders, or everyone?
Meredith: I want everyone to read it, of course, but it’s for young trans people. I address in the author’s note that I made some changes and concessions because I knew cis people would read it as well, but my original, intended audience was young trans people. I’m grateful to anyone who picks it up and reads it though.
JRR: To those that will read the book, I can definitely say to read the author’s note. It answers some questions you may have and questions you may not even realize you have!
Was your journey to becoming published a long/tough journey?
Meredith: Yes and no. I’ve worked some terrible jobs in the process of paying my dues, and I’ve written some things I hope never see the light of day, but at the end of the day I got a pretty well received debut novel published when I was 28 years old, which seems pretty young. So I would say things have been difficult in some ways and easy in others.
JRR: Congrats on being published that young! That is an accomplishment that I am sure many want, but never reach. In your opinion, what may be the biggest misconception that cisgender have about transgender people?
Meredith: Not biggest as in most common but biggest as in most damaging is, I think, the idea of autogynephilia. If you don’t know, autogynephilia is a pseudoscientific idea claiming that bisexual and lesbian trans women aren’t women at all, but rather men with a fetish for the idea of being women. Cis women are allowed to call this “feeling sexy” and move on with their lives, but trans women are told we’re perverts at one of the most delicate, vulnerable points in our lives, and the damage is often profound.
JRR: I had never heard of autogymphilia. Thank you for informing us. While reading If I Was Your Girl I couldn’t help but become attached to Amanda and root for her in. I was worried about there being a bad ending for her. I won’t give away the ending, but why do you feel that most books and movies about transgender people tend to have a negative ending?
Meredith: For a lot of intersecting, complicated reasons. I think a lot of writers (specifically cis writers) observe our lives from the outside and notice the tragedy before they notice the nuance and beauty, and so that’s what tends to get foregrounded in their work. I think it’s also easier to relate to a corpse or a heartbroken character shuffled off screen than it is to a living, breathing person or character. But maybe both of those are cynical.
JRR: What are your passions? Are there any organizations you work with that you would like to mention?
Meredith: The ACLU is doing amazing work with civil rights in general and trans rights specifically right now, and their work has never been more important. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project ensures that trans people who have been imprisoned are treated humanely, which I think is important. I’m a huge supporter of NODAPL, and any support you can give them would be wonderful– there are so many ways to contribute that it’s best to just do a search.
JRR: Links for both The Sylvia Rivera Law Project and NOPAPL will be provided at the end of this post. Is there anything you want to address with the “bathroom issue” for transgender people?
Meredith: I wrote a New York Times piece on the issue that you can find here and I’m not sure I have much more to add, partially because I think my argument there is complete but mostly because the last time I ventured into this issue the backlash was a nightmare.
JRR: That was a powerful article. It does give cis people your perspective as a transwoman on the bathroom issue. Personally, I have no problem with you using the same restroom as I do. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I have been in a restroom with a member of the transgender community.
Now, can you tell us about your writing process?
Meredith: When I have my son I promise myself I’ll write in fits and starts while he’s busy playing or taking a nap, but then I end up doing chores, winding down on social media, or going to sleep while Netflix plays. When I don’t have my son I wake up at eleven, do chores and errands for a few hours, and generally work for eight hours, from four to two in the morning. My writing process itself is pretty chaotic– I get bored if I focus on one thing for too long, so I bounce from scene to scene and project to project.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult?
Meredith: Margaret Atwood, I think, but I’m not very good at favorites or listing so that could change five minutes from now.
JRR: I recently bought The Handmaid’s Tale. With the series coming out on Hulu, it seemed like the right time to get it. I hope to read it soon.
If you could have dinner with three people(living or dead) who would they be?
Meredith: Rosa Luxemborg, Sappho, and Emma Goldman
JRR: What would you like to say to someone who is transgender who has not started their transition process?
Meredith: I know transitioning seems scarier than ever in a post-Trump world, but we need you more than ever. Please don’t stay silent. Please join your voice with ours.
JRR: Are there any books about transgender people that you recommend? I read Becoming Nicole at the end of 2015. It was a very powerful book about a transgender girl dealing with her transitioning, her twin brother, and their family and her fight for equality.
Meredith: A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett, Nevada by Imogen Binnie, George by Alex Gino, and Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.
JRR: Do you have plans to write another book anytime soon? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
Meredith: Of course! I’m working on a book right now called Birthday about a nonbinary teen and a cis boy who are born at the exact same time, meet on their thirteenth birthday, and slowly fall in love over the course of their next seven birthdays.
JRR: That sounds intriguing! I will have to look into it when it comes out!
**Thank you so much for your time with this interview Meredith!
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project