What sorts of books inspired you as a child?
For literature, my childhood was a dusty road. Instead of Alice in Wonderland , the journey was peppered by The Three Golliwogs, The Magic Faraway Tree, the Mr Men books and The Beano. But by my late teens I had found Orwell and then gravitated to Kafka, Zola and Dostoevsky, among others. My sociological imagination was ignited by their vivid depictions of social decay, alienation and existential crises. I found my voice in such authors. They taught me how to write.
Which accounts were most important to you in describing your sense of yourself as a ‘cross-dresser’?
I was recently interviewed on TV about a drag artist in Wellington, New Zealand who reads stories about gender diversity to children. I said that parents everywhere should be demanding the same. It would certainly have benefited me as a child. I had to make do with a costume-making book that recommended borrowing a pair of tights from your mother to wear as part of a superhero costume. My eight-year-old male friend and I had no interest in superheroes, but the book gave us the excuse to ask his mother for some tights and to wear them openly – instead of in secret as we had previously done.
Which do you see as the most interesting theoretical discussions of ‘transvestism’?
It tells us a lot about how embedded in the psyche attitudes towards gender are that it is so unusual for a man to dress daily in clothing that society deems to be “for” women. What interests me most are theories that offer explanations for our desires and fixations, because these help us to develop an understanding of transvestism. To that end, I turn to Jacques Lacan. I used to be told to “man up”; through Lacan, we find an explanation for why we are never told to “woman up”. Bruce Fink’s The Lacanian Subject is a good introduction. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle’s The Transgender Studies Reader contains a wealth of interesting academic pieces from different authors on transvestism and suchlike.
What would you recommend as accessible broader accounts of contemporary gender identities?
There are many books on gender identity but few that I can recommend as being both accessible and critical of patriarchy and capitalism. That said, Nancy Fraser’s collection of essays, Fortunes of Feminism , achieves this. And Juliet Jacques’ Trans: A Memoir, ostensibly focused on the experiences of transitioning between genders, is both engaging and informative.
What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?
Matthew Beaumont’s Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, to a friend in university administration who, like me, is a Londoner. He also fancies himself an urban flâneur who is a bit of a duck out of water in Auckland.
What books do you have on your desk waiting to be read?
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock; An American Utopia by Fredric Jameson; and a book by my former PhD student Dylan Taylor, Social Movements and Democracy in the 21st Century.