At a time when discussions around transgender and gender diversity are all too often uninformed, with many opinions deeply entrenched, a memoir from someone living their own life as a transgender woman, and the reality of that life, seems essential. Carrie Marshall’s Carrie Kills A Man: A Memoir is not only an honest, insightful read, but one which is fearless and often very funny. SNACK talked to Carrie Marshall to learn more.
Why did you want to write Carrie Kills A Man, and is it the book you envisaged?
I wanted to be the person I needed when I was younger, because I didn’t see myself in so many trans stories. Many of them follow a well-worn path that starts off with ‘I always knew’ and ends happily with the love of a good man. But I didn’t always know, and I wasn’t interested in men, good or bad. And I’ve since learnt that that’s incredibly common. So I wanted to write the book I wish someone had written for me. One of the things I really wanted to express was the joy and wonder of it all. Being trans, like being gay, isn’t a shameful, undesirable thing. It’s a gift, a joyful, magical thing. The sadness we experience isn’t because of who we are; it’s because of how we’re treated by others. Especially at the moment.
It’s an incredibly honest and lovingly detailed book, which makes the story all the more powerful. Do you think it’s in those personal recollections that the story emerges?
Definitely. I think it’s the little details and recollections that draw you in, that enable you to inhabit a story rather than just read it.
Was it easy to recollect your thoughts, and fears, from over the years, and bring them to the page?
I think we’re all very good at remembering negative experiences and feelings – I still cringe occasionally about unsuccessfully asking Tina Walker to dance with me, and that was when I was in Primary 4 – so that didn’t really require much effort. But I did keep a simple diary from when I came out, and that was really invaluable to ensure I got the chronology and detail right. Your brain isn’t always the most reliable narrator.
You address the physical challenges you have faced, as well as the psychological ones. How important to you was it that the book presented as full a picture of your life as possible?
It was crucial, I think. Part of it was because I was tired of feeling ashamed and afraid, so by putting absolutely everything out there it actually felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. And I think because there are so few openly trans and non-binary people, for a lot of people there’s going to be natural curiosity there. If you’re not trans then of course you’re going to be interested in what’s actually involved in transition and what it actually feels like to socially, legally or medically change your life. And if you are trans and haven’t gone through those things, it’s always helpful if someone else maps out the territory for you.
I really wanted people to understand that being trans doesn’t define us, or at least shouldn’t: we’re writers and singers and parents and sisters and teammates and colleagues and friends. All too often we’re described as a single characteristic – trans or non-binary – as if that’s all we are. We’re so much more fun and interesting than that.
There is joy in the book – in the writing itself – and a self-deprecating sense of humour throughout. What was the writing process like? Are there any similarities with your other work?
I’m really glad you picked up on the joy, because that’s something we don’t hear enough about. I think gender euphoria – being genuinely happy in the skin you’re in – is more common than the gender dysphoria most people have heard of.
I’ve always wanted my writing to be funny, even when it’s not supposed to be: I often put jokes in that I know my editor will take out purely so I can give them, and me, a laugh. I want to make people honk with laughter the way Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Patricia Lockwood make me laugh.
From the outside, many people may have thought you had what you call ‘the perfect life’ which brought with it a certain status and privilege. How difficult was it to maintain that ideal, and how do you feel now about the societal pressure to live up to it?
I think – and this isn’t just limited to trans people – there’s a path of least resistance, a life you’re expected to either have or aspire to. There’s a lot of direct and indirect pressure to go down that road, to stick to the rules, to do what everybody else does. And I think for those of us who come out in later life, the fear of losing everything and hurting the people you love most is the heaviest pressure of all.
Looking back, I was going through life on easy mode because I ticked various privilege boxes. I think privilege is often misunderstood: privilege doesn’t mean your life is perfect, but if you’re straight, cisgender, middle class, abled, neurotypical and white your life isn’t made even worse because of your sexuality, your gender identity, your class, your body, your neurology or your colour. It’s quite the eye-opener to give some of that up and start to experience what the world is like for pretty much everybody else.
Did you have any expectations as to how Carrie Kills A Man would be received, and how do those expectations compare to the reality?
I had a bit of a wobble when people I knew started posting photos of the book: ‘Oh god! They’re going to know EVERYTHING!’ But I’ve been really delighted by the response so far, because it seems to be really connecting with people. And that was always my wish.
You are the singer in the rock band HAVR, and the book is full of specific references to musicians who inspired you (with the chapters all titled after songs). How important has music, and the arts more generally, been in your life?
Oh, it’s been everything. I say in the book that some of the most important words in our language are ‘you are not alone’, and that’s how music and books and other art forms make me feel. Music in particular is so powerful, so primal, it connects in such a deep and emotional way. Which is why you’ll usually find me in floods of tears at the back of the Barrowland.
Carrie Kills A Man is available now, published by 404 Ink
Carrie Kills A Man has been shortlisted for a British Book Award in the Discover category.