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Emerson Whitney  + Claire Boyle

Emerson Whitney + Claire Boyle

Over the last few weeks, writer Emerson Whitney and I exchanged long, rambling, sometimes mundane, often embarrassing, always treasured voice memo confessions—usually recorded lying in bed with the lights off. Amongst the confessions, which we sent on a vaguely nightly basis, we also discussed Emerson’s exquisite memoir Heaven, coming out from McSweeney’s in 2020. We spoke about the act of memoir, about what it means to confess, about transness, and genre, and family, and canine euthanasia, and flaming chili peppers on ratemyprofessor.com. Before this correspondence began, we’d spoken exactly twice on the phone, once chaperoned by Emerson’s agent before finalizing the book deal, and once more to discuss their updated first chapter. The following has been edited for readability and length, as the full correspondence sprawled over fifteen thousand words and we’ll spare you that.—Claire Boyle

Sun, Sep 30, 6:23 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson, it’s Claire! I’m sitting here in my living room. I just got back from Disneyland for my future sister-in-law’s bachelorette party. We spent fifteen and a half hours in Disneyland yesterday. I didn’t know that the park was open for that long in one single day, but it is. We got there at 8 am and I promptly got a flask confiscated from me from security, with a bunch of eight year olds and their parents watching. It was horrifying. But I’m excited to start this correspondence. To kick it off, I thought I’d ask about reentering something you’ve been working on for years, your forthcoming memoir Heaven. What about reentering this book are you excited about, and what are you hesitant about?

Sun, Sep 30, 6:37 PM, Claire (again)

Okay, I know I just sent you a voice memo but I had another idea that could be fun: at the end of every day sending each other confessional voice memos about things we did that day that we…shouldn’t have. Thoughts?

Sun, Sep 30, 10:01 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire. Oh my god, this is awesome. Your Disneyland story sounds awful, but I love this idea of the confessional. I’m trying to think of today…I…said the F word to a young child, after he threw a metal truck at my knee. I didn’t want to say it but it hurt. And I said it. So…that was me today! I hope you’re doing great.

I’m really excited about the process of Heaven—I’m super excited about working with you. The magic that happens when there’re many hands in something like this is really exciting to me. And I guess what makes me nervous is, I come from a line, of femmes actually, who are so serious about writing the scariest thing possible, and I think of Cixous and Anzaldúa and Maggie [Nelson]. And Maggie and Cixous were basically like, “Write the scariest book you possibly could,” and so I did. And that means I do have to confront the enormity of releasing that onto the world, as kind of the bright crows of my worst fear. But I think they’re beautiful crows, or whatever, I tried to make it really beautiful. And, I don’t know, scary things can be beautiful.

Sun, Sep 30, 10:04 PM, Emerson (again)

Oh hey, it’s me again. I’m making you a second one, too, because I realized that this is also an experiment in listening comprehension. For whatever reason, I didn’t re-listen to yours in response. So actually I could be wrong about the question you asked me. But it’s kind of interesting to only listen once? Also, I just sent it to you totally unedited, so I don’t know, maybe those are things we do? You tell me!

Sun, Sep 30, 11:14 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson! I love the idea of only being able to listen once, and to not edit them. With those two rules in mind, I’m going to give you my first confessional, which is that I rerecorded those voice memos…more than once. You got, like, take three on both of them. Which is very embarrassing to admit.

Sun, Sep 30, 11:15 PM, Claire (again)

I’ve just been told that re-listening to your voice memos counts as editing even if you don’t rerecord it. What do you think?

Mon, Oct 1, 10:35 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire, what’s up? Here’s my voicemail for you tonight. And, in response to your question from yesterday—my gut says maybe but my head says no, because sometimes it’s nice just to hear our own voices. And I think we get to have that. You know? So, the confession I have for you today is that I spent most of the day worried about whether or not my students like me, and that is the truth. I don’t know if they liked a recent reading, and I spent a lot of time thinking about that. And whether or not I’m cool. In their minds. I used to be really proud of the flaming chili pepper on ratemyteacher.com from a while ago. And, also really proud of the fact that on ratemyteacher.com, nobody knows my pronouns, which is hysterical in that format because the entries somehow alternate pronouns one after the other. Which I now find completely amusing. But I don’t…I don’t know if they like me. And they might not. One of them might not! I look forward to confessing something else tomorrow. I hope you’re doing great.

Mon, Oct 1, 10:53 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson! I would covet a chili pepper, too, on Rate My Professor. You mentioned coming from a line of femmes who are proponents of writing the scariest thing, and I wanted to ask if them being femme is related to that instinct to write the scariest thing, or if that was anecdotal. Oh, and I had another question! You mentioned that your students didn’t know your pronouns on Rate My Professor, which is as good a time as any to ask, what are your pronouns? Mine are she/her.

My confession is that I was talking to my mother on the phone today, and I talked about myself the whole time and didn’t ask her anything. She just got finished teaching a Qi Gong class and I didn’t even ask her how the class went. She has this rule now with her mother. My grandma talks about herself a lot, and my mom’s one rule is that she has to ask my mom one question, and then can talk about herself for the rest of the time. Which is so small, and I don’t know, I feel bad being another person that’s doing that for her.

Tue, Oct 2, 11:10 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire! How’s it going. This one’s kind of later than I’ve done before, but I loved your questions, and I super hear you about not asking about somebody else. So, I was thinking about your question regarding if the femme thing was anecdotal or if it was relevant to the scariest thing. I think this is really interesting for us to talk about in the realm of doing this confession project. I guess I was just giving a nod to the gender of the writing lineage that I ascribe to, or a gender in a pantheon of genders that I ascribe to. But I think it is interesting to talk about the scariest thing as it bumps against what is often considered confessional writing. I know some folks that were on book tour at the same time, and their autobiographical books might be considered by some as confessional literature. They’re both cis women, and one of the folks is a white woman and the other is woman of color, and they were both super frustrated about that narrative around their work. They were like, “Well, you didn’t ask the cis, straight, white guy if his autobiography was confessional,” which I think, if I’m reading this discourse of theirs right, is that it was kind of about how quote unquote women’s writing that doesn’t come from cis white men is often considered therapeutic, and not literary. Which could be considered a devaluing of the enormous work that it takes to craft a project, and all the hands that go into it, and all of the time and the care and consideration for the language.

I also do think it’s interesting for our project to be like, well, what does it mean to confess? What even is the etymology of it? I have so many students that ask, “Why is it not just terrible and masturbatory to be writing about ourselves?” As someone who belongs to a variety of marginalized groups, it does feel like, of course it’s important for us to write about ourselves. But as a person who also belongs to a handful of dominant groups, I question what it means to write about myself. Where can I leave gaps in my work for other people? And if I use my subjective “I” as I want to use it, which is to allow it to be a portal for other readers to insert their own “I,” how is it then that I confess? I don’t know. I always have an audience back here in my mind, I have the hardest core trans folk, my trans femme people that I care about so much, particularly Black trans femmes, and femmes of color, that are like, “We’re just fighting for our lives out here.” Those folk have trained me to think. I always have that discourse at the forefront of my mind, which is like, how is anything else important when my sisters are dying? So, that’s my first bit. I’m sure you asked more stuff that I forgot—oh, my pronouns! He or they. They is good, he’s good; those are good right now.

But what do I have to confess? At one of my jobs they asked all of the faculty of color to participate in an oral history of their participation in the college and whether or not the institution was racist. So this person, who is a former teacher, and is a friend and colleague of mine, asked me to participate. And I was like, “Wait, why? I don’t experience racism, I don’t experience colorism. I certainly show up in the world as white.” But he knows about my family, and knows about my history with my grandmother. He was like, “You should do this because you get this special perspective because you show up in the world as white. You get to hear a lot of racist stuff that goes on.” And he’s right, I do. But my confession is that I feel super conflicted about ever participating in any way like this. My aim is to always show up for racial justice.

You may have noticed in the book—there’s a time when I thought my grandmother may have been Hawaiian when I was a little kid. And I talk about my boobs and how some of these dudes I used to hook up with when I was younger would be like, “Oh your Nat Geo boobs,” because I had these big, brown areolas and they thought they were, like, “ethnic,” they’d say, which was really creepy. But when I cut off my boobs—which had always been identified with my grandma because my mom would always point that out that I had inherited her chest—did I cut off my connection to that part of myself? So I was raised with this splat of racism that happened toward my grandmother. She would really hate that I was making an issue of it. Because she definitely operates in the world as an honorary white person, or wants to, even though racist stuff happens to her. I think it’s important to be in the mess of it, and the discomfort. As someone who doesn’t deal with colorism on a day-to-day basis, this is an important place of discomfort for me to inhabit. The fact that she would be pissed weighs on me a lot. But it’s true, that’s what it is. There we are. That’s what I think. Yeah, I hope you’re great

Thu, Oct 4, 1:00 AM, Claire

Hey Emerson, I’m sorry to send this so late. I’m sitting in my childhood kitchen right now. I just got off the plane in Chicago for an audio festival, and I’m sitting and eating tuna fish off crackers, which is the first thing I do whenever I come home. I’ve been thinking so much about what you said, particularly about the tendency for female autobiographical writers to be thought of as writing confessional, and how that connects to this thing we’re doing. You’ve found the link between these two threads of conversations! Which is a very satisfying moment. It got me thinking if we should, so as not to play into that history, call it something other than a confessional. The only thing I could think of is that it’s not confessing, it’s—oh my god I already forget what it was! It’s revealing. It’s corny, but maybe it’s something to work from. My confession—no no no! I already messed it up!—my reveal is that when I got home, I got in bed with my mom to say hi, and immediately farted all the plane farts I had been holding in right in her bed. And I have a question I wanted to ask in the spirit of confessionals, and autobiographical work, and Heaven specifically. Who, if anyone, are you most nervous of reading this book when it comes out? Is there any moment that reveals something that you had never told a person?

Thu, Oct 4, 6:35 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire, what’s up. Oh my god, this is good stuff. It turns out we’re both on the road. I’m driving on the five, going to the Bay today. There’s a part right by these cows where the smell is so bad that I noticed one time I was unconsciously trying to turn the stereo volume up in my car, as a way to drown out the smell, which…doesn’t work. I saved your stuff to listen to until I was almost there. I want to tell you that I googled the etymology of confession, and it’s actually fucking awesome. Con is “with,” and the fession is “to admit.” But then if you keep digging, the etymology of admit is “to let in.” Duh, but it’s so good, actually, to think that we’re letting in. I’m so into that. How cool is it that the confession is actually like an invitation? That’s fucking cool. It’s like an invitation for other people, or a reader, to access their own experience. I love that concept. I think we’ve sufficiently unpacked it to the point that now I have jubilation.

So, alright, as for my current confession. Here’s something that links to this idea of letting in. Yesterday in my class we were reading Eli Clare’s book, Exile and Pride, which is from 1999. Some of the social justice language is a little outdated, but he’s still writing at the intersection of transness and disability and also some environmental activism, which is cool. But I could tell the class’s energy around it was flagging a bit because of the ways Eli was presenting things. So I told them a story that I don’t even think I’ve told anyone, but I did write about it in Heaven. I was given that book when I was twenty, in undergrad, and I had been saying the R word a lot. Like, I liked the sound of it in my mouth, because it sounded very New York to me. I had just moved in with my uncle after high school and I wanted to have a New Yorker attitude and use my words to emphasize my New York attitude and I thought that was part of what I embraced about that word. But also, when I was questioned, I would say, “Well, I was in special ed forever and I had that word used against me all the time, so I’m reclaiming it.” But this person who was also trans came up to me and was like, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute? When you said that word it really hurts my feelings and I would love it if you would read this book Exile and Pride.” I realized in reading the book and talking to that person that my desire for reclamation was totally thin compared to my desire to show up for this person with compassion and attention and care. I told that story to my students, and I could tell they immediately connected differently to the book, and to me, and they started telling their own stories like that. Because we all have blind spots. I’m embarrassed by that story, and so it was kind of a confession. It did invite them in, and I could tell the energy completely changed. It was cool, and that was when I looked up the etymology, because I was like, oh my god, I just did that! Maybe it’s because of this project with Claire that I’m feeling very free.

Thu, Oct 4, 6:37 PM, Emerson (again)

Hey my friend. So I just realized that I’ve been talking away for a while and the memo had stopped recording at some point. I was going to answer the question about who I’m scared to read this book. Definitely my mom. My mentor recommended that I tell her about it, and that it’s on its way into the world. I didn’t want to at all. But my mentor was like, “You don’t want to surprise her. Surprising people with this kind of stuff is harder.” I texted my mom. Which is the form of communication we’re using right now. I’ve not actually spoken to her in quite a while. I’m not sure why she doesn’t want to talk to me, but she doesn’t want to talk to me. Which is totally okay, that’s where she’s at. I was on this random little island where she lives this summer, and she didn’t want to see me there. Which was sad because I passed her house three or four times in the car. She’s not down for communicating with me right now in any other way than text but I’ll take it. It’s very 2018 of her. Anyway, I texted her and it was actually really awesome because I never tell her about things that I do. She doesn’t know that I graduated from a PhD program. She really thinks that if your hands are bleeding than you’ve done a really good job at work, and if they’re not bleeding then you should probably reevaluate what you do with your life. Sometimes it does feel like I’m stepping over her body to get to some of these accomplishments, and I don’t want it to be like that. So I think this gesture of being honest with her was really important because it does let her in in a way that she deserves to be let in. I think I have a lot of survivor’s guilt in some ways. Sometimes I wonder if I’m where I’m at today because my mom taught me with all her actions what I don’t want to do, and in a way it feels like an enormous sacrifice that she made. So when I texted her I said, “Hey mom, I wrote this book and a lot of it is about our relationship, and I just wanted to give you the opportunity to look at it before it comes out if you want. I also want to tell you that it is kind of a thank you note to you for teaching me how to read and write and how to appreciate doing that, and I love you.” And she wrote back, and she’s never so effusive so it was kind of shocking and I got really emotional, actually. But she was like, “Em, everybody knows our life has been no picnic. Write whatever you want, I’m not worried about it. Bravo, I love you.” And she sent me a bunch of red hearts, and like a GIF of a bear. It was so kind and I am just really grateful that that was her response.

But I’m scared of her reading the more contemporary parts of the book where I was feeling uncomfortable around what I call in the book her titanic childishness. Which in a lot of ways I admire about her. When she’s in a good place she’s so ebullient and bouncy. She speaks in this language that she invented. In the house I can deal with it but in public I get super uncomfortable and embarrassed. Five years ago we went to the AT&T store and she walked up to the guy at the counter and she was talking baby talk to him. And I was like, “Oh my god, mom, please.” It’s not just baby talk—she also has these other words. For example, gingcuttie is her word for lizard. And papaonderhleesh is a dog on the leash. Whenever that leaks out into what I would consider her real life, I’m totally embarrassed. I don’t one hundred percent know why. I guess I just…I guess in relation to what I’m writing about so much in Heaven, I guess I wonder what that means about me. And in reality, it doesn’t need to say anything about me. It’s really just where she’s at in life, and that’s beautiful. If she feels good when she’d doing that, hell yeah.

I guess in general, I’m always aware that when I ask my insides how much of my childhood made me up and how much of this is innate, there’s not really ever an answer. I’m nervous about how people will take that. In the book I say that Karen Barad, this queer physicist based out of U.C. Santa Cruz, said to me, “Straight people aren’t wondering what caused their straightness.” So the fact that I sit around wondering if my experience of womanness, through my mom, has anything to do with my gender and sexuality as it exists today. Of course, it is all part of living in a white-supremacist cis-hetero-patriarchy, but my mom too? I mean that’s why I’m embarrassed about my mom at the AT&T store, because I’m like, “Is someone going to look at my mom, and then look at me and be like, of course that person is this way! Because of this woman.” And I also don’t know why that’s so troubling if it’s true. I guess because I would like more agency than that, or some kind of innate truth.

Fri, Oct 5, 11:46 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson, guess who? I’m lying in bed and so exhausted. I’m glad that you reached out to your mom, and I’m glad to hear that that’s how she responded. My confession…I should just let it go. Maybe I’ll just tell it to you, and in telling it to you I will be letting it go. Which is maybe the point of this whole thing, right? But I’m at this conference on an ill-advised press pass—I’m not a journalist by any regard. But I’ve always wanted to go to this festival, so I said, “Sure, why not?” and went with the idea that I would write about interdisciplinary audio work, because I’m interested in doing that kind of work right now. So I think that was my first mistake, this ulterior motive. And the second mistake is that I thought I’d wing it. And I talked to a producer today and—I mean, she was lovely, and a lot of it I really enjoyed. But there was a certain point where I kept trying to jam my idea—I’m sorry I sound verklempt, I’m having such intense acid reflux, I’m having acid travel back up my esophagus right now and burn my mouth as I’m talking—but anyway, long story short I was just trying to jam this really vague, undeveloped, poorly-intended story into this interview. On top of that is the fact that these people are radio journalists who are so familiar with interviewing and getting a story from a person, which made me doubly nervous about being judged by my subject as I was interviewing them. But it’s alright! Tomorrow’s another day! Oh, I know exactly that spot on the five that you’re talking about. My final confession is that I kind of like the smell…it’s really intense, so intense, and I don’t like it for very long, but I like it a little bit. Thanks as always, I immensely look forward to getting to listen to your blurps. I got an email today from Wolfman, checking in, and I think we should make the 9th our last day. So let’s see, what day is it today, oh man, I think it’s the 5th…

Fri, Oct 5, 11:47 PM, Claire (again)

As fate would have it, my recording also cut itself off, and I went on yammering. The conclusion was let’s take it to the ninth and see how that goes.

Sat, Oct 6, 10:27 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire, what’s up. I’m back in LA. I’m sitting at my desk which is actually a gigantic table. I wanted a gigantic table as a desk, which I didn’t totally think through. But it means my entire apartment is a desk. I’m into it, actually. But, not everybody else is, I think. It’s sort of funny when they walk in because I have tons of books on the floor, and a giant table desk. It kind of makes me look like I’m Vincent Price or something. My confession is that I’ve been trying to stay off Facebook, and today I noticed when it got quiet that I was spelling the typing in my head of Facebook. In my mind I was going F-A-C-E. I was typing it into the search box in my mind. Obviously today has been a chill day for me, uh, cuz that’s what I got. I hope you’re going great! I’m sorry to hear about all the difficulty at that conference. It sounds tiring. But it also sounds cool! Going to the ninth sounds good! Let’s do it!

Sat, Oct 6, 11:32 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson. I made it through! Today was so good. So much better than yesterday. Back on track! Back on top! I was thinking a lot about Heaven today. Specifically in two moments—I was talking to this multi-media artist, Alison Kobayashi, who does this incredible piece called “Say Something Bunny.” It was one of the most inspiring artist talks I’ve seen in a long time. Her piece is rooted in this found 50s-era audio recording of this family at a dinner party who’s testing out this new recording device they got. She studied this recording for years and learned all she could learn about this family, and extrapolated and imagined, and brought this night to life. She was talking about this feeling of getting to know the story from this tape, and then eventually meeting one of the youngest sons from it after the fact. And it made me think a lot about reading Heaven and that feeling of talking to you for the first time after spending so much time with your text.

And then I was talking to a friend of mine about femme writers writing memoirs being received as confessional. And she said that when she thinks of memoir she thinks of it being a very feminine genre. And one, I wondered if I believed that to be true. And I wondered if it had to do with emotional intelligence and with the tendency generally for women to be more comfortable investigating their experiences and relationships, in a way that in my experience I haven’t seen quite so developed in the men in my life.

My confession is that I took the train into the city for this conference and I didn’t pay for it. I became an expert of this in high school. You just look the other way when the conductor is walking by, and you put your headphones on, or you close your eyes and look like you’re sleeping. And when the conductor came by, I felt this surge of anxiety like I felt when I was in high school. And then I thought, oh, I’m an adult. I’ll just pay for this ticket because that’s what adults do. They don’t steal a six-dollar train ride. But then he came closer to me and my instincts just kicked in. And it worked! I felt a little guilty about it, but I’m six dollars richer today, so, what’re you gonna do?

Sun, Oct 7, 10:33 PM, Emerson

Claire what’s up, it’s Emerson. I hope you’re doing great. It was so good to get your message, I always love to hear what’s going on. I loved that you thought about Heaven today. Thank you for that. I’m still totally honored that you think about it, that it lives in you. Once, Maggie [Nelson] told me she was struck by that line where I talk about overalls on my little-kid self and I mention the snap catching against my nipples. She pulled me aside at one point and was like, “I cannot get that image out of my head.” There are several images that she could pull out at the ready after reading it a while earlier, and I was so struck by that. I’m having the same experience hearing you interact with it, because it does feel like it belongs to you and everyone else in that way, and those images are now our images. It’s amazing to let my hands off the dove of that. Watching it leaving my sightline every day is really a cool feeling.

What else was I going to tell you—oh yeah! Your friend had suggested that their experience of memoirists were mostly femme people, or cis-women, I’m assuming. I guess I would refute that. If we were talking about the My Struggle series which has had so much fame, the Karl Ove series—I don’t think there’s anything more indulgent than writing six books about one’s self called My Struggle. And there are many many many more examples like that that I could bring up. The stereotypical recovery memoir is often considered to be a cis-male project. And I don’t know if I have this flipped, which I may, but I’m a huge believer in the act of autobiography versus memoir, because memoir in my mind means one shot. You write one story about yourself and then you’re done. But I’m really deeply invested in the practice of autobiography, which is life-writing. So I can write an autobiography about this storm chasing that I did last summer that I’m working on right now, I can write an autobiography about the experience of my childhood, and I can also write, as Maggie Nelson did, to bring her back, about falling in love with the color blue. So, when we think about autobiographical writing being that vast, then it usually reduces that trope. Because it’s just not accurate, in my mind. I think maybe Cixous would like the idea that women have more access to an emotional intelligence, like her ecrituré féminin or whatever, but there are so many trans people who have come and been like, “Hey, hello, that is an essentialist idea.” That any gender has an essential knowing that any other gender doesn’t is an attempt to make something biological, or physiological, that isn’t, or make something inherent that isn’t. So that kind of line of inquiry is interesting, too. As a trans person I do spend a lot of time also trying to refute the perception of any kind of inherent hybridity in my work that might be aligned with being trans. Sometimes there’s a suggestion that my work is experimental and hybrid, and trans people write like that. And there’s also sometimes the suggestion that trans is inherently a radical identity. And I would argue that it’s not, necessarily. Maybe non-binary identity is, I don’t know. But I don’t necessarily think that there’s an inherent quality to any of these things in an essential way. I’m just thinking these things through like everyone else.

Okay, confession for the day…my six-year-old buddy told his parents right when I got there today that I was swatting him with a fly swatter the last time I was hanging out. They were laughing about it but I was still like, “Oh no! That sounds bad.” But we were! We totally were! It was part of a game where he was a fly, and he wanted to play like that, and he was also swatting me. At this age he’s learning how to triangulate. Tonight when I said, “Hey buddy, no more TV,” he said, “Mamma’s not the boss of you.” He was trying to pump me up, like, you can be your own person! But I was like, “Mamma’s actually super the boss, so, no.” It is interesting to watch one’s power ebb away in contact with a six year old who’s feeling very empowered.

Sun, Oct 7, 11:59 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson, I am back in my San Francisco bedroom at long last. I am so in awe and grateful for how generous you are, and have been from the get-go, with your work and with thinking about it as this thing that has become part of the world and sharing it with me, so I just want to thank you for that generosity. And I also want to thank you for checking that essentialist line of thinking when it comes to autobiography, that was really interesting and helpful. And, my confession. My confession is my childhood dog is dying right now. He’s been having these seizures, and he’s got Cushing’s disease that makes his back sway and his stomach jut out, and has been wiping out when he turns corners too quickly and if it wasn’t so sad it would be a little funny. But it’s just so pathetic. He’s just stopped engaging on all levels except for pure survival—there’s absolutely no joy left in him, or pleasure. The vet suggested that she put him down, but no one else in my family will weigh in, which leaves my mom the primary burden of taking care of this dog and also the burden of deciding when to let him go. Honestly, within a day of sharing a house with this dog I was so bummed out. The sense I get is that she’s ready to and wants to, but can’t quite make that final leap. And this morning he was walking around the house, and my dad was feeding him sausages, so he was extra chipper, which means he was just, like, walking. And I said something without thinking like, “He’s so alive! He’s way too alive to kill him.” Which was so the worst thing to say. I know my mom is at this place right now where she’s looking for any feedback or help in making this decision and figuring out how she should be feeling about it, and it was…it was unthinking of me to have said that. I told her later that I think whatever she does is the right decision. But that’s my confession slash regret of the day. It’s good to hear from you as always. I’ll talk to you soon.

Mon, Oct 8, 11:09 PM, Emerson

Hey Claire, how’s it going? I’m really sorry to hear about your childhood dog and his impending passing. It’s super hard. It also sounds hard to be your mom in that position. It’s something I think about a lot because I’m in charge of a very small dog who loves me very much, who has a lot of special needs, as do I, so I feel very responsible for her care. I was thinking about how weird it is that pretty much at the end of everyday there’s something to confess. But I can’t think of anything today. Which is sort of funny—I can’t even think of anything. The only thing I have to confess is that I was almost thinking about not doing this because I am so tired. But I was like, push through. Make the memo. I don’t even have anything else to confess. What does that even mean? I don’t know. So that’s my confession for the day. I don’t have one! I’ll talk to you tomorrow, or soon, or, bye.

Tue, Oct 9, 12:47 PM, Claire

Hey Emerson. Today is the ninth! I don’t know how that happened! I totally understand that feeling of not having a confession. I feel like it’s now set off the habit in myself of digging for the confession, which won’t turn off automatically. My confession for today is—you know that feeling of having clothes that you’ve loved for a long time and it’s gotten really worn down and doesn’t look how it looks in your mind’s eye anymore? Which happened to me with a pair of Palladiums that I wore for years and I thought were the coolest, but you could see my socks through the toes, and they were falling apart. My friend one day looked at me and said, “Those don’t look how you think they look. You need to get a new pair of shoes.” I just made that realization today about the pair of underwear I’m wearing. They’ve been my favorite pair for years, and look absolutely ridiculous and I need to let them go. They’re like see-through and full of holes, and I still see them as the sexy pair of underwear from years ago.

I don’t want to forcibly try to tie things up, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between memoir and autobiography, and the way that these genres hold a certain kind of weight or bias, and this idea that people try to ascribe a certain hybridity to the writing of trans people. And with all these things in mind on this eve of the end of this project, I was curious how you think of Heaven. I think the manuscript says Heaven: A Memoir, and I wonder if that’s how you want to see it labeled, what that means to you.

And the logistical side. I’m going to transcribe these memos and then we can go back and forth and see what we want to focus on. Because I kind of think this is going to be like fifteen pages.

And then for the sentimental part, which is just thanking you so much for being open to participating in this with me. It’s been such such a treat, and I feel like it’s opened a lot of things up. Thank you for being in it with me. And for sharing, and I can’t wait to keep talking. Yeah, this has been so wonderful. Thanks, Emerson. I’ll talk to you soon!

Tue, Oct 9, 6:29 PM, Emerson

Claire, oh my god! Wait, how is it the ninth? How did that fucking happen? I’m not ready. I just listened to your memo, and I’m just so grateful too. After I hung up my confession yesterday I was like, oh, I have one! And it was that I was like, oh, what if Claire now, after actually interfacing with me on these, is like, who is this person? Maybe I ruined whatever possibly starry idea you had of me through my work, was my fear. That’s my retroactive confession from yesterday. But then I was like, no I actually think weI…’ve heard a lot of people working with their editors, and don’t have that much interaction really beside comments and stuff, and I already feel way more connected to your thought process. And your generosity, too, has been amazing. When you said at the beginning that what you say is suggestions, I was sort of like, wait, really? I guess I had this impression that someone who was editing my work would come in with a red pen and then sort of peace out. So the collaborative nature of what we’re doing, and the shared vision we have, is phenomenal. It’s a huge gift, and I’m super pumped that you’re here, virtually and in real life. So thanks, again. And thanks again for wanting to do this project, it’s really fucking cool. I also agree that it’s going be like fifteen pages. I actually think it’s gonna be like twenty-nine pages, and if you want help with transcription let me know. And oh my god your confession about your underwear, I so understand. All my old underwear, because a lot of it was purple from American Apparel, is now—

Tue, Oct 9, 6:38 PM, Claire

Emerson! Your voice memo got cut off!! Unless you just really abruptly stopped talking in the middle of your sentence about American Appeal underwear. And now I’m DYING TO KNOW HOW IT ENDED. What was the end of your memo????

Barbara Browning + j.j. Mull

Barbara Browning + j.j. Mull

Breaking Down a Body: Mythology, Sex-Testing, & Bad Design

Breaking Down a Body: Mythology, Sex-Testing, & Bad Design