Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lexie Bean

Lexie Bean is a queer and trans multimedia artist from the Midwest whose work revolves around themes of bodies, homes, cyclical violence, and LGBTQIA+ identity. Bean is a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and passionate about creating honest and complex trans narratives that “transition and grow” alongside them. Their writing has been featured in Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Ms. Magazine, Them, Logo’s New Now Next, Bust Magazine, Autostraddle, and more. The Ship We Built is their debut novel supported with residencies at the Sundress Academy, Paragraph New York, and the Santa Cruz Bookshop.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My novel is called The Ship We Built in homage with the refrigerator box Rowan, the narrator and protagonist, guards and reimagines throughout the text. The box is both a literal box and "the box" society offers for all portions of identity, namely gender and sexuality. He draws on the box, punches holes in it, moves it between homes, calls it a "time machine," a "ship." It's up to him to reinvent the box he has been given. He is given the same challenge as a young, queer trans boy in a working class community.

It's also entitled The Ship We Built because of Rowan's understanding of ways he's allowed to connect to others - especially to girls. When Rowan develops feelings for a girl, Rowan does not think it can be "a crush" because crushes, and ultimately relationships, are only supposed to be with boys. At the same time, Rowan knows deep down that this connection with a girl in class is not a friendship either. Therefore, it's not quite a friendship or a relationship, it's a "ship." Like the box, something they have to discover the name and meaning of on their own.

What's in a name?

Each chapter in The Ship We Built is a letter attached to a balloon - a letter that is a lonely effort to befriend anyone who finds the letter. Throughout the book, Rowan tries on many names to close different letters, and even homework assignments, until he finds the name Rowan. This includes both socially gendered and gender-neutral names. But even after finding a name that he resonates with - he fears becoming unlovable because of his "choice." He ends his letters with Ellie, his birth name, when he is feeling small or like a burden to others. He closes his letters with Rowan on days he's better able to step into his own power.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

At that age, I never thought in a million years I would fill more than 200 pages with my thoughts, let alone share the most vulnerable pieces of myself through such a public forum. The only creative writing I had done at that age was suicide notes and Myspace surveys. I wrote one or two very abstract poems, which ultimately ended up folded away in my top desk drawer.

At the same time, I think I would have really benefited from reading this book as a teenager - even if it's from a 10 year old perspective. There were many holes for representation, and what felt familiar was dramatized in the media to a point where I couldn't connect in the way I needed to.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The ending was incredibly hard. In the case of this book, I once thought two chapters before was the ending. Then I thought the second to last chapter was the ending. Then I found the last chapter, and left it there. This intimate writing is ultimately somebody's life - and an extension of my own. I had to pick a day for Rowan's story to end on. Had I ended it a day later or a few days later, it would have been completely different.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I didn't read very much growing up, so truthfully I found most of my inspiration elsewhere. The biggest is simply lived experience. The second would be the visual collages I made when putting together this book. I found that exportation to be especially helpful for a character who doesn't always have the words for his experiences. After that, many, many playlists, writing with crayons and gel pen, and looking a maps (including what the maps choose not to include).
Visit Lexie Bean's website.

--Marshal Zeringue