Spotlight on LGBTQ AWP Panels: Transmogrification of the Transgender Narrative: Cunting-up Trans Nonfiction

In the lead-up to AWP 2019 we’re highlighting a few LGBTQ panels that we think you’ll enjoy. Make sure to get out your planners, calendars, or apps and add these to your schedule! Want us to feature your panel? Contact us!

Below, we spoke to Cooper Lee Bombardier about a really awesome panel he was a part of setting up.


WHAT’S THE PANEL: Transmogrification of the Transgender Narrative: Cunting-up Trans Nonfiction” is Friday, March 29, 2019 from 9-10:15 a.m. in B117-119 on Level 1 of the Oregon Convention Center.

DESCRIBE THE PANEL. AND YOUR GREAT TITLE — TITLES ARE SOMETIMES THE HARDEST PART OF PUTTING PANELS TOGETHER: I enjoy coming up with a pithy or snazzy title. It seems sometimes a requisite that anything to do with trans lives has to spin a pun with the prefix “trans.” In 2012, Carter Sickels and I co-taught what we think may have been the first ever creative writing workshop solely for trans people, and we came up with the functional moniker “Trans/Scribe.”

Our panel is an attempt to explore and question both what a transgender narrative can be as well as what it can do.

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Cooper Lee Bombardier

For this AWP panel, I’d recently encountered the word “transmogrify” and delighted in its implications for both transformation and surprise, and it seemed an unlikely trans-prefix word to play with. Merriam-Webster says that the word “suggests a strange or preposterous metamorphosis.” Our panel is an attempt to explore and question both what a transgender narrative can be as well as what it can do, and our hope is that our unconventional and collectivist presentation style can serve to defamiliarize and open up unexpected approaches.

Each panelist will respond to questions about what has been limiting and/or expansive in their work around writing creative nonfiction on the subject of their own transgender experiences, and we will physically cut up the responses and draw them and read them at random to decentralize the idea of a single monomyth of trans narrative. “Cunt-ups” are a literary technique developed by the author Dodie Bellamy, as a feminist intervention to William Burroughs’ cut-ups.

For any marginalized group of people, being totalized and reduced to simplistic narratives is paramount to being dismissed,

The panel is comprised of trans women authors who are working in really varied avenues of creative nonfiction. Most of the panelists work in more than one genre. Ryka Aoki is a poet, novelist, and creative nonfiction writer. Colette Arrand is also a poet. Brook Shelley and Grace Reynolds write poetry in addition to CNF and both also work in tech. Some of these writers are more established, and some are emerging writers. It’s exciting to me to hear from a range of experiences in terms of process, approach, and craft.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO CREATE THIS PANEL: It’s important to me to be in conversation with other writers, but most especially other trans writers from various generations and levels of experience. And it is incredibly important to me that opportunities exist for trans writers to be heard by other writers and academics at a professional level.

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TELL US MORE ABOUT “CUNT-UPS” BY DODIE BELLAMY: Bellamy’s book Cunt-ups was published in 2001 and won a Firecracker Award. She followed up with Cunt Norton in 2013. The process here was a queering of Burrough’s cut-ups. She used texts written by herself and source texts of others and physically cut up the texts and rearranged them to create new texts by typing up the pasted together forms and reworking them. The resulting texts elide pornography and romance.

Transmogrify suggests a strange or preposterous metamorphosis.

Cunt Norton cunts up The Norton Anthology of Poetry. In the introduction, Bellamy says: “I will not flee from an aesthetic designed to make me disappear; instead I take on these texts …”. Her actual process of cunting up texts is more elaborate than what we will do for our panel — we’ll simply cut up our pages of remarks into short blocks of text and shuffle the slip of paper in a hat and draw at random. Bellamy’s cunt-ups technique was far more involved and appears to combine lines along a horizontal cut as well as a vertical paste-up.

WHAT CAN WRITERS/AUDIENCE MEMBERS EXPECT: The format of our panel means that it is an event that will exist in time rather than space. It will be ephemeral and through parataxis the remarks of each panelist will assume new relationships in proximity to those of the other participants. I hope this will speak to and inspire a sense of multivalent possibility for the literary work of trans people.

YOU MENTION THE MYTH OF A SINGLE TRANS STORY. WHY IS A SINGLE STORY SO DANGEROUS: The notion of the single story’s danger originates from the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. For any marginalized group of people, being totalized and reduced to simplistic narratives is paramount to being dismissed, whether it is in terms of who will publish your work, who will read it, or even in terms of whether or not your existence is deemed legitimate by the society in which you live.

A lack of heteroglossia in terms of narratives we attribute to certain people also contributes to a sense of lateral oppression and unhealthy competition. It contributes to us fighting each other for crumbs of acceptance and recognition. Imagine if the cisgender, straight white male stalwarts of the Western literary canon had to first write to prove their existence as real, as worth reading.

I can fool myself into thinking that I must have the ideal confluence of conditions to be able to write best.

WHERE DO YOU FIND YOU DO YOUR BEST WRITING: This is a great question, because I can fool myself into thinking that I must have the ideal confluence of conditions to be able to write best, and this can become just a fancy form of procrastination. I have a small office space at home, which I share with my wife who is a professor. My desk faces a big window that looks out into our small backyard, and often I work here. But sometimes the tell-tale heart of domestic responsibility can become very distracting, as anyone who works from home well knows, so sometimes I’ll cloister myself in a carrel on the silent study floor at a nearby university library. I like working in cafés, but I’ve yet to find the ideal one for work in my new city.

Want us to feature your panel? Contact us!

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