One never knows what subject may arise when writing a biography, even a biography for young adut readers. The recent controversy making national news over transgender issues, whether it be bathroom use or equal rights, reminded me of the time I wrote People in The News: Hilary Swank for Lucent Books back in 2007. When Swank made the film Boys Don’t Cry (2000), I was faced with the obvious controversy of the film’s subject matter. At the time, I was not sure how far to take it, how to write it in specifics, or even how casual the langauge should be, when considering I was writing for middle school and high school readers. My previous titles in the series, such as Adam Sandler and the first Hillary Clinton bio, was of course work, but nothing as controversial as the subject of Boys Don’t Cry. It was a challenge to say the least.
The publisher had let me read some previous titles in the series, and I was quite taken aback by some of the frankness in the writing. Madonna’s overt sexuality on stage, Tim Allen’s drug bust, and other controversies were treated quite straighforward and had me realize young adult bios had changed considerably since I was kid. With no further requirements from the editor, I took a deep breath and went ahead and reseached and wrote it as straightforward as I thought possible.
I’m glad I did. Years later, when working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was able to utilize the same technique in dealing with the subject’s obvious PTSD when it came to my attention that he suffered from it. I’ve been called out by some for my armchair diagnosis, but research has shown it to be quite obvious that he suffered from it his entire adult life. So, when writing about the tragedy of the real Teena Brandon, how actress Hilary Swank won the role, prepared for it, and the effect it had on her personal life, a valuable writing lesson was learned. No need to dance around the subject. Straightforward always works best. When I submitted the manuscript, all of it was left intact with nary a word spoken about it from the publisher. And so, with transgender issues again very much in the news, I present below the way in which I dealt with it for young adults nearly ten years ago. Sad to think the issue itself is still having to be dealt with in 2016 but at least it’s being dealt with at all in this climate of fear, hatred and homophobia….