I’m very proud to have written about intersex in this Newsweek op-ed.  More info on the story behind the story coming soon…

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Instagram royalties

I’ll be honest: When I first went out to agents with None of the Above, part of me worried that traditional publishing wouldn’t touch a project with an intersex main character. For one, it was impossible to write about intersex without talking about testicles and vaginas, and who wanted that? I mean, the word itself had the letters s-e-x in them, so goodbye, sales from people who wanted clean teen.

Even more worrisome to me was just how much ignorance there was surrounding the entire topic, and how many myths there were out there about intersex bodies. True story: One of my first beta readers was really stressed out while reading an early draft of NOTA’s first chapter. She kept on waiting for my main character to pull out her penis during the sex scene (N.B.: most intersex people do not have both a penis and a vagina).

I won’t lie. Sometimes talking about my book to prospective readers feels like pushing a stalled car up a hill. I was told point blank by one of my publisher’s sales representatives that my book was a “tough sell.” Later on, they clarified that it didn’t mean that book buyers weren’t picking up the book – in fact, indie bookstores have been crucial to NOTA’s relative success, and we wouldn’t be on a fifth printing if it weren’t for them. Rather, there was an activation energy of sorts when you told someone about the book, both because it required background info and explanation, and because transphobia—indeed, the phobia of any body that is different from the dominant paradigm—exists.

Times, of course, are a-changing, and the wheel of progress continues to turn. Largely because of the tireless work of organizations like interACT Advocates: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and OII (Organization Intersex International), intersex visibility increases every day. In the two years since None of the Above was published, these organizations have operated on shoestring budgets to increase intersex awareness. These are just some of the highlights of two years of intersex advocacy:

  • May 2016: Four intersex advocates, including myself, presented at the 2016 Society of Pediatric Urology meeting. As a result of the meeting, at least two surgeons postponed surgeries they had already scheduled on intersex children.
  • November 2016: A federal judge ruled in favor of Dana Zzyym, an intersex veteran, who is seeking a passport that reflects a gender other than “male” or “female”
  • December 2016: The UN Committee on Torture formally requested that the US provide information on the number of sex assignment surgeries performed on intersex children.
  • January 2017: The State of New York issued the nation’s first ever intersex birth certificate to Sara Kelly Keenan, who is now 55.
  • January 2017: Supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex in USA Today, with coverage in Vogue, the NYT, Washington Post and others.
  • March 2017: interACT filed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court, explaining why transphobic bathroom policies hurt not only transgender students but those born with intersex traits as well.

Despite all these advances, there is work to be done.

  • The nation’s been talking about bathrooms for a while now, and even though the infamous HB2 “bathroom law” was recently repealed, the compromise that led to its reversal also bans any additional nondiscrimination laws until 2020.
  • Emboldened by the recent presidential election, hate groups are thriving, including anti-transgender groups such as the one behind the so-called “Free Speech Bus” that is making a tour across the US. By creating a false equivalency between chromosomal sex and gender identity, the bus erases the existence of intersex people. The irony, of course, is that biology doesn’t justify bigotry—its diversity should promote tolerance.

This last election galvanized a lot of people to put their money where their mouths are. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center saw record-breaking donation levels. With upcoming budget cuts, it’s likely that things will be tighter for a lot of organizations. I will say this, though: interACT Advocates does more with less than most non-profits.

So when I say that 100% of the April royalties to None of the Above will go to interACT, know that if you buy a copy of the shiny new paperback—whether it be for yourself, a dear friend, or your local library—it will benefit an organization that is dedicated to shedding light on one of the human rights issues of our time.

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From http://intersexday.org/en/7th-nyc-iad/

 

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I am over the moon excited to share with you the cover for the None of the Above paperback (coming to stores near you on April 4th!), with its shiny new blurb from Stephen Chbosky, author of the bestselling Perks of Being a Wallflower, and screenwriter for a little movie called Beauty and the Beast (#1 for two weeks and counting).

nota quotePaperbacks are exciting because their printing is not guaranteed – for many reasons, publishers will sometimes release some titles in hardcover only, which is tough for YA authors because teens are much more likely to buy a title that’s $9.99 than something that’s almost twice that. Book clubs are also much more likely to choose a book that’s in paperback… and hey, did I mention that Epic Reads made an awesome None of the Above Book Club Guide?

Over the next week I’ll be announcing a promotion to get book clubs to read NOTA – prize pack will include a Skype visit with your book club, free SWAG and a $50 Barnes and Noble gift certificate. I’ll also be talking about the strides made in intersex awareness in the past two years since NOTA first released, even as I acknowledge how much work there is still to be done.

Here are some other pics of my new arrival:

nota pb all

nota pb insideNOTA pb back

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Today is Intersex Awareness Day, which means it’s our annual chance to shine a spotlight on one of medicine’s most profound failures: it’s treatment of people born with biological differences in sex development, also known as intersex.

The Hippocratic Oath that all physicians take exhorts us to Do No Harm. Yet, for decades surgeons have been causing their patients irrevocable, life-changing harm with well-intentioned attempts to “fix” intersex.

Imagine being a 16 year old girl who is told that they need surgery to remove potential cancerous gonads. Imagine not being told until after this surgery that you have to take hormones for the rest of your life or risk osteoporosis, depression and other menopausal symptoms.

Imagine being a 18 year old girl, about to go to college. Because you have something called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, you have an underdeveloped vagina – so your surgeon suggests something called a vaginoplasty in which intestine is used to create a longer vaginal canal. But the surgery goes wrong – postoperative scarring causes any sort of penetration to be painful, and only afterward to you find out that you could have avoided the surgery entirely by simply stretching yourself with dilators.

Finally, imagine that you’re one of the two girls above. Your doctors tell you that you’ll never meet anyone like you, so don’t even try. Your parents tell you not to discuss your diagnosis with anyone, not even your best friends – it’s too private, they say. It’s none of their business. When you go to your doctors appointments your mother can barely conceal her shame. Your father doesn’t go to these visits at all.

To imagine these traumas is to imagine being intersex.

Now imagine being able to save someone from these medical horrors – because it is in your power. Because the world is changing as Intersex Awareness increases, as intersex people gather as a community and use the power of their stories to change medical care doctor by doctor, surgeon by surgeon.

Today, I invite you to help in all the ways:

1. If you DON’T know what intersex is: Watch this Buzzfeed video. It’ll make you laugh, and it might make you cry. 

2. If you DO know what intersex is but aren’t sure why it’s important: Read this post where some amazing writers tell you why.

3. Unclear about the harms perpetrated by well meaning physicians? Read this post about intersex and intimacy to understand the depth of the harm caused by unnecessary surgery on intersex bodies.

4. If you’re moved? Please consider spreading the word. Share this post, or the Buzzfeed video, or any of the other articles (hey, even Good Housekeeping has one if that’s your jam). Follow @interACT_adv on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. DONATE to them so they can continue the incredible work they do on a shoestring budget. Tag someone you know who might not know what intersex is, other than a curiosity. Show them that the girl next door could be intersex, and that intersex bodies are beautiful.

Thank you, and remember to vote with your conscience on November 8th!!

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summer

I’ll be out and about this summer, starting next week when I’m in NYC for the Lambda Literary Awards. Hope to see some of you soon IRL!

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  • June 6th, 1pm –  New York, NY: NYU Constantine Georgiou Library (239 Greene Street, 5th Floor) reading with Rebecca Podos (Mystery of Hollow Places), Cordelia Jensen (Skyscraping)
  • June 11, 12pm -Exton, PA (301 Main Street, Exton, PA 19341): B-Fest Exton Barnes & Noble
  • June 12, 1pm – Wilmington, DE: Concord Mall Barnes & Noble (4801 Concord Pike,
    Wilmington, DE): B-Fest Author Signing with Randy Ribay, Sharon Roat, Dianne Salerni and Cindy Callaghan
  • July 17 – Denver, CO: AIS-DSD Annual Conference
  • August 2 – Young Writers Workshop, Colgate University
  • September 24th (details tk) – Boston Teen Book Festival
  • September 26th (details tk) – Falmuth Public Library: Banned Books Week Symposium with Malinda Lo, Amitha Knight
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I can barely believe that I’m typing these words, but last week Deadline broke the news that I have been sitting on since last November: None of the Above has been optioned for a TV series by Lifetime, with an absolute dream team writing and directing!

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Back when None of the Above first came out last year, the reader question that amused me the most was “When are they going to turn it into a movie?” Because as much I believed in my story, I had absolutely. No. Expectation. That this would ever be an option (hah, see what I did there?). Even before the book came out, I was apprehensive that None of the Above faced a glass ceiling. My fears were confirmed when a publishing sales representative told me somewhat offhandedly, “your book is a tough sell” – because of the lack of awareness of what intersex was (I should note that another sales representative kindly reassured me that it would do “very well”).

None of the Above, I absolutely thought, would never have enough mass appeal to the point where Hollywood would come calling. When my literary agent told me that I had a film agent that was interested in shopping the book around, I smiled and nodded and did not for a second think that anything would pan out.

Which is why, when I got an e-mail from my agent last July saying that they had a production company and screenwriter who was interested, I freaked out.

via GIPHY

I had a great conversation with the producers, and then the lovely screenwriter Liz Maccie, but even then I thought everything was still a pie in the sky (one of my MIL’s to-die-for pumpkin pies, maybe, but still a longshot). Despite their interest – and Liz’s husband Stephen Chbosky’s interest (fangirl alert!!) in directing the adaptation – it became very clear that there were still hurdles to overcome: they were aiming for a TV series, so even though there was a production company and writer, what they really needed was a network/studio committed to developing the project.

Sure, the TV landscape is far different and more accepting of LGBTQIA themes than even two years ago: Transparent, I Am Cait, Orange Is The New Black. MTV’s Faking It even features an intersex character, Lauren that is an exceptional representation (the showrunners worked closely with interACT youth). Even that, however, didn’t mean that a network would be willing to take a risk on a show revolving around an intersex teen.

Until they did. I was sitting in a room full of teens, wrapping up a visit with the Downingtown High School book club, when I got the e-mail: Lifetime was going to make an offer on None of the Above.

via GIPHY

To get a sense of why I’m so excited that Lifetime is developing the story of my heart, you can read this excellent Hollywood Reporter summary of their upcoming slate, which talks about how Lifetime has become a real “fempire” (73% of their shows were written or directed by women), or read this fabulously in-depth Buzzfeed article on the Lifetime television renaissance.

This is not to say that there aren’t even more hurdles to overcome – the pilot script needs to be accepted, filmed, and then picked up as a series. But my little dark horse of a book has already traveled stratospheres beyond my expectations.

As I said on my Instagram post about the deal:

It’s a moment that I never dreamed could happen, at a time when our country – our world – so desperately deserves to hear stories of compassion, empathy and acceptance.

I’m keeping my hopes realistic but my fingers crossed. So stay tuned, dear readers, and thank you from the very depths of my soul for your incredible enthusiasm for the book of my heart!

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This gallery contains 6 photos.

I’ve been putting this post off forever, waiting for the time to upload all the pictures that have been held hostage by my phone, wanting to come up with the perfect ways to explain why I’ve been offline for a while, … Continue reading

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…consider doing something for Intersex Awareness Day.

1. If you DON’T know what intersex is: Watch this Buzzfeed video.

2. If you DO know what intersex is but aren’t sure why it’s important: Read this post.

3. If you know what intersex is and know it’s important: Talk about it! Share this post, and/or join the 9pmEST Twitterstorm to get #intersexstories trending.

I and all these people will be so grateful:

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Photo courtesy of aisdsd.org

 

 

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I’m not going to lie – the past couple of weeks have been pretty sweet, none sweeter than Friday when I had an amazing visit with the Downingtown High School West Book Club. In addition to being generally sweet and awesome and enthusiastic, they asked some terrific, nuanced questions and helped me make some wonderful cue cards for the #intersex stories campaign for Intersex Awareness Day, which is tomorrow 10/26. If you’ve never seen proof of how open-minded and amazing teens can be, look no further:
Pidgeon Pagonis (formerly of Advocates for Informed Choice and InterActYouth) is spearheading the effort to get #IntersexAwareness day to trend, so please do help her out and sign up for her TwitterStorm.  And keep your eye for for my post on Why Intersex is Awesome on EpicReads – wherein some amazing author friends have chimed in with their own thoughts on why intersex awareness is important. To help celebrate their involvement in #intersexstories, I’m hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed copy of None of the Above and any FOUR of their books! Be sure to Post or Tweet why YOU think intersex is awesome tomorrow, using the HT #intersexstories.
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Brooklyn Book Fest

With Alex Gino, Adam Silvera and David Levithan at BKBF 2015. Photo credit: Publishers Weekly.

PaLA

With Randy Ribay, Eric Smith, E.C. Myers, & Rachel Tafoya at the Pennsylvania Library Association conference. Photo credit: @kmchro via Twitter

Big Blue Marble

With Kate Scelsa, Randy Ribay and Lyn Miller-Lachman at the Big Blue Marble bookstore. Photo credit: Gabrielle Halko

It’s been more than six months since the release of None of the Above, and I am so grateful for all my readers! I’ve seen a few of you recently a the Brooklyn Book Festival and at the Pennsylvania Library Association, and I’m looking meeting more at the following events in the fall:

  • October 16-17 (Richmond, VA) – James River Writers Conference
  • October 18, 12pm (Austin, TX) – Texas Book Festival (with Pura Belpre winning author Meg Medina and Printz Honor winning Jessie Ann Foley)
  • November 7, 3pm (Portland, OR) – Wordstock Literary Festival 
  • November 8, 8:39pm  (Portland, OR) – YALSA Symposium
  • November 14-15 – Celebrate Diverse Literature conferences (with Children’s Book World, Haverford)
    • Rosemont College (Saturday, November 14th, 2pm) – Rosemont, PA
    • Friend’s Central School (Sunday, November 15th, 2pm) – Wynnewood, PA
  • November 21 (Minneapolis, MN) – NCTE Annual Conference
    • 1:15p – Taking Our Responsibility Seriously
    • 4:15p – We Need Diverse Books Roundtable
  • December 10 (New Haven,  CT) – Yale University School of Medicine, Program for Humanities in Medicine

Hope to see everyone’s smiling faces soon!

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