By B. Root
On November 24, the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Houston will present a reading from Dr. Paige Schilt, author of Queer Rock Love, a new memoir that explores the trials and triumphs of raising a gender-nonconforming family in the South. The reading is from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and will take place in the Rockwell Pavilion of M.D. Anderson Library. I had the opportunity to speak with Schilt about her first book.
Root: Queer Rock Love is about how you met and married your partner, Katy, and the subsequent birth of your child, Waylon. Can you talk a little further about raising a child in a queer family within the conservative confines of Texas?
Paige Schilt: Texas is such a contradiction. I’ve lived here most of my life, and I’ve experienced the most loving, tight-knit queer community here. Part of the book is about my wife’s struggle with hepatitis C and all the chosen family—queers and allies—who came to the rescue in our time of need.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the kind of fear-mongering that defeated HERO happen over and over again. From anti-fostering and adoption bills to Prop 2 in 2005 (which defined marriage in the state of Texas as a union between one man and one woman), they all rest on dehumanizing stereotypes that LGBTQ people are harmful to minors, that we recruit, that we are a threat to the family. That is, frankly, a very tough environment in which to raise a child—especially when you have a gender-nonconforming family.
Parenting is a tough job. I think all parents worry at some point that they are going to mess up their kids. For LGBTQ parents, those fears can be even more intense because we’ve grown up with such negative messages about our relationships with youth and family. There’s a lot of potential for shame there. And that’s why I wanted to write a very honest and vulnerable book about the ups and downs of making a family. We don’t have to be perfect partners and parents, and we certainly don’t need to let those hateful messages determine what family looks like.
Parts of the book are based throughout Houston. Which areas of the city do you explore in Queer Rock Love?
My Houston roots are deep! My dad was the president of UH-Downtown when I was growing up, and later became the chancellor of the UH System. He came out as gay after he retired from administration, and part of my story is about coming out around the same time as my dad.
My wife, Katy, spent her formative years in Lake Jackson, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Houston. Katy’s dad was a high school football coach, and she was a genderqueer kid in the 1960s—before we even had that terminology. I wanted to write about the acceptance she experienced from her family and community. There’s a preconceived notion that queer life only happens in cities, that small towns are uniformly hostile to LGBTQ people. Hopefully, the stories that are set in Lake Jackson will encourage folks to question those [preconceived] ideas.
With this being your first book, what were some of the difficulties you had to overcome in publishing Queer Rock Love?
A lot of old-school trans partner narratives focus on themes of secrets, discovery, disclosure. I wanted to tell a different kind of story—one where my partner’s trans identity was part of what made her sexy and part of what made me fall in love with her from the very beginning. Yes, it’s true that Katy has chest surgery in the book, but surgery is not the focal point of the narrative.
I met with some mainstream agents and editors who wanted me to write a more tragic, sensational story. When I met the guys at Transgress Press, it was like night and day. They just “got” the story and were very enthusiastic about it. Plus, they give 40 percent of profits back to LGBTQ community organizations, so I knew there was a good match with our activist values.
You’ve been on tour for Queer Rock Love, and your stop at UH is a part of the book tour. How has that been going?
It’s been amazing! Everyone I’ve worked with has been so generous and excited about the book. I just got back from readings in DC and Baltimore, and I’m really looking forward to the reading in Houston. Also, I’ll be reading before Katy’s band, Butch County, plays in Lake Jackson on November 21.
Who: Paige Schilt
What: Queer Rock Love Reading
When: November 24, 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Where: Rockwell Pavilion of M.D. Anderson Library, 114 University Dr.