Abi Cohen
No Fences: A Conversation with T Cooper, p.3

T (continued): I can't imagine what will be next after gender. I think gender will have two more years, 'cause people cutting off tits, that just blows people's minds. You don't fuck with that. I just feel like we're so over 'identity', or maybe I am because I'm 30. I don't even know what I am, I don't want to have to talk about it. The book was picked as best of the year by The Advocate, and they were doing a photo shoot with me. I had to say I was an out gay writer and it had to be in the lead, in the very first sentence. And I was like, "I can't say that. I'm out, but I'm queer. Can you say I'm queer?" They were like, "I don't know, we'll have to talk to the editor about this." The imperative of the box, it kills me sometimes. It takes so much energy that I don't want to spend…

The notion of passing, and what's done to a body without the body's permission or knowledge, that's something I think about all the time. Often times I'm just minding my own business and I'm verbally assaulted or people are staring at me in a certain way. When I went to Dollywood, I would say that I was the main attraction that day, beyond even the funnel cakes, let me tell you. I went with Melissa [her significant other], and we were in different lines to ride The Great Smoky Mountain Train. I don't mean for this to be disrespectful or fat-phobic but everybody there was well over 40 pounds overweight and eating meat on sticks and huge funnel cakes with powdered sugar every where, wearing American flag shirts and carrying these huge mugs with Dolly's likeness. These are the people there. So we were on these lines, and people were saying the worst things about Melissa because she's pretty and skinny and red headed. One guy was like "I'd like to bang that!" and his friend says to him… I don't know if I should say this, its pretty disgusting… "I wonder if the drapes match the carpet on that one!" So when we got on the train I told her "You're not going to believe what these guys were saying!" She said, "I know! They were all talking about you too!" In her line, they were saying "Is that a guy or a girl? I'll give you $20 if that's a guy," and the other guy is like "No, that's a girl." "No, he's short, but it's a guy." It was out of control! That identity stuff, it just gets thrust upon me. In New York you don't think about it much, but when you leave the coasts its like "I didn't realize I should charge admission!" And that's what the first chapter of my book is about, its not much different from the world, taking it to the utmost and putting it in a freak show. But everything is a freakshow. We're all fucking freaks in some way.

I went to a really small liberal college in Middlebury. It was so funny when I got there. Not only was I exotic because I was from California but the fact that I was a Jew.... people were asking me all these questions and then when you find another Jew you're like, "God, do people ask you all the time about being a Jew?" I didn't know how to answer the questions. I wasn't even bat mitzvahed. Now it's less homogenous, but when I was there it was still holding on to the blue blood kind of thing…

A:    Yeah I didn't have that in Texas because there's a limit to how old money can be there.

T:     Yeah, that's true. Its really important to make sure you know who you're sitting next to in class, and where their money came from. Which oil boom...

A:    Or cotton.

T:    Or cotton. Or slave stuff. Yeah no, Middlebury was very different.

T:    Its funny too, when I'm thinking about where this book is coming from. There's a loyalty to ancestors - it feels like it just grabs into me. There's just this saving thing - this 'it could all go away any time' thing which is still passed down, so there's a part of that in this book. 'You're alive, so nothing else really matters' And I have friends whose parents or grandparents were not Jewish and thev've had similar experiences. They had to leave Germany during the war and they still have that attitude: 'I don't care about your personal health but you're alive!' I think there is part of the Jewish, especially Eastern European identity that can't help but inherit that.

A:    Do you think your wanderlust is inherited? It seems you're always criss-crossing the country…

T:    Maybe. It's been important to have a home here though. No matter what, this always feels like home. It's funny too because the new book is also going to have a triangle of geography. The last one was Providence, New York and Los Angeles, and now it's Russia, the Lower East Side and Texas. For me, spanning distances, and again, the notion of family and how it exists, whether it exists, despite geography, despite violence, despite illness, that's still an obsession for me. Maybe I had a wandering Jew as an ancestor.

A:    Maybe.

T:     You have to save everything. You never know.

A:    Yeah, you never know.

T:    You never know when it might run out!

A:    …like plastic bags from the supermarket…

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Image: T Cooper at Dollywood
May 2004

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