Most LGBT people have a hard time blending into society. Therefore, author Peyton Thomas wrote "Both Sides Now" about a transgender teen finding his place in the world.
What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Well, I fell in love! Simple as that. It didn’t feel simple at the time, though. Throughout my early 20s, I identified as a non-binary lesbian. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with a man — let alone as a man. I had to re-evaluate my entire concept of myself. It was hard! And I had no mirrors, none, to show me what life as a queer trans man might look like. I wrote “Both Sides Now,” in large part, to imagine a future for myself.
I drew on my past, too. I’d been a huge debate nerd in high school, the captain of my school’s team. I wanted to return to that ecosystem to explore the purpose of debate, especially in the lives of trans people. Why is debate valuable? What happens when bad faith actors abuse open dialogue? When does an intellectual exercise come at the expense of someone’s real humanity?
If I could answer all of these questions and throw in some heart-stopping spit-swapping, I figured I’d have done my job.
What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
There’s a lot of me in Finch, the protagonist; no question. But as I progressed through early drafts, I found myself very drawn to Ari, Finch’s sworn enemy, the pampered princess captaining the debate team at an elite private school. Ari grapples with her own beliefs even more, maybe, than Finch does. He winds up with certainty, and she doesn’t, quite. I can relate to that. I’m a Libra. I’m told we’re indecisive.
Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I worked in a local bookstore when I was in high school. This was the late 2000s. The entire Teen section was composed of three distinct groups:
● Twilight, and rip-offs thereof;
● Gossip Girl, and rip-offs thereof;
● The Hunger Games, and rip-offs thereof.
That section looks very different now! There is so much less rigidity now, no iron-clad notion of what a YA novel has to be. Much more diverse, of course, in terms of the characters represented, but also in the types of stories being told. I have to say I’m grateful for the shift — even though God knows I wore a Team Edward pin to school.
I’m grateful, too, that in the years since I began writing “Both Sides Now,” a number of books about trans teens have begun popping up. So many mirrors! It gives me profound joy to think that trans kids will have these books, and befriend these characters, and be less lonely as they become themselves.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it.
“Both Sides Now” is a witty and warm-hearted novel about a trans teen finding his place in the world perfect for fans of Red, White and Royal Blue.
This is what it’s about:
There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, D.C., and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls.
And that dream of college in D.C.? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality.
Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to clinch the gold and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity.
People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things — like who you are and who you love — are not up for debate.
What's next for you in the bookish world?
I believe I’m sworn to secrecy, but I’m still thinking very hard about trans teens finding their way in the world, I can tell you that. Finding their way in the world throughout history, even.
Who is your current favorite writer? Why?
This is an impossible question, so I’ll just tell you about the last great book I read: “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Part memoir, part polemic, all heart and soul -- it was so completely captivating and such a challenge to the entire history of writing on the subject of immigration. I inhaled Karla’s book in a single afternoon. Can’t wait to see more from her.
Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
Write bad first drafts on purpose! Treat your first drafts the way a painter treats a pencil sketch! Write the simplest possible version of your story: “He said this. They went there. I felt bad.” You won’t have the Mona Lisa when you’re done, but you’ll have a lightly etched canvas you can paint it on.