Alex Marzano-Lesnevich on Gender Identity and Narratives Drawn from the Body
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the essay collection Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich (The Fact of a Body) joins Jordan to talk about a particularly life-altering haircut, the power of a sequined tuxedo, and what it means for a culture to put a narrative onto a person.
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From the episode:
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich: We walk down the street and so often, without even thinking about it, we sort the people we pass into genders. It’s just automatic. What’s one of the first things you see when you look at somebody? The first thing you think is, what is their gender? I suspect this is a pretty universal experience and something that can be hard to unlearn. But the knowledge of that, the experience of that, even my own experience of doing that with others, I think it’s just what we read. But it still is really hard for me to think about that being done on me.
And so presented with that, that fundamental first move, I would prefer not to be seen, was how I felt then. And then, of course, the kind of writing I do—creative nonfiction, projects that have involved strong personal elements—is to some extent all about being willing to be seen, being willing to offer a narrative drawn from life and narrative drawn from the body. A representation of the body to be seen. So I think existing in that uneasy space is a big part of what I do.
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of THE FACT OF A BODY: A Murder and a Memoir, which received a Lambda Literary Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the Grand Prix des Lectrices ELLE, the Prix des libraires du Quebec, and the Prix France Inter-JDD, an award for one book of any genre in the world. They have been the recipient of fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Maine Arts Commission, the Eccles Centre at the British Library, and the Black Mountain Institute, as well as a Rona Jaffe Award. Marzano-Lesnevich has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Boston Globe, Oxford American, Harper’s, and The Best American Essays editions for both 2020 and 2022. They earned their BA at Columbia University, their JD at Harvard Law School, and their MFA at Emerson College.