Sunday, April 25, 2010
Myriam Gurba's Gender Bending Dahlia Season
By tatiana de la tierra
Freud could end up twitching in his grave if he got his hands on Myriam Gurba’s Dahlia Season. A series of stories and a novella that feature Chicano/a teenage characters, this book goes beyond Mexican American clichés and gets into the heads of a series of unlikely protagonists. Among them are best friends who turn Goth together; a girl who cross dresses and cruises for anonymous sex on the beach at night; a boy who bribes his plus size English teacher with homemade flan and then deals with the news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy at home; and Angel Malo, the tattooed queer who has a deep encounter with La Dreamer. Then there’s Desiree Garcia, the central character in the novella. Enrolled in Catholic high school and shipped off to her aunt’s house in Guadalajara in the midst of teen angst, Desiree negotiates her bicultural identity within her family and friendship framework as she deals with her peculiar brand of neurological madness. Desiree and the rest of the crew are fleshed out, believable people, each of them imperfect and beautiful in some way. These gender-bending stories are gritty and edgy, packed with tender and humorous moments throughout.
A California native of Mexican descent, Myriam Gurba has a Bachelor of Arts in History from University of California at Berkeley and currently teaches high school in Long Beach, California. Gurba hosts the Guayaba Salon, a latina writer’s collective in Long Beach and will be touring with the traveling queer writers’ and performance troupe Sister Spit next spring. Dahlia Season (San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2007) is her first published book. (See dahliaseason.com for touring information and other interviews.)
de la tierra: You have an amazing mix of characters. Where do you get your inspiration for them?
Gurba: I derive inspiration for my characters from varied places. For most of the short stories in my collection, there were anecdotes that I heard told in contexts that would bury them. However, I didn't want these stories to be lost. To me, they're part of a larger queer folklore, this tradition of oral storytelling that we have that overlaps with chisme. For example, the story about the trans person cruising Long Beach for men was inspired by a tale I was told in a bar. . .
Desiree Garcia, the novella's main character, is in large part me. In her, I wanted to include all these parts of myself that often marginalize me and illustrate that, hey, this person is relatable, this person is human. I wanted to also create a character that defied easy categorization. To say Desiree is a lesbian character doesn't work because her later love interest is trans. To focus solely on her ethnic identity as a Chicana does her injustice, too, because she is such a bratty American. To focus on her neurological disorders is to ignore the fact that she is quite sane. Desiree is a total freak but in a way that I honor, respect, and find splendid as a peacock.
de la tierra: There are loaded issues that come up in your stories—such as abortion, transgender identity, sexuality, cutting, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Tourettes. Did you ever hesitate to go there in your writing with these topics?
Gurba: I write about loaded topics without hesitation because I find it hard to write about anything else. Topics like queerness and sex and neurological disorders spur me because they are my reality and I like to write about my reality. OCD and Tourette's found their way into my novella because I was grappling with my dual diagnoses at the time and absolutely had to write about these things. . . I often turn to fiction for comfort and to find stories that I can identify with. I sought reflections of my obsessions, compulsions, and tics in literature for the longest time but couldn't find them, so I decided to use my writing as a mirror to reflect my own unique experiences with these phenomena. Maybe if some other person reads that I have OCD and TS and reads my novella it will bring them some measure of comfort.
de la tierra: Your stories have such a strong sense of place. . .
Gurba: I am really, really, really into place. I am in love with places, locale, region. When I was growing up, I would wander through the vineyards by my parents' house and sit on the dirt and smell the eucalyptus trees and think about how much I loved California and would never leave it. To me, it is paradise in both an infernal and heavenly way. I want to be buried here. Because I love this state so much, I want it to live as a character in my stories. I'm super into learning local histories and love immersing myself in them and try to infuse my writing what I have learned. In my stories I wanted to elevate Long Beach to the position of a character and 99 percent of what I write about it is geographically and historically spot on. 1 percent is poetic license. The town in which the novella and one story, “White Girl,” take place are based on my hometown, Santa Maria.
de la tierra: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote the stories in Dahlia Season?
Gurba: I had different types of people in mind when I wrote this piece. Like I thought about people with narrow minds and opening them up through some of my narratives. I thought about suffering people and bringing them comfort.
de la tierra: Where’s your writing muse taking you these days?
Gurba: I’m working on a new book involving lots of characters named Lupe! And I’m having a splendid time hosting the Guava Salon every month and excited that I’ll be traveling with a van full of queer artists for the Sister Spit tour next spring.