Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Get a Girl Pregnant, a memoir by Karleen Pendleton Jiménez

tatiana de la tierra

I love me a good old-fashioned butch, a woman deeply in touch with her masculine personae. She wears it, displays it to the world, draws femmes to her side. But what happens when a butch has a deep urge to bring a baby into the world via her womb, her feminine center? That’s what How to Get a Girl Pregnant (Tightrope Books, Toronto: 2011) is about.

A lifelong tomboy, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez’s memoir was written from her body and soul. How to Get a Girl Pregnant is a lighthearted and sometimes humorous account of an intense endeavor. It’s a simple enough goal—she needs sperm so that she can get pregnant. But all that freely available male sperm seems to swim the other way when a lesbian is in pursuit of it.

How to Get a Girl Pregnant takes place in Toronto, where Karleen lives with Hilary, her partner. It also meanders a bit to her past in California, where she grew up. This memoir charts the two-year chase that involves hitting up friends, prowling in bars and checking out donor profiles online. While the physical goal is the stuff of basic biology, the author’s personal yearning adds layers of complexity. Key decisions need to be made, such as whether to seek sperm from a known or unknown donor. Timing is imperative, as the author is in her late thirties. A Chicana of mixed race, Pendleton Jiménez pines for a Chicano gay donor. She has one in mind—Mateo, The One, who she pins all her hopes on. Will he come through?

Karleen Pendleton Jiménez is author of the children’s book Are You a Boy or a Girl? and the screenwriter for the film Tomboy. She also self-published a series of chapbooks from 1996-2004. She’s a professor of education at Trent University. Following is an excerpt of an interview I did with her for La Bloga.

tierra: Tightrope Books offered to publish your book before it was written. What was it like to write the book?

KPJ: The offer came shortly after I had given birth. I did keep a journal and referred to it as I wrote, but it was probably only about 10% of the final writing. Often what I had in the journal were notes, which I then fleshed out for the book. I also had medical records, emails and letters. They were all very helpful in recalling important details that I could then build a story around.

Because I had a newborn, I had very little time (about two free hours a day). So I basically wrote for two hours each day fairly religiously for about a year. My goal was 300 words a day. I often had very little physical freedom because for many months my daughter would only sleep if she was lying on me. So I had little notebooks stashed in my pockets and would pull them out and write while she napped. Later, when she’d sleep in a crib, I would write on my computer. I wrote at home because I couldn’t leave the house, and sometimes in the car when she fell asleep in her seat. I didn’t have a chronological structure planned. I had certain events that I knew I wanted included and wrote about what I was most interested in on any given day. The publishers had almost no input in the writing process, and the manuscript is about 97% the same as the one I turned in. I very much liked the editor I worked with though, because I think she did find 10 -15 moments where the writing wasn’t as good and showed them to me. We cleaned up details together, and found some places where the writing had gotten away from me. She was very smart and thoughtful and a real gift to work with.

You spread your legs a lot here. How do you feel about having these intimate details in print?

KPJ: Yeah, it’s scary. Probably what’s hardest is owning up to feelings and activities that don’t necessarily fit into how I see myself as a butch. I went through them to be able to have a baby, because that was more important to me than my identity. And I can’t say that anything else has ever made me feel that way. I wanted to put that knowledge out into the world because I think there’re all sorts of things people struggle with in terms of their identities, limitations they might place on themselves. I want my butch identity to be a source of pride and comfort for me, but not stop me from experiencing the most out of this life. And I guess I’m hopeful that this kind of vulnerability might open up possibilities for others as well (with whatever identity and quest they hold dear).

Because it was a very lonely process of trying to get pregnant. I didn’t tell very many people about it. I wasn’t “out” about it. I was insecure. And we queers especially know how hard it is to feel this kind of isolation. I’ve always turned to books to find connection, and I hope my book can be there for others.

Hilary plays a big role in your quest for pregnancy; did she give you permission to write about her in your story?

KPJ: Hilary believes strongly in good books and good art, and grew up around artists (photographers/filmmakers). Actually, she probably has a stronger conviction than me that good writing trumps people’s privacy or feelings. She’s interested in honesty. I think if I had dishonestly portrayed her in any way she would have a huge problem with that, but I got it right and so she would respect that even if it makes her a little nervous. Originally I was using a pseudonym, but it just seemed odd, it felt wrong to her and to me. We imagined everyone wanting to know who the heck this Claudia was and what happened to Hilary, so she decided it was ok to use her name.

Do the friends who became “characters” in the book know you’ve written about them? Mateo is the friend who originally promised you his sperm. Has he seen the book?

KPJ: Some of the people knew and read ahead of time and some didn’t. I didn’t tell everyone, and used pseudonyms to protect them. I don’t know how this will play out. . . I especially hope that Mateo likes the book. I don’t know if he knows about it yet. I read an excerpt about him at the book launch. As people have begun reading the book, they keep confessing that they’ve got crushes on him. I think I did a good job of showing his beauty and care. I think he’ll see that. And I changed many details that should protect his identity if he wants to keep his privacy.

About the title. Since you’re butch and therefore don’t identify as a “girl”—can you explain how you got this title?

KPJ: Hilary and I came up with it. I wanted something that would speak precisely to the topic, but also show some sexiness and humour. You know, I hadn’t really thought of it as a contradiction to my butch identity until last week, when another person brought the same point to my attention. It’s almost like I stepped back/away from my own body in this whole process, even as it was a very physical experience. I was trying to get the girl pregnant. As a butch I often feel like I’m trying to get girls pregnant when I have sex with them, so I was still doing that. I was kind of two people at that time, the butch and the girl.

What does your literary world look like now?

KPJ: Right now I’m taking a little break. In the spring I’ll return to a chapter book I’ve been working on. It’s actually a book of fiction (inspired of course by autobiography). A story of friendship and love between two twelve-year-old boys one summer in LA.

All photos by Hilary Cellini Cook.


Anonymous said...

Wow, very awesome!!! I'm a Chicana grad student and have seen Karleen at conferences. I’ve really admired her as a Chicana role model and scholar. I thought she was famous/big time before this book and now she’s even more so! ;D Very cool Karleen, way to go! This book will go on my Christmas wish list! :)

Amelia ML Montes said...

Thank you Tatiana--great blog piece. Felicidades to Karleen. As "anonymous" said and I agree-- Karleen is definitely "a Chicana role model and scholar." I look forward to reading her book.

Anonymous said...

Love all this publishing happening now about all of us, including pregnant Chicana butch lesbians!

Beth Gardner said...

So great to hear your voice in writing again, and I can't wait to read the book! Here's to reconnections. :)