Joss Lake’s debut novel “Future Feeling” tells the tale of three trans men who are caught up in a digital hex gone wrong. I spoke to the author about imagining a future with trans men at the center and what he hoped to express through this surreal adventure into the multi-dimensional trans experience.
Marks-Joseph: I believe “Future Feeling” is a story that plays many roles and serves several purposes: A love letter to the trans community, an example of the kind of care that those in positions of power and access could be taking of the queer community, a welcome invitation to people who are questioning their gender or trying to picture a world where they come out or transition and find community. Why did you write this book?
Lake: I wrote the book to reconcile, or at least delve into, the tensions between what confines us and what could free us, in terms of trans identity, media, relationships, the past and selfhood. I was also drawn to this character, Penfield, who has a rather myopic way of looking at the world at the beginning of the book. I wanted to immerse him in a narrative universe where he could find new pathways. I was thinking a lot about adulthood and what defines this stage on a deeper level. What arose was care — learning how to take care of yourself and others in a generous way, as opposed to moving on some linear path toward a certain type of family structure or financial success.
In the book, the curse that kicks off the action seemed to function as commentary on influencer culture in trans spaces. Pen’s antagonistic feelings toward Aiden, a trans influencer, are visceral and relatable, and I loved that you maintained the sense of push and pull between admiration and frustration as their relationship grows. Was there a specific moment that inspired this concept for you?
When I was transitioning, the most accessible space to seek out other trans people (aside from friends and people in my city) was on social media, and as a writer — and person — I was drawn to and completely exasperated by the representation that I saw. It was hard to reconcile the facades that I scrolled through with the internal complexity that I was experiencing around transition. I had a desire to explode that distinction, between inner and outer worlds, and that was part of what energized this project. Of course, it’s way more complicated than “social media is bad”; I understand the urge to flex, both physically and in other ways, and wanted to give characters the space to explore their many desires.
How did you decide where to draw the line on making “Future Feeling” relatable to current times and where to go all the way futuristic? I especially loved the hologram availability on the book’s version of Instagram and the fashion as a result of NASA being defunded, while I was surprised to read that Black Lives Matter was still an ongoing fight.
I wanted to be realistic about the speed of human evolution and the nature of time. There have been major shifts in technology in the last 10, 50, 100 years, resulting in a facile optimism in linear progress. When we look deeper, we often find that there have been radical, liberatory leaders and ways of thinking across time and that even as our technology develops, our society is quite vulnerable to reactionary thinking about otherness, especially when it comes to people of color in the U.S.
“What cis people don’t know is that trans people often have the same ludicrous questions about ourselves as you do, but are simply more motivated to deep inquiry.” I wondered, when reading that line, who you wrote with in mind as an audience? What do you hope the takeaway is for trans readers, versus cis readers?
I do think of the book as generous, and my aim is not to exclude a cis audience. In fact, while trans people often bear a lot of cultural weight around questions of transitioning and authenticity and gender roles, all of these messy concepts extend into everyone’s experiences. I certainly wanted the space to explore the nuance of these specific trans characters’ lives but in a way that would hopefully illuminate or relate to the same dilemmas that many readers have about how to live and be and relate to others.
I’d love to hear the story behind creating a character who is a trans man removed from his parents under China’s previous one-child policy. It was an absolutely jarring moment for me. I couldn’t find any information on a similar situation when I looked it up, though. I was hoping for essays, news reports and at least a VICE documentary! What inspired this choice?
At an event, I heard a writer talking about how she and her partner had adopted a young girl from China and how they made dumplings together to celebrate her culture. I’d been reading about the trauma of trans-racial adoption and couldn’t help but imagine the child looking back on these well-intentioned moments with a lot of resentment and confusion. As a trans-racial adoptee, Blithe has aspects of his life and background that Pen and Aiden can’t fully understand or support him around, and as a white writer, I wanted to model giving this character a space to understand himself outside of a white community or context.
Why the decision to have Pen be a dog-walker and for the wealthy particularly? It felt delightfully anticapitalist in its frank and often hilarious exposing of the rich, with the grass-sensors for dogs peeing on lawns and detailed reports on their dogs’ bowel movements. Am I reading too much into it?
The portrayal of Pen as a dog-walker is definitely anti-capitalist and also reflects the reality of expensive cities like New York and LA, where artists often take on jobs in the service industry and there’s a definite split between their “working hours” and other aspects of their lives. Making Pen a dog-walker also helped develop his “qualifications” to be an Operatrix (Pen’s dream job: a futuristic, trans mentor). He has to learn how to separate himself from the beguiling nature of other peoples’ lives, scents and interiors, and we watch him erect more of a boundary around himself as he moves from dog-walker to Rhiz Operatrix.
See a full review of Joss Lake’s “Future Feeling” here.
Read more of the June 9-15, 2021 issue.