Imagine, if you will, the art of building one’s life as an act of literal construction. Adding new stories atop one another, year after year, until one day you find yourself amongst the clouds; life itself becomes an act of layering, with events well in our past nonetheless creating a foundation upon which we continue to build our present. As each new level is added, we may also find ourselves looking through the layers beneath us, as if ascending a spiraling staircase, recognizing that, however far away we may get from any one moment or memory, the past is only as far away as our imagination.
The idea of constructing one’s life in this way is a focal point of Any Other City, a new novel by Hazel Jane Plante, published by Arsenal Press. Yet in a sense, Plante is hardly the book’s author: instead, according to its protagonist, the fictional trans rockstar Tracy St. Cyr, Plante was there to help ghostwrite the text, helping her imagine life as a skyscraper, where we only get small glances of St. Cyr’s life. “I imagine my memoir as a skyscraper with an elevator that only stops at the 20th and 46th floors,” St. Cyr tells us. “You get a sense of the other floors, but you don’t have access to them. You’ve already visited the 20th floor, and now you’re zooming up to the 46th floor.”
Casey Plett & Hazel Jane Plante book release
Fri 5/12, 7 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, register online at womenandchildrenfirst.com, free
Plante happily credits St. Cyr with lending her own specific voice to Any Other City and says that she’d be glad if her own name is gradually sheared away from the book, leaving behind a story that she hopes will resonate well into the future. All the same, the real-life Plante will be joined by Lambda Literary Award–winning author Casey Plett, whose debut short story collection A Safe Girl to Love has just been reissued by Arsenal, for an author talk at Women & Children First on Friday, May 12.
Any Other City is a peculiar model for a “memoir,” seeing as it tells the story of a fictional rockstar whose life was conjured in Plante’s imagination. St. Cyr’s narrative moves from age 20—living in a nameless city and navigating a faltering long-distance relationship while exploring budding feelings around artmaking and the desire to transition—to more than a quarter-century later, when the musician returns to the city to heal from recent romantic traumas through the pleasurable and challenging work of building new romantic and sexual relationships. Though Plante makes it clear that she and St. Cyr are not one and the same, this model of writing nonetheless helped the author navigate her own challenging experiences, using the layering of memory to excavate these changes.
“The impetus of writing this book was to soften certain things in my past, because when I tried writing a memoir, it just hurt too much and I needed to heal a lot more,” Plante says. “I wanted to write over [the] top of myself when I was 20, imagining what I wish my life would look like, and then connecting recent trauma and distant trauma to soften them in a way.”
Of course, as the book’s title suggests, the city itself plays a critical role in the protagonist’s journey. Just as we layer pieces of ourselves in our own life’s narratives, so too do cities offer clues about different histories that pile on top of one another. In Any Other City, places don’t hide their former selves, offering a model for our own reimagination: as St. Cyr laments, “There are so many shitty things that I want to write over, the same way the pet store has written over the public toilet or the coffee shop has written over the swimming pool.” Being able to return to different cities is something that Plante says has profoundly shaped her experience of transitioning, creating layered memories that reshape her experience of the past and serve as a vital reminder of how cities create a foundation for people to create their own multifaceted experiences across time and space.
Any Other City is an invitation to consider one’s own body as a time machine, something we’ve carried with us across our entire lives. Plante says she’s spoken with friends who work in somatics, the field of internal, intentional connection to one’s body and its movements, who affirmed that idea: no matter where we are in our lives, there are things we bring with us from the past that indelibly shape the present, guiding us into an unknown future we’ve yet to encounter.
In the book, St. Cyr’s early, fumbling attempts at connecting with other trans women, and the painful struggle to see herself through a haze of disassociation, romantic uncertainty, and internalized transphobia, play out in the nameless city. Many of those same feelings arise in new ways as she returns to the city decades later, while fresh wounds force her to tend patiently to the same body, at once so close and far away from her past. The act of remembering herself in that same place as a lonely 20-year-old is a way to tie different versions of the same body together, and for Plante, she says that experience is one that has helped her navigate the long and challenging road of her own healing journey.
“Our bodies hold all of these memories, and some of them are really hard, and some of them are really beautiful,” Plante says. “It’s wild too, because we’re not seeing the things that are bursting and popping within other people. We’re just like, ‘Oh, it’s a person walking down the street wearing a suit, and there’s like a lady wearing a lovely dress,’ but so much more is bubbling inside of all of us all the time, but we generally don’t acknowledge it.”
But even as the body is a profound site of trauma and adversity, the storehouse for everything that pains us and reminds us of things we’d rather leave behind, it’s also where pleasure begins. Any Other City’s second half is full of startling moments of physical release and cathartic music, as St. Cyr works through devastating grief in song and in sex. In a moment where trans people must ask basic questions about survival and fear the consequences of state repression and random acts of violence, Any Other City is a much-needed reminder of the beauty and joy we deserve, in spite of it all.
“I’m interested in the sexuality of trans folks and feel like talking about whether or not I should be allowed to pee in public is fucking bullshit,” Plante says. “I deserve pleasure, and I deserve to be a fully embodied human in the world. I wanted to be able to show someone, like, enjoying themselves, creating art, doing all of these things in a bigger life.”
Any Other City by Hazel Jane Plante
Arsenal Pulp Press, paperback, 288 pp., $19.95, arsenalpulp.com
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