An Interview by Allegra Frazier
I’ve never seen xTx, and, very probably, neither have you. Aside from the lucky few who have seen her give readings or know her personally (a small club that counts her former publisher Roxane Gay among its members), all we’ve seen of xTx is the raw, disembodied, genderless self exemplified in her writing. In her short story collection Normally Special we’re taken through a funhouse of sexual auctioneering, savage body shaming, childhood masturbation tips, and dreamlike domestic disillusion. We bear witness to generations of parental dismissal, neglect, and violence in her novel Billie the Bull. And we are spared none of the details, even the ones usually merely alluded to, the ones that tend to lurk in a language shadowland. But there are no shadows in which to hide in xTx’s work. The flood lights are on and everything is visible. Everything except, of course, xTx.
In so far as it’s possible, xTx remains anonymous. Her walking, waking, real, live self—a woman enjoying (or not enjoying) a sunny day somewhere in California—is kept entirely separate from the writer we’ve come to admire as a vicious, visceral, alt-lit super hero. In instances where one would usually see an image of the author, the reader is treated to decoys, like hamburgers or a doll with its mouth sewn shut. Or you’ll find nothing at all. Nothing, that is, except her words, which are not for the faint of heart. What xTx exposes with those flood lights is pretty gruesome.
Though a writer keeping her private life out of the spotlight isn’t entirely new, the task has evolved with the simultaneous rise of social media and a deflation of the publishing industry. Largely responsible for their own publicity, writers cram the world full of their own images, links between their personal and written life, or various internet niceties, creating a jungle of personal connections intended to get people interested in their work. xTx is a rare, rare beast in that she navigates this jungle facelessly, with no links between her personal life and her writing life. When it comes to the possible celebrity her work can bring her, xTx—whoever she is—demurs. It’s a risk she takes in order to protect the frightening yet recognizable origin of her creativity, a risk that has paid off: she is poised to become queen of this particular jungle based on the work the risk itself allows her to produce.
Your prose style has the urgency of the inevitable. It's full of the kind of thoughts people can't help but will always deny, and feels spontaneous and dangerous as a result. Talk a little about your process and how it relates to that urgency.
You’re right. A lot of my prose is exactly like that because, I think, it’s usually written when I have a really urgent “something” inside me that starts eating away, round and round, without a means of escape, and that something is usually a very ugly or raw thing. A phrase or a feeling or an experience. I will put it down and the rest will join it quickly, in a vomitus manner. I will go over it and go over it until it feels like what was initially eating away. It has to match or it’s not done. I need the reader to feel exactly what it was that spawned the prose or I will feel failure. Like in the movie, Mask, I want to be able to hand the blind girl (the reader) a hot rock (the prose) and say “This is red” and have them nod to neck-breaking with understanding.
I imagine it's a challenge for a writer who is anonymous to build this kind of community. You've done it, of course, but am I right? Was it a challenge? Did your anonymity create any other notable hurdles early in your career?
My anonymity was and wasn’t a challenge. I built the community first, online. Super strong. So many wonderful connections with so many amazing people. It was when I moved into IRL events where it got challenging. How does someone who hates to be seen deal with being seen? Online connections weren’t enough for me. I wanted to meet these people, but that meant facing a huge fear of mine which was having people look at me and see me. I have huge issues with how I look. Hiding behind a computer screen was/is so much easier. But once I got out there and began meeting the amazing people I had only communicated with online, OMG it was the BEST! Stressful and scary, yes, but the love and friendship far outweighed all of that.
I think the only hurdles my anonymity brought early in my career was the stupid three letter name I chose for myself. I’m sure I got rejected a lot because of it. Maybe editors thought it gimmicky and didn’t take me seriously. But once my work got out there it didn’t seem to matter anymore. The proof was there, anonymous or not. xTx, Stan, Steve or Samantha, the work was all that mattered, not the name attached to it.
Now, my only hurdles with my anonymity are personal ones, as they’ve been since the beginning. As they will probably be forever.