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   from the issue of March 29, 2007

  New memoir explores child

A tale of mother and son


It takes time and patience for a mother and son to write a book together.

CO-AUTHORS - Aaron Raz Link and his mother, English professor Hilda Raz, are co-authors of the book
 CO-AUTHORS - Aaron Raz Link and his mother, English professor Hilda Raz, are co-authors of the book "What Becomes You." Photo by Sara Pipher/University Communications.

For Hilda Raz, UNL English professor and editor of Prairie Schooner, and her son Aaron Raz Link, it took 10 years.

A decade of letters, photocopies and shared articles, books and freewrites. Phone calls and writing retreats. Frustration and heartache, revelations and epiphanies. Their tenacity resulted in "What Becomes You," released in March by the University of Nebraska Press. The book chronicles Link's transformation, at age 29, from woman to man. He documents the medical, social, legal and personal process involved in a complete identity change. Raz, a well-known feminist writer and teacher, observes the process as both an "astonished" parent and as a professor who has studied gender issues.

Explaining the genesis of their writing project, Raz quoted a famous rabbi who said something to the effect of, "Whoever can write a book and does not, it is as if he has lost a child." As she dealt with the changes in her child's life, and as Aaron assumed a new role as a gay man, the two began writing to understand their experiences.

"I think we both felt that, out of this experience - of going through this process medically, socially, personally and as a family, of transforming gender - we had been through so much that was valuable and important, it was inconceivable to not try and share it with people," Link said. "And because we're both writers, we began by sharing it with each other in writing."

The two chose words that carried literal and metaphorical weight: surgery, vision, scar. They would write individual essays about the words and then swap them with each other; some of those paired essays were published in anthologies and books. As others were exposed to their story, Raz and Link discovered the surprising relate-ability of their experiences.

CAMPUS STOP - Hilda Raz and Aaron Raz Link sign copies of their book,
CAMPUS STOP - Hilda Raz and Aaron Raz Link sign copies of their book, "What Becomes You," following a March 26 reading in the Nebraska Union. The co-authors will also read from the book at 7:30 p.m. March 30 at Lee Booksellers, 5500 S. 56th St. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.


"We realized the issues we were talking about were universal," Link said. "They were the issues that come up when men and women talk to each other, when family members to talk each other, when straight and gay people talk to each other, when artists and scientists talk to each others."

"Every time one of us thought, 'this crisis has never happened to anyone else,' we would go into a room full of people and someone would say exactly what we were feeling or thinking," he added.

"Our particular challenge is not different in degree or even shape from those kinds of problems that other parents and children have," Raz said. "Of course, Aaron's story is not a traditional story of growing up and finding an identity, nor is mine a traditional story of a parent learning to know her child. But people who have read our book have sent me e-mails and notes and letters expressing real joy and pleasure in the book."

In addition to coming together as a creative team, the two had to traverse what Raz jokingly called "a genre problem." She is a poet, used to juxtapositions functioning as stylistic devices in her work. Link was trained as a science writer, and sought more formality of style - he wanted to start with a thesis and antithesis. In the end, Link "had to ease up," and Raz had to write prose in a more formal and rigid voice than she was accustomed to. She credits her son's sense of humor for helping ease the process of creative negotiation.

The fact that Raz and Link's experiences are unfamiliar to most people is undeniable. In the process of conducting research on gender and sexuality, and the medical history of transgenderism, the two found significant gaps in both scientific knowledge and personal accounts.

And then there's the issue of putting one's very personal story into print and shipping it to bookstores around the world. Raz said her delight and excitement about the release of the book is tempered by concern about how people will receive it. Link noted that his experiences have, in a sense, prepared him for publishing the memoir.

"I prepared myself by having a sex change," he said. "There is nothing more personal you can do, and it absolutely has to be done in public. I don't have the privilege or the burden of hiding who I am. And when Hilda chose to continue to be involved with me, she chose not just me but the public life."

Raz and Link noted that more often than not, families reject relatives who change their sex. Acceptance proves too difficult. In that sense, they believe that sharing their story might provide some hope for people living quietly in similar situations.

"Anyone who has a mother or is a mother, anyone who is part of an adult family or a family of friends, everyone who wants to read about a really extraordinary experience and adventure will like the book," she said. "I have never read it without laughing until the tears come. The book is a belly laugh rather than a smile."



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