It Hungers: When Writing Trauma Gets Personal

I’ve been thinking about whether or not to share this post, because it is a personal post. It Hungers hit shelves on Tuesday, and I’m really proud of this book. I’ve talked at length about how this book takes the series in the direction I originally wanted it to go and how I needed to write what I wrote to get it to where it is.

I’ve talked about the content warning that I placed at the beginning of the book because it’s noticeably darker and deals with harder issues to handle than some of the other books have done. And sure, the cannibalism, child abuse/murder (graphic depictions are off page and described in as little detail as possible), etc. are challenging for many to read, and they were challenging to write. They weren’t the hardest part of the book to write.

There’s one scene in Chapter 2, and I will share that scene with my readers here as well, that was hard to write. Why? It’s something I struggle with and have struggled with for years. Gender Dysphoria. So, content warning: brief depiction of gender dysphoria.

The next morning, Penelope Rokotoi entered the small kitchen of the house they rented in the Veiled Heights district. Its pale yellow walls with the white trim glowed when Penelope flung open the curtains as the rising sun beamed a small amount of warmth into the kitchen through the rectangular window behind the sink. The kettle rumbled on the coil atop the paled turquoise stove, and the percolator sputtered as coffee dripped into the pot. Penelope minced garlic; chopped onions, scallions, parsley, and dill; and grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses for the morning’s spanokopita.

As the pie baked, Penelope poured herself a cup of coffee and filled a floral bowl with yogurt, sliced strawberries, and blueberries. She poured a small amount of oat milk into her coffee and then sat at the retro diner-inspired table. The oven’s heat warmed the kitchen, and Penelope’s silk robe fell slack, exposing her shoulders. Though South Carolina winters were milder than those in the Peloponnese, they were not warm. Penelope ate her breakfast and scrolled the headlines in Apple News.

The kettle screeched as it came to a boil. Penelope measured chai spices and Darjeeling black tea and then placed them into a ceramic mug. She filled the mug with boiling water and left it to steep while she returned to her breakfast. She smiled. Katina was not a morning person, but the smell of fresh chai and spanokopita often roused her from slumber. Sleeping beside her gorgon lover was an acquired taste, as both Katina and her hair serpents snored at different frequencies and rates. Now, she would trade the entire world for the pleasure of sleeping beside the woman she loved.

The oven timer sounded, and Penelope pulled the baking dish filled with the spinach and feta pie from the oven. She inhaled its rich, earthy aroma and smiled. Penelope cut and plated herself a piece, paused, and pinched her flat, toned stomach. It felt masculine and flabby. Her heart pounded, and tears welled in her eyes. She left the cut piece on the counter beside the stove and returned to her coffee.

Groans that sounded like creaking floor boards came from the door to the den. Her eyes barely open, Katina stumbled into the kitchen. A snake on the left side of her head yawned. She leaned down and kissed Penelope; one of the snakes licked her cheek and tasted a tear. Katina kneeled before her partner, clasped Penelope’s hands in her own, and kissed them.

“What troubles you this morning, darling? Are you homesick?”

Penelope shook her head. She wiped the tears from her eyes and wrung her hands. Her breathing was ragged. She pushed at her stomach; her hands descended, stopping just above her crotch. But she said nothing.

Katina sighed and nodded. She wrapped Penelope in her arms and said, “Your dysphoria speaks lies to you. I will hold you, and comfort you, and be your strength until it quiets itself.”

Penelope slowly, timidly wrapped her arms around Katina, her hands gripping the gorgon’s pajama shirt. She cried. Katina held her and planted gentle kisses on her cheeks; her hair snakes nuzzled Penelope, providing what comfort they could.

Katina waited for the signal, three gentle pats on her back with Penelope’s left hand, before she broke the embrace. As she pulled away, she wiped tears from Penelope’s face and kissed her cheeks. Katina offered her partner a warm smile. “What do you need of me, my darling?”

Penelope looked at the spanokopita. “I need you to eat your breakfast before it cools. You have a busy day. Your exhibition opens in just over a week, and I know you want a piece that will stop the show and be the talk of the city.”

Katina grabbed the plate from the counter. “My work can wait another day if the woman I love needs me by her side. What do you need?”

Penelope smiled a melancholy smile and shook her head. “I don’t know, my love. I think I may—no, I’m going to take a long, hot bath. When I finish, I’ll join you in the studio. Okay?”

“As you wish.”

Could I have delved deeper into Penelope’s thoughts during this moment? Sure, I suppose I could have, but that would run the risk of being too hard to write and too read for many of my readers to read. I’m also not going to go into the full details of gender dypshoria as others have done so extensively. And no, not all trans people struggle with dypshoria, but research suggests a large majority do.

Before and during the early days of my transition, it led me to avoid wearing certain clothes or going out in public if my makeup and outfit weren’t perfect, to avoid certain situations for fear of being clocked (identified) and whatever might follow that when one lives in a place that does not see you as anything other than a monster. Dysphoria led me to see myself as a monster, a freak, someone broken and “made wrong.” Dysphoria has led to serious considerations about self harm and has led to more than one attempts at taking my own life.

So, while this scene does not depict the dark internal thoughts that have often accompanied my dysphoria, I chose to show the two things that honestly lessen the impact of dysphoria for me (and others as well): acceptance/support and the process of transitioning. Elsewhere in the book, Penelope discusses how her transition was the reason her family gave for cutting ties with her, treating her like an abomination in the eyes of their faith and beliefs. That hurts. I’ve lived through it. I’ve lived through hearing how my own mother would tell my grandmother I was “too busy” to see her, tell my niece whom I adore that I am “sick and need prayer,” and tell family and friends at weddings and funerals that I was absent because I was “sick and would not get better.” THIS ATTITUDE of pushing trans people away, of labeling us as “sick,” of treating us like we are monsters and abominations increases the negative impacts of dysphoria and, more often than not, leads to death by suicide or other dangerous behavior/activity.

And yet, the simple, powerful, often revolutionary act of love, true love that accepts us for who we are, can have a powerful impact to lessen dysphoria’s grip and to give us the strength to fight it when we feel weak and powerless. Love is a choice, and it is a powerful one that people often take for granted.

And then there’s the medical transition process. A process that seeks to use science and medicine to help our bodies become on the outside what we know they are on the inside. Seeing the changes as the body shifts to align with what we know of ourselves is powerful.

Maybe it’s fitting that I released this book at a time when attacks on transgender healthcare, on transgender children, and on the right to bodily autonomy are under fire in this country. Remember: those under eighteen are placed on puberty blockers that halt puberty (once the child is no longer taking the blockers, puberty happens. This gives the young person and the family time to get the necessary and most beneficial resources in place while exploring their gender identity.

I did not expect to write a book that has become so timely, but that’s what I did. It Hungers is my most personal book I’ve ever written. I’m hoping that makes it the most powerful. I would love it if you would all buy the book and read it, but I would love it more if you would show love to those who suffer trauma, mental distress, and marginalization. If you can, please consider donating to The Trevor Project to help them help save LGBTQIA++ teens’ lives.

Trans Rights are Human Rights