Defense of An Other
Author: Grace Mead
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Publishers Author’s Page
Launched November 13, 2018
Genre: LGBTQIA > Legal > Thriller > Fiction
Page Count: 312 Pages
My Rating: 4 Stars
About the Author (From Author’s Website):
“Grace is a practicing lawyer born and raised in Louisiana who graduated from Dartmouth College and then became the Editor-in-Chief of The University of Chicago Law Review. Her 17-year career has included a one-year clerkship for the appellate court with jurisdiction over Louisiana federal trial courts and 16 years of civil litigation.”
About Defense of an Other (From Publisher’s Website):
“Defense of an Other begins in the French Quarter with a day in the life of a young lawyer named Matt Durant gone horribly awry. After a few beers, Matt works up the courage to visit a gay bar, where he meets a stranger named Joey Buckner. When Matt and Joey duck into an alley behind the bar to take a leak, three drunks target them for a hate crime and beat up Joey, which forces Matt to attack and kill one of the men. Matt is then arrested for murder, thrown in Orleans Parish Prison and calls his boss for help, forcing him out of the closet. The novel then follows the course of his trial and explores its consequences.
Defense of an Other is the debut novel from a trans, practicing lawyer born and raised in Louisiana who graduated from Dartmouth College and then became the Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Law Review. Her 17-year career has included a one-year clerkship for the appellate court with jurisdiction over Louisiana federal trial courts and 16 years of civil litigation. Heavily influenced by political fiction like Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, in Defense of an Other southern storytelling meets the gritty legal realism of Law & Order.”
About Defense of An Other (From Author’s Website):
“In Defense of an Other, I tried to heed Toni Morrison’s advice to write the book you want to read, in three ways,” said Grace, who was born and raised in Louisiana. “First, I hope it’s a story that would command attention over beers on a back porch in Louisiana — in the first couple of chapters, there’s boxing, drinking, dancing, a killing, and prison. Second, I hope it engages the reader in complex legal issues, crucial in deciding which politicians to elect and which judges to appoint. Finally, I hope it captures the loneliness, isolation, and pain of being closeted and fearing violence from strangers and rejection from those you love most. I couldn’t have written a book of this quality before my transition.”
Grace Mead wrote five essays in which she discusses her life experiences. The essays are On Identity, On Religion, On Depression, On Kindness, and On Happiness. I have provided excerpts from each essay below but encourage readers to take the time to read each essay in its entirety.
On Identity: “In Defense of an Other, I have placed words in some secondary characters’ mouths that I desperately needed to hear; validation that no one is blameworthy because of their race or sexual orientation or gender identity; validation that those viewpoints are fundamentally wrong; and validation that when the State acts based on those viewpoints it is unjust.
Diversity has value for many reasons, including that a diverse cast of characters makes for a more interesting story and opens up more plot possibilities. But a novelist will always bring her individual perspective to bear on those characters; unlike the collaborative work of the movie Brokeback Mountain or the television show Pose, my novel is inevitably written from a more restricted viewpoint. But I couldn’t imagine writing a story worthy of this subject matter without people of various colors, of different genders, of different sexual orientations, or of different backgrounds. The use of dialect is also intentional—the cadences of a person’s speech and words chosen are telling. Most obviously, people with prejudices use slurs.
I am a transwoman, a lawyer, a reader, a thinker, a writer, and many other things, but we are all human. And that remains transcendent.”
On Religion: “Because I was too reactive to the possibility of hell and those that threatened it, as a teenager, I was atheist. In college, I took a course on modern Jewish history and the professor skillfully revealed the author of the principal secondary text to be anti-religious. I was compelled to admit that no one can disprove the existence of God and that many religious people, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, have been an enormous force of good. Many I’ve known personally are wonderful. And so for a while I was an atheist striving to become agnostic, until sometime in my 20s or 30s I became trusting enough to call myself agnostic. I now hope to be spiritual.
Though I now rule out few possibilities, I will be surprised if I will ever feel safe embracing the religion of my childhood. But I hope, in my lifetime, my being will stop being regarded as a sin.”
On Depression: “At 18, I swallowed a bottle of pills and tried to kill myself—it’s now the failure of which I’m proudest, surviving the epidemic of depression, dysphoria, and discrimination that has killed far too many women like me. Most differ from me in two ways—they are women of color and of humble means. But neither difference deserves death.
But I remained depressed and both desperate for medical help and afraid of it—lurking in the back of my mind wasn’t the prospect of conversion therapy but rather schizophrenia. So I became a psychology major, and in the midst of my depression sought out the chair of the department, from whom I’d taken a class. He recommended my college therapist, from whom I’d taken abnormal psychology.
She saved my life, though I was too frightened to admit any transgender ideation to her. In her presence, I may not have smiled, but for the first time I crossed my legs at the knee in front of someone else. While under the stress of concealing my transgender ideation from a brilliant therapist, I also experienced a hypomanic episode of about a week. But, aside from too little sleep and some hyperactivity, there were few consequences—I quickly saw a psychiatrist who prescribed me Wellbutrin and Depakote. Though the drugs prevented any hypomania or mania, and my depression lifted enough to make it through the day, she and I well knew the depression still plagued me. But we couldn’t find a solution, and I was off to The University of Chicago Law School after being admitted off the wait list.
Others have made it through what you’re surviving and found happiness—if you’re queer, you can look, as I did, to Janet Mock; if you have a mood disorder, you can look, as I did, to Kay Redfield Jamison; and if you are schizophrenic, you can look to Elyn R. Saks. All have written books, and Elyn Saks gave a TED Talk. And, for each, know that there are many more who have found happiness but choose to live quieter, more private lives.”
On Kindness: “To find my fears unfounded has been humbling. I should have expected better from those around me. After beginning at Stearns Weaver Miller in 2007 but long before the announcement of my transition, in 2008 and 2010, I voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital for two bouts of mania, each lasting about two weeks. The discretion and consideration surrounding my health and privacy was astonishing.
A transition is a transition, and no one passes in the beginning all the time. You receive funny looks; at times, you’re discouraged from using safe restrooms; some regard you with disgust; and strangers can be unkind. But then I had an insight—whether I pass or I’m read I always need carry myself with at least the pretense of confidence and attempt to show courtesy and kindness. It worked.”
On Happiness: “I’ve always known I was fortunate for many reasons, but since transitioning, for the first time, I feel fortunate.
I read and heard many things before beginning my transition about the impact on those who are prepared—job performance improves, dysphoria can abate, depression can subside, but I was least prepared for happiness.
Yet a funny thing happened about 18 months into presenting authentically full-time—I became happy.
My perception of the world has fundamentally changed, as if I no longer see in black and white but now see the entire color spectrum, ranging from infrared to ultraviolet. I think of myself as seeing beyond the color spectrum because, as I’ve thought through my transition and lived it, I’ve found some maladaptive behavior falling away but have also tried, with a measure of self-awareness, to retain adaptive behaviors.”
Defense of an Other is Grace Mead’s debut novel that she self-published. Mead readily admits “all views and any errors are hers.” Aside from a few editorial errors, Defense of an Other is a superbly written novel. The Publisher and the Author’s Website provide adequate information on their description of the novel.
Most startling was what Mead revealed about equality, “from 2013 to 2015, in the years in which the Supreme Court was considering the same-sex marriage issue, according to data voluntarily reported to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Project, there were over 3900 victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, including those who were murdered.” We see things that represent change but unfortunately, these things remain the same.
Not surprising in Mead’s “A Note on Louisiana and the Characters.” Mead is speaking about Louisiana when she writes, “I’ve worked through my own self-loathing through a series of approximations: thinking of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, biases against those in rural areas, biases against those with humbler means, biases against those with certain political beliefs, heterosexism, homophobia, and then, finally, transphobia as I met people of all sorts who were considerate and kind. In the end, having encountered so many types of caring people, including trans individuals, I was left no choice but to stop hating myself.” Louisiana biases? Sadly these same biases are in every corner of our country where people live in fear and hate who they are for the sake of their safety. Sadder is the fact that we now live in a time where biases and hate are encouraged.
I encourage everyone who reads this blog post to read Grace Mead’s five essays in their entirety, and as you do, remember love is a verb. It was Mead’s essays that spoke to me the loudest. I would like to see Grace wrap those essays up together with added subjects in a memoir. After all, these are the issues of today.
Thank you to Clink Street Publishing, Grace Meade and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this novel.