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Bookend: Alex Myers Explores Gender With Novel 'Revolutionary'

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Alex Myers, who was raised as Alice, was Harvard's first openly transgender student and wrote a new novel, "Revolutionary." 
Jonathan Wilson/WAMU
Alex Myers, who was raised as Alice, was Harvard's first openly transgender student and wrote a new novel, "Revolutionary." 

In this edition of Bookend, we sit down with Alex Myers, the author of a new novel called "Revolutionary." Now while most novelists develop a deep connection to their protagonists, Alex Myers' link to Deborah Sampson, the heroine of Revolutionary, is especially strong.

Deborah Sampson — a real historical figure — was a woman who dressed as a man to fight as a soldier for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Sampson's gender-bending story struck a chord with Myers the very first time he heard it when he was little girl.

That's right, Alex Myers used to be Alice Myers. In fact, Myers, who started talking openly about his transgender identity in his teens, went on to become Harvard University's first openly transgender student.

Myers moved to D.C. last year and now studies at Georgetown and works here at American University. On a sidewalk bench just off of Connecticut Avenue, not far from from Myer's apartment, he explains what prompted his new novel.

Why he chose to tell Deborah Sampson’s story:

“I knew the story from when I was very young — it’s a story my grandmother told me — but it’s not something I ever imagined writing a novel on," Myers says. "When I thought about what story I would want to tell, I thought, ‘I gotta tell a story that I know deeply, and that I can spend a lot of time with.’ And I thought back to Deborah Sampson’s story, and I have personal connections to it, not only because of my grandmother telling me the story, but because of my own life. And so I felt that it would be interesting on many different levels: this history, and her character, as well as the resonances about gender.”

How much his own story parallels Sampson’s:

“I think that gender at her time was very different than gender at our time. For me, I always felt from when I was very little that I was a guy, and that’s how I wanted to live, and I just had to figure out how to do it. I don't know, and I don't think I can ever know that that’s what Deborah wanted. But I do get the sense from how she lived her life, both as a woman and as a man, that what she really wanted was to be free and independent, and that was not permitted to women in 1782 Massachusetts.”

Activist, novelist, or both?

“Part of what I have sought to do by living as an out transgender person is to just normalize the category — and be a good person, a good neighbor, a good teacher, a good citizen — and all of that is transgressive because I am transgender. So, I do seek any opportunity to speak out or write about gender identity, because I feel it’s something that people are curious about and often don't understand.”

Music: "Frost Bit" by Mello Music Group from Odd Seasons / "Country Roads" by Miltenberger Quartet from Jazz Perspectives: Renaissance/Rock Vol. 2

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