I just finished Lorie Ann Grover's "Firstborn," a fascinating piece of speculative fiction in which first born daughters are seized and killed by a repressive colonial government -- unless their parents are willing to declare them male, forcing them to live out hidden, secretive lives. As a declared male, Tiadone may be living with her male peers, but she's not treated like one, and when she's sent for military training, she begins to question her gender, her faith, and her identity.
Grover explores the topic of gendercide in a fresh, fascinating way, and I was excited to have a chance to talk with her about her book and the larger social issues it grapples with, in a world where gendercide is still happening and reading can be the gateway to social awareness.
xoJane: My first question is not directly book-related: I know that you're doing a tremendous amount of work on gendercide right now, and I wanted to invite you to talk about how you'd gotten into the politics of gendercide, and the work you're doing now.
Grover: Really, I’m only involved as much as anyone might easily be. I grew informed through the "It’s a Girl" movie, which was engaging and heartbreaking. I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to participate at All Girls Allowed to support women carrying female infants, and artistically, I’ve designed 30 posters at Polyvore, hoping they’ll be shared across the internet to raise awareness of gendercide. It’s so easy to relay the most current news and updates through various social media sites. Once exposed to gendercide, individuals can act in many ways to make an impact.
xoJane: "Firstborn" is very much a commentary on the practice of killing female infants, couched in this case in a ritualistic religious practice that's widely accepted by society. Was there a single moment for you that sparked this novel?
Grover: The novel sparked when I read a snippet of an article in a magazine in 2004. I was dumbfounded to read gendercide was still occurring. I channeled my anger into a fictional work with the hope it would engage conversation about the atrocity. Ten years later, the work released.
xoJane: One thing that really struck me in "Firstborn" was the trans politics that ran through the novel, with a character who is assigned (or declared, in the context of this novel) male and who later comes to the understanding that she's a woman and always has been -- Tiadone's struggles with her body and its defiance as her endocrine system betrays her assigned identity really resonated with me as a transgender reader. Did you think about these issues while writing, or interact with the trans community when doing research for "Firstborn"?
Grover: In early drafts of "Firstborn," I had Tia’s father hiding her sex; however, when my daughter shared a lesson from her college cultural anthropology class, I knew I had a fresh twist for my protagonist. Gender declarations or transformations have sometimes been used by societies to insure inheritance when there is no male offspring or to adjust the division of labor when there is a shortage of males. I thought, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a girl whose sex is so devalued she has to be declared male to live? What would her story be to self-discovery and acceptance? This became Tia’s heroine’s journey. My research was limited to academic reading, although I did do interviews for primitive living and hunting information.
xoJane: Obviously, colonialism and the suppression of traditional beliefs and practices play a huge role in this novel. What role do you see colonialism playing in gendercide?
Grover: My focus was really religious oppression. I wanted to explore the concept of worshiping privately and the alienation one might feel. I was interested in martyrdom versus flight for religious freedom.
I was enlightened by the "It’s a Girl" movie and other gendercide sources to see some beliefs and practices have encouraged gendercide, such as the dowry system. How difficult to rise out of a heritage to make a change for human rights; yet, we must, as former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
“It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken simply because they are born girls. Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
xoJane: Spirituality and religious faith play a pretty important role in Tiadone's world, creating a fascinating interaction between Tiadone's struggles with her body and struggles with her religion. What kind of role do you see religion playing in the lives of the women and girls you work with?
Grover: I believe everyone has a worldview they witness life through. Whether it is termed religion or philosophy or a personal belief system, worldviews generate and explain our life choices. Who we believe men and women are, who God is or is not, and what our purpose is filters our perspective. Every action is a choice based on those personal convictions. It is interesting is to watch and interpret what others might believe. Personally, I’m surrounded by women and girls living out their convictions, aiming for consistency in their pursuits.
xoJane: Do you have more books planned for this world? I'd really like to see where Tia goes next, because something makes me suspect she has a strong revolutionary spirit!
Grover: Thank you! I’d love to write more about Tia and her world. She has so much more to explore!
xoJane: What have you been reading and listening to lately, and who are some of your favorite ladies of fiction?
Grover: I’ve been on a classic run with Willa Cather, and I’ve invested time reading nonfiction about the heroine’s journey. Which is so much less defined than the hero’s journey. Who knows where that might lead? Favorite ladies would include Beth Kephart, Kate DiCamillo, and Margo Lanagan. I co-founded readergirlz, the literacy social media group, and I highly esteem the writing of our current staff including: Melissa Walker, Micol Ostow, Martha Brockenbrough, and Justina Chen. Musically, I’ve been bopping around to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
xoJane: A final critical question for our readers: cake, or pie?
"Firstborn" is out now from Blink YA, so if you're intrigued, pick up a copy!