The Husband

by T Cooper

Issue #138 July 10th, 2010Buy Now!

Edited by Hannah Tinti


So my daughter has become a son. She (or I suppose “he”?), is telling me this (again?), on the phone while I’m tucking in a white dress shirt and zipping up my fly before work. I’m late, and Gladys has probably already finished cleaning our first patient, who will be reclining there with the paper chain around his neck, flecks of gritty polish on his lips and cheeks, awaiting a final check up and futile suggestion from me that we snap a few X-rays before he goes.

“I miss Mom, too,” she says on a cell phone, walking somewhere.

“We aren’t talking about her,” I say. “I miss my daughter.”

“You can miss us both,” she says. “But only one of us actually died.”

T Cooper

T Cooper’s most recent book is a graphic novel entitled The Beaufort Diaries, the inspiring story of a polar bear who escapes extinction by going Hollywood. Cooper is also the author of two regular old novels, Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes and Some of the Parts, as well as co-editor of an anthology of short stories entitled A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing. Cooper’s fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Believer, and many others. He lives in New York with his family.

Q&A by Hannah Tinti

HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
TC: Short answer: When my wife casually asked me to unzip her dress one night.

Long answer: Probably because I think about masculinity a lot, and with reference to this story, I recall thinking specifically about how women generally tend to be more fluid with their understanding and acceptance of gender, while men who are born male, they rarely seem to get beyond the dick/no-dick thing. I find that a lot of dudes refuse to accept female-to-male (FTM) transguys’ masculinity or maleness solely on the basis of there not being a natal penis present on the body in question—as though all the trappings and traits of masculinity are wrapped up in that one tiny appendage. It’s a lot of responsibility and pressure for any appendage to handle. I mean, following that thinking, I suppose the soldier who loses his little guy when an IED explodes under his Hummer is no longer male when he’s sent home on medical discharge. So it got me thinking about a character like the husband, an aging fellow whose masculinity (member) is failing him, what it would feel like for him to recognize he’s slowly and steadily being “upstaged” in the manly department by someone who wasn’t even born male—and his own offspring no less.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
TC: It’s all challenging for me, no one aspect more challenging than another.
HT: Why did you choose to set the story in New York?
TC: Because I don’t envision characters like these in Sault Ste. Marie; it just feels like a New York-textured story. But mostly so I could call Daniel’s band “The Coney Island Whitefish.”
HT: Clothing figures prominently throughout your story, whether it is Daniel’s suits, his father’s uncomfortable undergarments, or the zipper on Delilah’s dress. Was this a conscious choice? And how do you think clothing affects your characters?
TC: Yes, it was a conscious choice to give a little consideration to the exteriors we all choose to drape ourselves in for a variety of reasons (gender especially, but of course so much else is telegraphed through clothing).
HT: In the last paragraph, Daniel’s father finally thinks of him as a “he,” instead of “she.” Why do you think he is able to do that in this moment?
TC: I think it’s his most vulnerable moment, sexually and physically exposed to a woman who is not the one person—the wife—he’d previously entrusted with all that vulnerability. Maybe it takes this cutting down before he can experience just a sliver of recognition that he’s inadvertently responsible for raising a good man in this world.
HT: Can you tell us a little about the title?
TC: I think it’s the narrator’s last remaining identity, the only one that makes sense to him anymore, even after the person who gives him that identity has passed.
HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
TC: The better part of a month, not including revisions with Hannah.
HT: What are you working on now?
TC: A TV pilot for Showtime. And I have a new graphic novel coming out (The Beaufort Diaries), with which I’ll be touring this summer.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
TC: Don’t be an asshole. It wasn’t necessarily specifically about writing, but I think it nevertheless applies.