Imagine engaging in sexual intimacy with someone you care about for the first time after surviving the loss of a serious, committed, loving relationship.
In Palmetto Rose, this is where we find a bi+, gender fluid narrator affectionately called Kid by their loved ones. After five years trying to numb and escape the pain of losing their first love to a tragic accident, Kid begins to wake up, grieve, and try to rebuild their life in Atlanta, Georgia. Through their eyes, we watch as they seek to make sense of grief, pursue the possibility of a college education, and embark on their first serious romantic relationship since they were a teenager. In the process, we spend time with their chosen family of friends who navigate relationships, graduate programs, and developing careers. As the story unfolds, these friends face the ups and downs of early adulthood alongside the ways their individual and shared pasts find voices in their current endeavors, future plans, and intertwined lives. Although many characters in this story originally appeared in Cigarettes & Wine, Homecoming Queens, or Other People’s Oysters, Palmetto Rose may be read as a stand-alone novel.
Although written as a first-person narrative that allows readers to imagine themselves in the shoes of the narrator, Palmetto Rose is a novel about the life course and early adulthood; how we shift and change in relation to the events we experience in the past and hope for in the future, and how the people, places, narratives, and emotional experiences we face shape our impressions of our lives, the social world, and the passage of time. It is also a case study of the complexity of gender, sexuality, age, religion, emotion, region, and broader social norms in the formation and change of identities, relationships, and selves over the life course. As in life, the ways our varied intersections, relationships and experiences impact the life course permeate the events captured in the following pages. Palmetto Rose offers a view into the ways young people with both deeply positive loving bonds and shared painful losses grow into adults throughout their twenties, and the ways such people may shift over time in response to individual and collective experiences, intersections, and relationships that arise in the course of their lives. It also provides a first-person view of the ways emotions, intimacy, college access and experience, healthcare norms, families, friends, lovers, and broader social norms influence the life course and early adulthood.
Palmetto Rose also follows my prior Social Fictions work by highlighting realistic portrayals of bisexual, transgender, and poly experiences all too rarely available in contemporary media or academic materials. Alongside academic and media portrayals of the world that generally only notice binary options, it delivers a reminder that non-binary sexual, gender and relationship options exist, and introduces readers to some of the conflicts unique to such groups (and shared by other nonconformists) in early adulthood. Especially at a time when even college professors sometimes struggle with topics related to fluidity and when LGBTQIA students at book talks regularly ask me for more options for reading and learning about our lives, Palmetto Rose supplies readers with an opportunity to view the world, society, college and early adulthood through the eyes of a fluid narrator.
While entirely fictional, Palmetto Rose is grounded in my own personal experience as a bisexual (on the pansexual end of the spectrum), non-binary transwoman (formerly identified as a cross-dresser, transsexual, genderqueer, and/or transwoman at different points), and poly (with a preference for an open relationship with one or more primary, committed partnerships) person raised in the south. It is also built upon years of ethnographic, auto-ethnographic, historical and statistical research I have done concerning intersections of sexualities, gender, religion, and health in the United States, and hundreds of formal and informal interviews I have conducted – professionally and for personal interest – with bisexual (across the spectrum), transgender (throughout the umbrella), lesbian, gay, asexual, heterosexual, intersex, poly (in varied forms), kink, cisgender and Queer identified people who span the religious-nonreligious spectrum and were raised all over the world. Since stories are often powerful pedagogical tools for stimulating reflection and discussion about even the most challenging topics, I crafted this novel as a way for readers to step into the shoes of a fluid person, and in so doing, acquire a starting point for understanding sexual, gender, and relationship complexity in society.
For me, Palmetto Rose is a pedagogical text blending artistic and research efforts in a manner that has, throughout my career thus far, been incredibly effective in classrooms. In fact, the reactions to my earlier Social Fictions endeavors from students and fellow teachers led me to craft this story as an expansion of the lives of the characters introduced in prior novels. As such, Palmetto Rose may be used as an educational tool for people seeking to better understand growing numbers of openly bisexual, transgender, and poly people; as a supplemental reading for courses across disciplines dealing with gender, sexualities, relationships, families, the life course, narratives, emotions, the American south, identities, culture, and/or intersectionality; or it can, of course, be read entirely for pleasure.