Can you tell if a painting is a work of fiction? Can you spot a non-fiction sculpture? What about theatre, do you know when it’s based on reality? And if reality is subjective, does it even matter? Could reality be whatever we take away from an experience? This combination of fact and fiction, what author Alec Butler refers to as “faction”, will resonate for queer people because of the shared experiences of isolation we face from being treated differently to the war over our bodies.

Rough Paradise is a coming of age story about a self-identified boy named Terry who lives in an unwelcoming, violent steel town that prefer he remains as Teresa. In his pursuit for authenticity, Terry is a moving portrait of what it’s like to live in fear of being locked into a psychiatric ward, aversion therapy, gender identity disorder labels, and violence. Amidst the muck, Terry falls in love with Darla, the woman of his dreams who affectionately refers to him as ‘Pussy Boy’, and for once it seems like he’s got it all. Until the rest of the town, including his parents, find out.

Butler delivers an unapologetic glimpse into what it means to reclaim who you are, amidst a world that is bent on telling you different. “My novella references and is a companion piece to a trilogy of animated films I made when I first came out as trans/intersex/two-spirit back at the turn of the 21st century,called “Misadventures of Pussy Boy”. The films have been screened all over the world and won awards, but mostly they were a way of reclaiming the nasty and hurtful slurs that are hurled at LGBTQQIP2SAA people, and throwing it back in their face as a reaction against being shamed. We must live our lives shameless.”

As a community, we’ve often lumped ourselves under acronyms such as LGBTQQIP2SAA, which can have the appearance that all of our struggles are the same. In what ways do you think the challenge of an intersexed person is different?

From a young age we experience a lot of shame if we don’t fit the socially prescribed boxes that society wants us to fit into, to be accepted. I will never feel comfortable as a man or a woman. I think this is a difference non-binary people feel from being gay, lesbian, queer or cis-gendered, or even pre or post transgendered, we ride the line of being isolated in every social setting. It is literally in our face every moment of our life, and we feel it keenly, how unacceptable we are, how monstrous we are just to be alive.

Was there a particular part of this story that was harder to write than the others?

Writing is hard work, period. I wrecked my body writing this book, and I lost my mind. My body and my psyche will never be the same. But it was a story I had to tell, that is what stories do, they change the writer and the reader. If I had to pick… the scenes with the parents were the hardest to write, because I wanted to give the mother and father a voice that was as confused about the intersexed narrator’s struggle, but show love for their child… This was also a love letter to my own parents who supported me no matter what.

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About the Author

Raymond Helkio is an author, director and award-winning filmmaker. As a graduate from the Ontario College of Art & Design he cofounded The Reading Salon and is a Canadian Ambassador for the Moral Courage Project. Find him on Facebook.