Intersex character at center of Atlanta lesbian author’s debut novel

Atlanta lesbian author Libby Ware chose a unique and all too rarely voiced sexual minority to be the protagonist for her debut novel. “Lum” (short for Columbia) is the title character of the book of the same name, released in late October.

Identified at age eight as what we now know of as intersex, Lum is now a 33-year-old shuttled from one relative’s house to another in the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1930s. Everything changes when the Blue Ridge Parkway is scheduled to come through her family’s farmland, and the community is subsequently torn apart.

Ware, the owner of Toadlily Books in Grant Park, took a few minutes to talk about the book and the title character.

What gave you the idea to have your protagonist be intersex?

My mother told me a story when I was a child about a “morphydite” who had no home of her own. I decided to write a short story about her, but it grew into a novel.

How did you first learn about intersexuality?

I don’t remember when I first learned about hermaphrodites, but I had the mistaken idea that they had all the genitals and other gender traits. When I started researching I learned that intersex was the preferred term and is an umbrella term that includes many different syndromes where an individual’s genitals or reproductive organs are not typical for either gender. I had to decide which condition she had so I decided that she would have Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). Then I made her symptoms relevant to the book.

Did you talk to any intersex people as part of your research?

Not as a one-on-one conversation, but I have been in groups where prominent intersex people, Dani Harris and Caitlin Childs, have given presentations.

How much does Lum being intersex factor into the narrative of the book?

Two major ways: (1) She is told that she shouldn’t marry so she takes on the role of maiden aunt, but she doesn’t have a fixed residence and travels from home to home as she is needed. (2) She feels that she was born different and has a fascination with side show performers’ postcards. She looks to the performers as having a family when they were rejected by their own families. She also likes proof that she’s not the only person who was “born different.”

Do you have any upcoming events in Atlanta to promote the book?

My next event will be at the Atlanta Writers Club meeting, February 20 at 1:30 pm where I will have a Member’s Moment. The address is: Georgia Perimeter College – Dunwoody Campus, 2101 Womack Rd., Atlanta GA 30338, in Building NC room 1100 auditorium. I will be talking mostly about revising a manuscript with the goal of reducing the number of pages.

On April 20, at 7:30 pm I will be asking about my book at the Village Writers Club in the back of Eagle Eye Books.

By Libby Ware