Short Story: Gentlewoman by Laura Dockrill (Love Hurts)

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Malorie Blackman brought together some of the best teen writers in a stunningly romantic collection about love against the odds. Featuring short stories and extracts – both brand-new and old favourites – about modern star-crossed lovers from stars such as Gayle Forman, Markus Zusak, Patrick Ness and Andrew Smith, and with a new story from Malorie Blackman herself, Love Hurts looks at every kind of relationship, from first kiss to final heartbreak.

I’m thrilled to welcome Laura Dockrill to talk about her short story Gentlewoman and what inspired her to write it.

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Laura Dockrill on Gentlewoman:

I don’t think it’s too much to ask to feel like you are the opposite sex. Why is it socially acceptable for a child to aspire to be a celebrity, a pop-star, an astronaut, a millionaire, an animal, a super-hero, a mermaid but the idea of wanting to be the opposite sex – which they come into contact every single day – such a BIG ORDEAL?

I was talking with my editor Natalie at Random House just before the commission for Love Hurts, about a friend of hers who is a teacher. Her friend had just had a school meeting with the other teachers to inform them that a child was coming back to school after the summer holidays as the opposite sex to what they had been previously known as. I just was totally blown away by the sheer bravery of that child and the more I thought about it I thought… should it be brave? Would it be such a shock if it happened more? I did some research on transgender but after a while I was put off. Completely intimidated and out of my depth. I felt like I should stay wary of the delicate subject matter and knew little of the implications emotionally and physically and very nearly didn’t write the piece at all.

Until lastly I watched this interview of a little girl aged 10. Hearing her speak put everything into perspective; she too didn’t know all the fancy terminology or even understand chemically or mentally what she was experiencing, all she did know was that she didn’t feel like the boy she was born as. Soon I realised that although I had never myself gone through these changes personally, I did know how it felt to feel left out, uncomfortable, not myself, a sore thumb, unconfident. And really that is all Gentlewoman is about. Wanting to feel confident for yourself and not for others.

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Queer YA on Gentlewoman:

I absolutely adored this short story. I just reread it to write this post and I loved it even more. Danni was born in a boy’s body and she has started transitioning. She started the process at the beginning of the school holidays and after six weeks, she is now ready to go back to school as Danni. Danni’s mother is supportive but her dad isn’t quite behind the transition at first. Danni suffers from anxiety and the return to school and the beginning of the transition is panicking her. She wanted to go to another school but her mother stood firm.

Danni knew since she was young that she didn’t feel like a boy and she feels that most people around her have noticed she was different, most people thinking she was gay. She is very anxious and is struggling to eat.

I don’t want to take up more space than I already do. I want to go unnoticed, to slip through school like a ghost. A shadow. Just to fit in.

One of the aspects that I loved the most about the book is that it talks about a transgender young person who is also questioning their sexuality. Danni was born in a boy’s body and likes girls and even though Danni knows exactly who she is, it is hard for others to wrap their heads around.

Couldn’t I have drawn a shorter straw?

The lack of awareness of the difference between gender identity and sexuality can be so detrimental to a young person and it was interesting to read about Danni’s story here. Most people assumed she was a gay boy instead of being a girl.

A girl who was born a boy and was in love with a girl who loved the boy she wasn’t – not the girl she was.

I just wanted to be accepted. But it seemed too much to ask.

It is so interesting to read the inspiration behind Laura Dockrill’s Gentlewoman and how she surmounted her fear of writing about something she felt she didn’t know anything about. We hear a lot of writers talking about their “fear to offend” as a reason for not including more diverse characters and it is such a shame. This is one of my favourite short stories in the anthology and I can’t recommend it enough.

The anthology Love Hurts is mostly composed of extracts from already published books, which is a bit disappointing. The original short stories present in the anthology are well worth a read and I highly recommend you check them out! I really wish the whole book was filled with original stories as it would have made a rather brilliant anthology.

Check out my thoughts on the short story Tumbling by Susie Day!