I’m always excited when I see that a new book by William Vollmann is being published. This article in the Times, however, is a jaw-dropper:
As far as writers go, William T. Vollmann is a man’s man. In pursuit of a story, he has roughed it with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and survived a land mine explosion in Bosnia. He singed his eyebrows off and nearly froze to death exploring the magnetic North Pole. In Thailand, he rescued a teenage girl from sex slavery by kidnapping her from a pimp.
So it may be surprising that Mr. Vollmann, the absurdly prolific author and National Book Award winner, is also a devoted cross-dresser. He has developed a female alter ego named Dolores, whom he refers to in the third person.
“Dolores is a relatively young woman trapped in this fat, aging male body,” Mr. Vollmann said. “I’ve bought her a bunch of clothes, but she’s not grateful. She would like to get rid of me if she could.”
Dolores is the subject of Mr. Vollmann’s freaky new volume of photographs and paintings, “The Book of Dolores” (powerHouse Books). Over beer and then whiskey at his writing bunker here, he related her origin story.
Mr. Vollmann is 54, heterosexual and married with a daughter in high school. He began cross-dressing seriously about five years ago. Sometimes he transforms himself into a woman as part of a strange vision quest, aided by drugs or alcohol, to mind-meld with a female character in a book he’s writing. Other times it’s just because he likes the “smooth and slippery” feel of women’s lingerie.
The New York Times article goes on to provide a deeper understanding of this extracurricular activity practiced by one of America’s greatest living authors. How did it start? What does his wife think of it? Does he ever get hit upon when roaming the Tenderloin?
Vollmann’s huge novel The Royal Family sits on the table by my bed and I read a few pages about the underworld of the Tenderloin just before drifting off to sleep. What is it about prostitutes and drug users that allows me to snuggle deep into my memory foam with my two dogs to keep me warm while I pleasantly sleep the night away? Back in the late 1950s, the age of the drive-in ghoul-fest, my grandfather told me that people project their fears into the unstoppable monster who is destined to have them for a snack. Then, when the creature is killed at the end of the movie, the people walk out of the theater leaving all those cares and worries behind with the dead monster.
Maybe The Royal Family is like this for me. Maybe Vollmann uses cross-dressing in a similar fashion: how many of his personal worries get left behind when he changes into khakis and a golf shirt and hangs his dress in the closet?
Is it true that Rush Limbaugh played the original Creature From the Black Lagoon? Jabba Desilijic Tiure?