Screenwriter Tracy Dawson considered posing as a man to further her career. She wrote a book about it instead

Author and comedian Tracy Dawson.Kathleen Munroe/Handout

Actress and screenwriter Tracy Dawson was meeting with television executives about a writing gig when one told her that the shows she was interested in had no “feminine needs” in terms of writing staff. Dawson, who began his career at Second City and whose acting credits include a Gemini for his role on the TV show call me fitz, left the meeting in shock. “I never even considered it a possibility,” says Dawson, who was born in Ottawa and now lives in Los Angeles. “I was like, I’m a great comedy writer. I write good jokes. That’s what I do, and that’s how people will see me. So I felt stupid, in a way, because I didn’t see it coming – that I would be considered a “woman writer,” not a comedy writer.

Dawson briefly considered what impersonating a man could do for his career, then decided to take that idea and write about it, first in a few television presentations and then in book form. Let Me Be Frank: A book about women who dressed like men to do things they weren’t supposed to do was released on May 10. Dawson spoke to The Globe and Mail’s Jana G. Pruden about provocative women, the lessons of history and finding hope in the present moment.

How did you find and choose the women to write about?

I like to sit in front of the computer for hours and do research. I like. I became really good friends with Google, and I dug and I dug and I dug. There are so many people who have been forgotten in the history books. We all know who was in charge of documenting things, so we know what they thought was important to write down and what they didn’t. There are stories that we will never know, because they were about black people, women, gay people, people who were great and did amazing things – it just wasn’t documented. And it’s maddening.

It’s been really… let’s say interesting week to read your book, given the news coming out of the United States about Roe vs. Wade. On the one hand, I found it inspiring to think about how women have resisted and persevered throughout history, but also really infuriating to confront all that is still stacked against women. How do you feel ?

It is remarkable that this is happening as the book is about to be released. At first I just felt sick and paralyzed and like I couldn’t breathe. So many people were tweeting that even though all the signs were there, even though we knew it was coming, it wouldn’t change the way it felt in your body. In your body. It’s hard for me to talk about it because I get so angry. It’s crazy fabrication. In fact, it drives you crazy.

That’s a word for it. Is there anything you learned in the process of this book that gives you hope for what we could do from here?

It’s been a tough week for Hope. I saw someone tweet: “Desperation is very attractive sometimes. But the hope is that I believe in women as extraordinary, persevering, persistent beings, and I know that I’m going to be fueled and inspired by other people, and I don’t have to do this or to feel that or to fight alone against that. It gives me hope.

I would like to talk a bit about the voice and the writing style. It’s a really serious story, but you wrote it in such an engaging way. He’s got this modern, direct voice, and it’s fun and funny. Can you talk a bit about the decision to take on these important lives and the legacy of these women with this kind of voice and style?

I knew I wanted this book to be in my voice. And my voice is that of someone sitting opposite you in a banquette at the restaurant. I wanted to grab the reader’s hands and say, “You’re not going to believe this. I wanted them to feel my enthusiasm and my passion. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I wanted to make people laugh, but I don’t hide my anger, my disbelief either. I don’t think I use humor to tone down harsh messages. I think I do it in a way that almost amplifies the messy nature of being alive as a human woman.

You wrote about Jezebel writer Catherine Nichols sending in her book under a male name and the more positive responses she received. In the introduction to your book, you said you weren’t seriously considering turning into the male version of yourself to write on a TV show. But have you thought about it?

Yeah, absolutely. I am a scammer. I want the concert. I want a chance to work, and I’m pretty myself. I think I’m good, right? I thought about it, but I didn’t think on this subject. Also, living a lie – that would be so stressful. My anxiety would probably be through the roof. Then I thought, well, what’s the realistic answer to that? It’s just to carry on – take the next meeting and hope the exec doesn’t think that way or the showrunner doesn’t just see you as a woman writer. And just keep writing amazing scripts that people can’t deny.

That’s why people of color, women, and gay people always have to look amazing. They must be the best. A filmmaker cannot make a decent film. If she makes a good movie like most first-time male directors do, she won’t get a second movie.

Not all of your subjects are heroes. For example, the “witch hunter” Christian Caddell really wasn’t a great lady, all things considered. Catalina de Erauso is another who stood out. Was it different when you were writing about a woman who was more problematic?

It was different, but at the same time, I come from this world where I wrote a lot of anti-heroines and I had a hard time selling them, when anti-heroes like a Breaking Bad-type character was all the rage, or the Tony Soprano. The executive producers would say, “We love the idea of ​​an anti-heroine.” So I would bring them a great script that everyone thought was really funny and dark and awesome, and they were like, “Ohhhh, that’s a little too dark for a woman.” You say you want the anti-heroin, but you don’t greenlight the shows, and you keep watching and judging and deciding. You are the guardian. Bad, but not this wrong.

One thing you can say about Caddell and Erauso is that they chose themselves. They did not respond to the others. If anti-hero characters are allowed to exist and have stories written about them and be out there in the world, and people can love them, hate them, obsess over them, then why not women? Why not?

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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