In Cactus Country (Abrams, May), Bossiere unpacks the effects of their Arizona trailer park childhood on their fluid gender identity.

What led you to root the book so firmly in the landscape of the Southwest?

When I started to write, I was asking myself, “What does all this mean? What did it mean to me then, and what does it mean to me now?” I didn’t know how to answer those questions, but I did know how to write about Tucson, and the desert, and the things that I knew intimately: the cacti and the heat and the animals. Every single chapter was born from that clay. From there, I was able to talk about the boys and men who were around, and through them, I was able to talk about myself. And then I realized that everything mirrored each other. I wrote about the sharp, stoic landscape, and noticed that the men who inhabited it were these sharp, stoic people, and that I made decisions about to what extent I wanted to be like them—and thus, like the desert.

What scared you the most about writing this story?

Everything. Prior to writing this book, I didn’t feel like I was allowed to use words like queer or trans to describe myself; I felt like I was maybe appropriating them from people who couldn’t pass as well as I did. In grad school, I tried very hard to become more in line with the expectations of the institution, because I could see that not doing that could be a hindrance. But the more I wrote, the more I learned about myself, and I realized that I was uncomfortable with the life I was living. This book completely changed my life, I think in the best way—but change is always a little scary.

What was joyful about writing it?

I loved getting to revisit all these euphoric moments from my childhood. Looking back, I realized I had this incredible ability to be who I was during a time when most kids weren’t allowed to do that.

How aware were you, as you wrote, of providing representation for kids like you?

As a child, I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on, and no matter how much I read, I never really found a story that seemed to match my experiences—what happens when someone who is assigned female at birth doesn’t feel like a girl, or what happens when you’re a boy but you’re going through female puberty. And there was always this existential terror about who I would be as an adult. I literally could not picture what that person would look like, where they would live, what they would be doing. A big part of writing Cactus Country was to provide a map of one way it could be, so if there are kids who have the same questions now, maybe there are parts of my story that will resonate with them, and provide comfort, and maybe some kind of hope.