Joanne Spataro Dismantles the 'Preconceptions' of Conception: A GLAAD x Audible Interview Series
Writer, ghostwriter and writing teacher Joanne Spataro's memoir Preconceptions, shares their story of how, against all odds, two people realized their dream of becoming a party of three.
November 12, 2021
GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce a five-episode written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.
Our fifth and final interview features Spataro in conversation with Anthony Ramos, GLAAD’s Head of Talent.
Note: Text has been edited and does not match audio exactly.
Anthony Ramos: Thanks so much for being here with us! First question is: for many LGBTQ people, inspiration is often drawn from the role models and idols within our community who have changed the way we are seen, heard, and represented in society. So, we are curious, is there someone in the community who inspired you or your work?
Joanne Spataro: There are so many people that are inspiring that come to mind. So, I try to narrow it down to people who inspire me writing wise who are in the community. You know, someone who popped up for me was David Sedaris. I’m so inspired by him. I love his work. I’ve had the thrill to meet him at one of his book signings and he just really inspired me as I’ve been writing, and writing this project that I can be funny, I can be sarcastic, and tell a really powerful story. So that really kept me going. And so, I guess I would pick him because he’s really inspired me through this whole project.
AR: I love that, David is a bit supporter of GLAAD, one of the greats. So I completely agree with you there.
AR: That's why we are here today with Audible. Thanks to services like Audible, having access to these important LGBTQIA+ stories and content is now easier than ever. What kind of LGBTQIA+ story would you stay still needs to be told and heard?
JS: I think we need more LGBTQIA+ stories about joy. We have a lot of stories about struggle when it comes to our identities, our orientation, and the way that we move in the world. My project deals with that of course. I would like to see more stories with joy in them. Living the joy of love, the joy of finding acceptance, and the joy of the everyday little things as a queer person. I think that would be powerful. And I also hope we have more stories that show the vast breadth of our community. Black and Brown people, people who are non-binary, trans, have different orientations—all of that good stuff. I think we need more stories of joy and then we need more a diverse group of writers to write them.
AR: I could not agree more, and I think the idea of joy and showing queer people thriving is so important. Obviously, we need to acknowledge what has happened and the challenges but now I think it’s, like you said, about joy and to show that as well. Which I think is a great segue into why we are here today: your project!
Preconceptions, coming out soon—congrats on that! Tell us a little bit about the project because we are really excited to see what the story is all about.
JS: Thank you so much! I’m very excited to get Preconceptions out there. It feels like it’s been a baby that I’ve been pregnant with for years now. That’s a long time to be pregnant!
Preconceptions is a story about how my wife Lara, and I conceived a child together. As a gay person, I've always wanted to have a family, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. And then I swiped right on Lara on Tinder, and I just immediately fell for her. I just was like, "Woah! I think this is the woman for me." And she tells me that she’s trans. And I thought, "Woah, is it possible for us to have a biological child together?" And it turns out, that was the journey that we go on in this book.
"I hope the reader can see that whatever you’re going through, there may be more strength inside than you think, and there may be more strength outside of you through friends and chosen family that can help you get through it as well."
So, we show the physical and mental machinations and obstacles of how we were able to do that together. There were times when it looked like our relationship might not happen. It looked like we were going to break up. It looked like we were just not going to make it. And so, I take the listener on that journey with me on the ups and downs, the triumphs, the setbacks. That’s what Preconceptions is all about.
The title kind of has a story within it because there are people who have in their mind what it means to be a queer couple trying to have a baby. Especially to people like us: I use she/they pronouns, but I’m often read as cis. My partner is a trans woman. We are moving in the world in this relationship. How do we have a family? What does that look like? So often people have things in their mind that they think it’s like and this is the story of before we conceived a child. That’s why it’s called Preconceptions.
AR: Thank you for sharing that. I think the message is that queer family is possible, queer people can have children. What else do you want the listener to take away from this?
TS: Yes! I think that’s a great way to put it too is that people who are trying to have a family or have a family and are queer will see themselves in this. They will see the angst, struggle, the good times, the bad times. I also hope that people will see the strength of the human spirit because that’s what it’s about: us being people and trying to thrive and trying to transform in a situation that can be very difficult and that is not made easier by society. Like, we had friends and stuff but honestly not a lot of people knew what was going on. So to show this strength of Lara and I sticking together through thick and thin, loving each other through it and then finding people along the way who did support us—I hope the reader can see that whatever you’re going through, there may be more strength inside than you think, and there may be more strength outside of you through friends and chosen family that can help you get through it as well.
AR: I love that! How long have you two been together?
TS: Oh, gosh! We will be together seven years next May.
AR: Congratulations! I think the more that we see long-term queer couples together it’s also so important. You had said that you have been pregnant with a story for a while now. How are you feeling now that there is such a potential for more people to hear this very personal story thanks to Audible?
TS: How do I feel that people will know all the details? You know, I have spent time in my home office just thinking, "Oh my goodness, what will people think?" I've had a taste of that when I've done a few pieces for The Times and one of them was trans and queer fertility and I talked about this idea of how you could have a child biologically in the queer community. And it was met with such polarizing reactions. [There were] people who were just excited to hear about it because they also wanted to do the same thing and then [there were] people who were homophobic or transphobic. Unfortunately, that's what happens.
I think that it’s important to tell the story so that’s what kept me going. That’s it because otherwise I just be a little ball like, "I don’t know if I should say this." I felt that it would help people, and I also had to tell the story. I had to just get it out.
AR: I love that! Thinking about Audible and this platform, audio storytelling is such a strong platform for elevating voices, especially within our community. In terms of the format, what do you think about your story, Preconceptions, that lends itself to being suited for audio production?
TS: Oh gosh! I got to really have fun with this. I had to write a very serious story. There are many serious and dramatic moments in this project, and then for me the audio part gave me a sense of levity and also the inclusion of many of the voices.
So, for example, Lara voices herself. And that for me was a load off because I often ask myself am I allowed to tell this story? Lara and I have both been in this and she is trans, I don’t want to step on that experience. But we had very long talks about it, talks with close friends. And the thing is this is sort of half my story and half hers. So, for her to be included in the production and to have her say the words that I wrote—and then I told her, "Hey, if you need to change anything, just change it. Please feel free to rip and just do it." So, for us to sort of be able to be in it together plus have our music in the book—because we have a queer glitter band called JoRa: Joann + Lara. Get it?.
We have been doing our music for years and that’s one of the things that kept us together through hard times and has been a source of joy for us. So, to be able to bring people the songs that we loved and performed across the country and to now also offer a theme—we wrote the theme for this story, specifically for this project. That became very collaborative and so the collaborative aspect of doing a project like this where it is auditory, where you can sit and listen to it, was so powerful for me.
Going back to your last question, "How did I feel about telling all of these things about my life?" I felt better knowing that our music was in there, that Lara was in there, that there were fun moments. My pal Jonathan Hadley does a voice in there. He’s incredible, an incredible actor. My best friend Fitz Bailey—he did it, he does a voice. It felt like, "Okay, I did all the work of sadness and writing the sad parts. Let’s bring the family in and let’s make it this audio experience that you just can't believe." And so that’s what I love about it.
AR: I love that—a family affair. I didn’t realize that music element. That’s so cool. Tell me more about JoRa. Who needs Bennifer when you got JoRa, right? I love that!
TS: That is the truth! So JoRa—we started, I think, the same year that we met. And so, Lara moved into my townhouse about three months after we got together, which is like I think the gayest thing, but we did that. And she brought her drums. And the drums were sitting there, and I was like, "Oh my gosh these drums." And she started teaching me how to play them. And I got a kick out of it. I enjoyed it because I used to play piano when I was a kid and so I liked instruments
And then we just started putting these fun songs together. We were taking a road trip to Asheville, and we were writing our song, "Girl Sandwich." She was driving and I was writing really funny lyrics, writing about how basically falling in love or messing around with another woman is like a sandwich. We had lyrics about meat and mayo and all these funny things. And so that’s what JoRa is. So we did that.
It’s mentioned in the story that we were actually supposed to go on tour the year that we were trying to have a baby. We didn’t get to go because it was just too stressful. I still feel sad about the fact that we didn’t get to go because we were supposed to go to Miami and go to these cool places. So, the fact that the music has now made it, is so exciting. We always joke that JoRa is churning out the hits and we are so cool! We have what we think is a small audience but sometimes Lara goes on Spotify and goes, “Wait a minute! There’s like people listening to this.” So, we underestimated it a little bit and we have fun with it.
I played when I was pregnant. We played at the baby shower for our baby. We did the baby shower, and we did a song called "Let’s All Squeal For Gender Reveal!"—basically a satire of this whole gender reveal thing. And it goes, "Blue is for boys, pink is for girls..." and we just like rip into it. So JoRa has been a way for us to express ourselves and do it together.
AR: I love that! And now there’s such a potential for people listening to that song on Audible to hear and get to know your music and become fans as well!
TS: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. Because we will be churning out new music and people can enjoy it.