When they first hear of Frank Hinton, many people immediately assume she is a man. My mother, who recently joined Facebook and apparently occasionally views the profiles of my friends, said to me over the phone, “I had no idea Frank Hinton was a girl.” I once read Frank’s piece “How to be Me, an Instructional Video narrated by Frank Hinton,” at Pilot Books’ Other People’s Prose or Poetry night and was met with somewhat confused stares when I introduced Frank as a “woman living in Nova Scotia.”
This element of presumption is one of the reasons why I think Frank’s debut chapbook I Don’t Respect Female Expression works so well. The title likely sounds entirely offensive to anyone unfamiliar with Frank’s work. The chapbook doesn’t actively disprove its title, but instead almost seems to be championing a kind of genderless experience. Often, the gender of narrators is not specified, and when the gender of characters is specific, Frank is fair to both men and women, avoiding cliches of misogyny or whiney and disillusioned women. This is all achieved without being didactic.
Beyond gender, Frank explores human grief, the idiosyncrasies of romantic relationships, and desire, while also playing with the idea of Frank as a writer and Frank as a character. This is really where the collection shines.
“Make a Man,” one of the shortest pieces in the chapbook, is about a girl named Lili making a man for herself. That man is Frank Hinton.
Make a man and name him Frank.
Make him young and frail…. Give him access to the internet. Put him on the peripheries of what you admire…. Give him a psychic anchor. Give him yourself. Your name is Lili. Fuck him.
This is almost an artist’s statement, an explanation of work. Frank Hinton is both a writer and character. The work is both authored and, in a way, unauthored. This is why I love Frank’s work. Frank’s online persona is a, presumably female, writer-editor powerhouse, but Frank is also a male character in many of Frank the author’s stories. This prevents the reader from being too presumptuous about what in the work is autobiographical. Frank is simultaneously creating distance from the author and the work, while also inspiring curiosity in the reader, because no one likes to be denied information, especially in the digital age.
I want to believe in Frank as a cute young woman living in Canada, but another part of me hopes Frank Hinton is an ugly witch, a six-armed bear, a eunuch monk living in a small Italian villa, or something else entirely unlike an attractive hipster. That would be the purest execution of exercise. Frank’s work is important because, in an age when anyone can create a false identity online, pen-names seem pointless and almost redundant. It is no longer enough to simply be anonymous. Frank enhances her work through her persona, presenting an obviously constructed persona while still remaining sincere.
I Don’t Respect Female Expression leaves me wanting more, but it is not unsatisfying. It’s just too short. Frank is doing some powerful things with her work and I can’t wait to read more. The print edition of Frank’s chapbook has sold out but you can buy the e-book here. It will be the best $3 you’ve spent all day.