Meet Denise Chanterelle Dubois. (Yes. That is her real middle name.) Her recent book Self Made Woman is currently on tour, sharing wild stories James Westby is hoping to make into a movie someday. We can’t wait.
1. What’s your favorite part of the book?
Well, there are quite a few stories in the book that I really enjoyed writing about, but not always in a happy way because I had to relive a lot of pain at times in the telling of my story, which was very emotional for me.
However, if I had to pick a favorite moment in the book, it was the retelling of what happened to me when I was a cocaine dealer in San Diego during the early 1980’s, how I got involved in the drug trade, what led me into it, getting busted by the Narcotics Task Force of San Diego, and how that all came about. I mean it was just insane how I got introduced to undercover DEA agents, was setup by a trusted dealer friend who I’d worked with for years, and suddenly found myself selling kilos of cocaine kind of like straight out of that movie “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp, that came out a decade or so ago. Then, after being busted, ending up in federal prison for awhile, being transgender in that situation, and what happened to me while incarcerated. It certainly wasn’t the most fun time in my life, but in a odd sort of way, there’s some ironic humor to the entire episode that comes across, and it’s all there for the reader to enjoy in my memoir!
2. What’s your fave story that didn’t make it into the book, but is too good not to share?
There were so many! The original manuscript was 635 pages long by the time I finished writing in 2014, so 400 pages ended up on the editor floor. Yes, there were many stories I wanted in the book that were so good but if I had to choose one … it would have to be the the HIghway Strangler story.
I was hitchhiking back to San Diego in November of 1978, from my relatives house in LA and it was Thanksgiving weekend. I had just spent an okay time with them doing all that boring holiday stuff, really had no money, but had to get home. I was on an entrance ramp to the I-5 in Santa Ana, when this white van pulls over so I hop in. The guy starts driving and is real chatty, immediately offering me this huge ice-filled tumbler, full with rum and coke, and really wants me to drink it. But, it was only 1 in the afternoon and I was never a day drinker so politely refuse and decline his generosity. This cat and mouse game then ensues between us, almost like a game of chess, that I found myself engaged in with this guy. I sensed early-on that I was playing chess for my life here. I knew this guy was some sort of predator, but didn’t realize how much of one he really was until years later. I only knew at that moment, I had to figure out a way to get out of that van without alerting him to how good my inner-radar was about people, and that I was on to him. I don’t want to give away the entire story about how I did get out of that van on that day so long ago, nor what I found out several years later about that while van.
I would love to share more about this story, but need to save the details for another time!
3. You’ve been on a book tour, your first. What’s something you’ve learned along the way?
That I need to slow down. What I mean by that is the public is a little behind me and where I’m at with all of this. I transitioned almost 14 years ago and what I take for granted in being Denise, the public wants to know about in detail. For example, on the very first stop of my national book tour, right here in Portland at Powell’s Books, where I had close to 200 peeps show up to hear me speak that night, I asked the simple question of how many people here tonight knows what RLE means? I expected many in the room to raise their hands and not one single person did! I was so surprised by this. RLE means “real life experience,” and it’s what your therapist requires you to go thru by living in the gender you’ve chosen to transition to for one year, 24/7, in public, so you learn for sure if this is something you really want for yourself in real life.
I found it to be an eye-opener for myself personally, and just assumed the public by this time would know all about RLE considering the progress that the transgender community has made in the news these past five years. I was so wrong about that and repeated the same RLE question everywhere I went on tour and was met with the same blank stare. I realize now how important it is to go slow, be patient, and educate the public as best I can on what it means to be transgender to me.
Everywhere I went on tour I sensed this incredible thirst for knowledge and feel honored to have this public voice to talk about it.
4. Do you remember what it felt like to know who you were and to decide to live that truth? Like, where did it live in your body? How has that sort of authenticity affected your life?
There’s that saying of “never forget where you come from.” For many decades when I was Dennis, I kept Denise locked deep in the closet. I didn’t want anyone to know about her. I called it my “big secret,” my “other life,” well hidden from the world I related to. Then after Denise arrived on the scene I just wanted Dennis gone for good and that’s what did happen for over a decade. I didn’t want anyone to know outside my close friends that he ever existed.
However, I began to realize these past few years with the completion of the book that even though Denise will always be center stage from here on out, that there should be a place on that same stage for Dennis, too, because how I can ever deny who I was once was? And, wasn’t I keeping myself back in the closet all over again?
And since coming to that realization, I have found inner-peace within myself, my true self, and have learned to accept myself; my female, my male, and non-binary self, and with that a happiness I never felt before, and now just wish to share that feeling with others as much as possible. We all want to love others, and have others love us. It’s the basic human-connection of humanity we’ve thought/talked about since the dawn of our time here as a species on this planet. In a way we are all fluid-transgender. The female/male/non-binary, which resides in all of us, and always will.
5. What’s next? Will this book be a movie? Is James Westby working on that right this very moment?
I’ve thought of a second book to write. It’s what happens to me as Denise from 2004 to the present and can assure you it’s just as thrilling and exciting, with all kinds of twists and unexpected turns that the first book offers, minus the prison time, plus it’s just all Denise in this part of my life, to be very engaging for the reader, that I can say with all certainty!
And yes, award-winning, Tribeca filmmaker (and former Sockeye full-timer) James Westby, has had more than one discussion with me about doing a movie on my life and sort of already has a built-in script because my memoir does read kind of like a Quentin Trentino movie if you think about it, so we’ll see where that all leads. I can say too that it would be an honor to have someone of Westby’s caliber and achievements doing a movie about me. That would be over the top!