Lucy Sante Is the Same Writer She Has Always Been

It took a lifetime.

After carrying a secret “the size of a house” for decades, Lucy Sante, the writer and author of, among others, “Low Life,” a cult book about the grittier side of New York City, began transitioning in 2021, at the age of 66.

All the subterfuges she had built to conceal her identity finally crumbled thanks to a small experiment during the pandemic. She downloaded FaceApp, an application that allows users to see how they would look if they swapped genders. She uploaded one photo, and then another until an alternative timeline of her life as a woman emerged. She was irreversibly gripped by what she saw: the person that she had most avoided and yearned for all her life.

This epiphany starts Sante’s new book, “I Heard Her Call My Name: A Memoir of Transition,” in which she jumps between past and present, narrating her transition process while revisiting her life from a new vantage point.

The book intertwines these two timelines — “a cheap technique from suspense novels,” as Sante puts it.

The past is the official tale: Her working-class family’s migration from Belgium to the suburbs of New Jersey in the ’60s. Her beginnings as a writer working for Barbara Epstein at The New York Review of Books. Her adventures working at the Strand bookstore and wandering around New York City’s counterculture scene in the ’70s alongside figures like Elizabeth Hardwick, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Nan Goldin, whose company Sante at one point avoided, afraid of Goldin’s proximity to trans people.

Then there is the transition, with its ambivalence and complexity: The irrevocability and exhilaration of it — “All I could do was emote,” Sante said of that time. The construction of a new person. The starts and stops. The quest for a version of femininity that would suit her. The breakup with her longtime partner. The fear of being romantically shunned by women.

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