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Polar Opposites 

Thursday, Sep 23 2010
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So, there's this man who used to be a woman, who wrote a novel about a polar bear who moves to Hollywood and becomes best friends with Leonardo DiCaprio. Beaufort — that's the polar bear — lands a job at Nobu, buys a house in the Hollywood Hills, meets a bitchy Icelandic model, acquires a drug habit and writes a one-man show. Much to everyone's surprise, author T Cooper's included, the novel, titled The Beaufort Diaries, has been selling fast.

Cooper was in town recently with his wife, journalist Allison Glock-Cooper, taking meetings for a scripted series they're writing for Showtime. Loosely based on their life together, the series is produced by Tea Leoni and David Duchovny.

"The book has no trans stuff in it at all," Cooper said. "But people can read a transgender narrative into it. The polar bear is the ultimate outsider." Yes, Cooper is a transgender man. No, Beaufort is not a transgender bear. But he is transhuman. His is meant to be a clichéd epic hero's journey, "like Odysseus."

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This city, of course, never needed much convincing about its own epic nature. The Beaufort Diaries made it to the Los Angeles Times best-seller list one month after publication, coming in at No. 17, after James Patterson's latest CIA-agent thriller. At 91 pages, it's an easy read, administering the kind of gentle flaying Angelenos crave.

Also, it has pictures. Cooper found illustrator Alex Petrowsky via Craigslist. Petrowsky was the only applicant who didn't ask how much the gig would pay.

If the book's attitude is a little Holden Caulfield, it's because Cooper's attitude is, too. Scrunched into the couch, he frowned at his parents' glorious 180-degree view of the ocean. He crashes at their Malibu home when he's in town.

He was happy the book was doing well. Mostly. "It's a little weird, I guess," he allowed.

It got a starred review in Publishers Weekly. None of his other books did. It may even outsell them eventually. "That would be funny. And by funny I mean ... ," his voice trailed off. "I spent five years on my last novel. This one I pooped out in two months."

Like the polar bear, Cooper never felt he was in his skin here in Southern California. Not two decades ago when he was a little surfer girl, and Malibu still felt like a funky hippie town. And certainly not today, sitting in the house he grew up in, surrounded by empty $13 million beachfront mansions. "The money, and the cars, and the Botox, and the breasts, it all feels so self-hating."

It's not about discretion anymore, he said. It's about being permanently on blast. Cooper, who is 37, lives on a farm in upstate New York with his wife and daughters. Life is slower there. "Personally, I don't feel the need to tweet that I just took a shit."

Walking to breakfast, he noticed his neighbor's car had been washed three times in as many days. "What the fuck is getting on the car?" Cooper said. "Sea breeze?"

Coming back to L.A. is disorienting. To steady himself, he looks to the rocks outside the window.

Perhaps that's one thing selling the book. The sense of disorientation, of dislocation. The sense of not-quite-right. The arctic bear in a sunshine state. The male author born in a female's body.

"No, I'm not one of those 'I was born in the wrong body' types," he said. He sees that as a comforting concept to people: What nature screwed up, medical science can fix. But it's not the full story.

Thankfully, Cooper didn't get any "Do you have a dick?" questions during this book tour. Not that he feels obliged to answer. People mostly asked how he got Duchovny to be the voice of the polar bear — droll, noirish, perfectly bearlike — in the book's video preview. To which Cooper usually replies: "I give a really good blow job."

Reach the writer at galimurung@laweekly.com

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