The most beautiful thing about literature is that it gives us language to identify with and empathize with others, whether they are “like” us or not.
|Jun 7||Public post|| 1|
Today’s letter is written by a college friend of mine and brilliant mind Audrey White. Audrey is a beautiful writer whose work has (on several occasions) made me cry. Read this one. This fall they are beginning their Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt with a focus on queer and trans abundance in the church.
Greetings, subscribers and friends. It’s a pleasure to be guest-writing for you today, and I’d like to use my moment on this special platform to ask you for something important.
Read transgender writers.
Trans lives are on the line. The executive branch of the United States government is dismantling what paltry legal protections we have across the departments of education, military, housing, health, and more. It is, frankly, exhausting, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Instead I want to talk about trans storytelling. Please read trans women, genderqueer and nonbinary people, and trans men. Please read trans people of color, trans people with small platforms and trans people who write about things other than gender identity as such!
I know this is a newsletter about women writers, but I hope you will allow me the liberty of expanding the scope of how we consider the intersection of gender and sex-based oppression in literature to include trans men and nonbinary folks as well for this issue. (I did not specifically list trans women because trans women writers are women writers.)
As children, literature teaches us to imagine something beyond our immediate purview. By coming to know characters, we may find something that resonates as true and grow toward some degree of identification. To put it more simply: stories help us learn about ourselves and offer paths to becoming. This is why so many writers, parents and educators speak adamantly in favor of increasing the publication and availability of children’s books featuring women, people of color, diverse families and more.
The most beautiful thing about literature is that it gives us language to identify with and empathize with others, whether they are “like” us or not. So! To the task at hand: Please read trans writers. Read all kinds of trans writers. Follow trans writers on Twitter. Make trans stories part of the landscape of your imagination so that when you show up to fight for us you’re ready. Disclaimer, you might find out you are trans ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Here are a few great works to start with. This list is far from exhaustive but, like, go to the library or Google “trans author book” + your favorite genre. You are beautiful and worthy, and also in 2019 you have no excuse. Lean into abundance!
These are three I can confidently recommend if this topic is fairly new to you:
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: This was the first book-length work I read by a trans author and it broke open my mind. Before I read Redifining Realness, I supported trans rights on principal but I didn’t really understand what that meant. Mock gave me a language and a jumping off point to be an ally to trans women of color specifically as well as in the broader trans community, of which I did not yet know myself to be a member. (buy here)
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg: This semi-autobiographical novel by the gender non-conforming author and activist is perhaps the most well-known late 20th century trans literary work. (TW for sexual violence and other gender-based violence.) It’s my spouse’s favorite book and means a great deal to me as well! The writing is dense and gritty and gorgeous, and the main character, Jess, will steal your heart and your girl. I read it when I was still putting language around my own gender and Feinberg gave me permission to embrace the messiness of that while not letting me off the hook from doing the work. This book is out of print but easy to find at a used bookstore/online/at the library. (buy here)
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee: I read McBee’s thoughtful exploration of masculinity, culture, gendered spaces, and sports in one day this past December, only taking breaks to cry and pee and hydrate (ah, the cycle of life). The memoir documents his first encounters with men weaponizing masculinity toward him as a man and how that led him to a boxing gym and eventually an amateur charity fight at Madison Square Garden. It is very good! (buy here)
I interviewed Danny Ortberg for Autostraddle a little over a year ago. We both thought it was for a book feature for his short story collection The Merry Spinster (another work I gladly recommend). But then Ortberg – known widely for his work as founder of beloved haven of internet weirdos The Toast – also sort-of-accidentally used it to come out publicly as trans.
In our interview, Ortberg talked about his story “The Incident Report,” which is based on the Biblical story of Jacob that happens, as Ortberg says, “in the middle of Jacob’s overall life story. It just says he’s traveling to meet his brother and is camped by a river and suddenly he’s wrestling a man and the man is an angel and there’s no reason ever explained. I feel that profoundly, like something has been sent to me and I don’t even know why and I may never know but I have to struggle with it.”
Two weeks after that interview, but three years after the first time I first asked close friends to refer to me with they/them pronouns, I fired my therapist who didn’t know what gender is and found one who did. I’m in the thick of finding out what transition means to me, and I turn to stories to help me pull apart my own narrative and cobble together something that feels like thriving.
Stories and the ways we share them with each other matter as much as just about anything we do. Please read trans authors, share trans stories, and fight for trans lives.
To read more of Audrey’s work, follow them on Twitter.