…was last week.
Hey there! This is a longer-than-normal post. Book recs are at the bottom, feel free to skip straight to them (but, you know, it would be cool if you read some of this, if you want, okay?).
I posted 5 book recommendations to Facebook and Twitter last week because Transgender Awareness Week snuck up on me (seriously, is there a list somewhere of these things?) and I couldn’t do anything artsy for Instagram.
Sorry, bookstagrammers. Next time. When I have notice. And time. And my dog isn’t so distractingly adorable.
Trans Awareness Week was UNLIKE ANY AWARENESS DURATION OF TIME YET COVERED ON THIS BLOG (blares trumpets).
This is the first time I’ve done structured posts for multiple days for an awareness week. Usually, I do a lot of signal boosting and one or two posts. I did a little extra for Trans Awareness Week for two reasons:
- The transgender community is one of the most vulnerable in a Republican-controlled government and I never see anyone on my Facebook timeline talking about trans issues. Ever.
As much fear as I may have over my rights and safety, transgender people have it worse. If you don’t know why, keep scrolling down to Resources.
We need books about trans characters to be circulated. We need to read these narratives and to simply read books with trans characters where the plot isn’t ABOUT being trans.
We need trans identities to be normal. My lesbian identity is still “exotic” or rare to some people, trans and other “non-conforming” gender identities are even more so. People have identified these different ways throughout history. It’s normal. Let’s make it old news.
Trans people ARE PEOPLE. Always have been, always will be (until the Borg uprising, when we will all be assimilated).
- I am not a good ally and this week helped me do better.
Before Trans Awareness Week: I am a sh*tty ally for trans people. I know the arguments for and against religious freedom, gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, disability discrimination, and several others. I don’t know those things for trans issues.
Besides scattered yet embarrassingly common acts of casual discrimination and hate, I know about the so-called “bathroom bill” and… that’s it. Are there other pieces of legislation set to deny trans people equal treatment?
I’m such a terrible ally, I don’t even know what other issues I should be aware of.
Sure, I’m not going to stand by while a trans person is attacked and I’m going to do my best not to misgender or be offensive, but that’s just basic f*cking decency.
After Trans Awareness Week: Still kind of a crappy ally. Everything I’ve done this week has been performative–I’ve recommended books I haven’t read, signal boosted articles I haven’t (always) read, and researched trans issues I should already know about. I haven’t really done anything.
Being a good ally means doing stuff. Meaningfully and not for credit. I hesitated writing this part because praising myself for all this non-work is, itself, performative allyship–something that is not usually for trans people, but for me and my glory.
So let’s assume that you want to be better than a performative ally.
How to be a better trans ally–don’t.
Drop the word “ally” from your vocabulary.
You read me correctly. The use of the word above is because it’s an easily recognizable term. But that part about basic f*cking decency? THAT IS BEING AN ALLY.
Basic decency is understanding that there are groups of people who are more vulnerable than you and of being aware of how to defend those groups from those that would harm them or deny them equal treatment under the law.
Basic decency is having, at literally the least, a passing understanding of the legislation passing through your state or country that will negatively affect groups fighting for equal treatment.
Basic decency is knowing that a variety of gender identities have existed throughout history and it shouldn’t be a big deal to read books with protagonists whose identities exist outside the mainstream.
Just in case you skimmed that, it shouldn’t be a big deal to:
- Read about trans characters
- Be aware of the legal and social struggles trans people face
- Know how to use those goshdarn pronouns
Forget being an ally–that word is a pat on the back you don’t need. Be a decent human being.
Pronouns–they’re not difficult, it’s just new information to learn. UW Milwaukee has a good website with a list of questions (like, how do I find out which pronouns to use?), a table of gender inclusive pronouns, and a brief history of such pronouns.
The Issues–the ACLU has a decent summary of trans rights issues they are tackling, including:
- Identification forms/cards (having an ID that doesn’t match your gender makes it hard to get through TSA, leave or re-enter the country, or interact with police, clerks, etc. The ACLU is working to make it easier to change the gender on IDs).
- Discrimination (the ACLU supports legislation that prevents discrimination in housing, employment, or services based on gender identity)
- Healthcare (access issues aside, transition-related healthcare is rarely covered by health insurance and can be difficult for transgender people to access. New legislation may even allow “religious freedom” to be used as a reason to limit or deny care. The ACLU is working to support access to appropriate care).
- Military (just as gay and lesbian soldiers were once forced to serve while hiding their identities, transgender people are still not allowed to openly serve in the US military. Despite this, one in five transgender people are veterans. The ACLU is fighting to overturn the ban on openly serving as transgender).
The Arguments–while there exists many a blog and Huffington Post article containing the arguments FOR and AGAINST the issues listed above, the linked journal article from the American Journal of Ethics provides a comprehensive yet short guide to advocating for trans rights as human rights.
The arguments are a great starting point for that performative being-a-decent-person to go away. You may have to tear yourself away from cat pictures for five seconds to Google something like “trans rights.”
You know what? I’ll do it for you. Just click here.
But What Can I Do?
Be a Better Ally–for all that talk above about how “ally” itself is typically a form of self-praise rather than a necessary label, it is a useful term when we talk about how to be decent people specifically towards trans people. GLAAD (linked) has LOTS of tips on how to be a good ally including:
- you can’t tell someone is transgender just by looking
- not to ask a trans person what their “real name” is
- don’t ask about a person’s private parts, sex life, or surgical status
- backhanded complements (like, “I never would have known you were trans)
- challenge anti-transgender jokes/remarks in public spaces (this is where most “allies” crumble and why many people view allyship as performative but not meaningful)
Support organizations like GLAAD and the ACLU (financially, with your time, services, voice, etc.) in their efforts to fight for equality.
Check out your local library and bookstores–do they carry any of the books listed below? Is there one you want to read but your local library doesn’t have it? Request the book. When you request a book, it helps the publishers see that there is demand for books like this.
Leave POSITIVE reviews of books with trans narratives/characters. If you don’t like it and want to leave a negative review, that’s your prerogative as a reader, BUT books with trans characters have a much harder time seeing the light of day. Positive reviews, when earned, are more desperately needed.
Don’t be a jerk. Just don’t. If you’re not sure you’re about to be a jerk, assume you are. Then don’t do the thing.
I’m still a crappy ally
Not all of what I’ve done this week has been performative, but I don’t think I’ve done nearly enough. To start with, I have a lot more reading to do–both in fiction and in those arguments and trans rights search results. It takes time to understand and to form an opinion. It takes courage to stand up in public for people you don’t know–and for people you do.
I have some ideas for how I will transform my basic decency into something that’s actually useful for trans rights. What will you do?
Here are each of the recommendations with their original posts and then a comprehensive list that Kira Hawke (@KiraHawke) and others helped me put together. Check them out on Twitter!
IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo is an ownvoices book about Amanda, the new girl at the school with a secret she guards closely–and falling for a local boy is definitely not in the plan.
This book was released earlier this year and was widely-praised as one of the few trans stories that is not about coming out or transition. Written by a trans author, IF I WAS YOUR GIRL has some strong language but is highly recommended for teens and anyone looking to read an authentic trans protagonist.
Today’s book is GEORGE by Alex Gino. This is a middle grade book featuring a trans girl who wants to play the part of Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web–but she can’t, because everyone else sees her as a boy.
While I haven’t read GEORGE, I love that there is a middle grade book featuring a trans protagonist. So often, we see protagonists who are not cisgender or not straight only in YA and adult, because those identities are deemed inappropriate for younger children–children who are exposed to cisgender and straight identities in their media all the time. GEORGE is on my TBR for sure.
According to one of my favorite reviewers, THE UNINTENTIONAL TIME TRAVELER by Everett Maroon doesn’t even try to make the protagonists’ experiences with gender make sense. The book is about an epileptic teen who, while undergoing an experimental treatment, finds himself transported back in time in a young woman’s body (the description reminds me a lot of OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis).
This book allows its characters to be confused and it allows the trans narrative to be confusing. It’s a good read for anyone tired of “cookie cutter” trans stories or anyone who needs to learn to let go of neat labels and identities. Have fun!
CAM GIRL by Elliot Wake (writing as Leah Raeder) is a New Adult book, meaning it’s for older teens (check out the starred review on Publisher’s Weekly, linked below). It’s about Vada, whose life is turned upside down following a terrible car accident. Far from home and broke, she becomes a “cam girl” to make money. When a client wants to get to know Vada the person and not just her body, she finds herself confronting the very realities she was trying to escape.
CAM GIRL is great for readers who are questioning their sexuality. It includes a diverse cast with characters of color, with a physical disability, and multiple characters who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Link to the book: http://buff.ly/2ff60S5
Publisher’s Weekly: http://buff.ly/2ff60l4
I realized halfway through that all five books are about trans girls so boy am I glad Kira Hawke came along with a whole BUNCH of recs! To see their list on Twitter with brief descriptions and often a link to the author’s Twitter, click here.
A Note About Representation: The five books I recommended on Facebook were specifically chosen after researching “good” trans rep. I haven’t read these books but they are not likely to promote harmful stereotypes or prejudice without also addressing those elements. Also, see the Gay Ya’s article on the very common “acceptance narrative.”
The books in the list below may contain what some would consider “bad” trans rep (ex. there is an ongoing discussion regarding Julie Anne Peter’s Luna putting the cis narrative above the trans narrative). I would encourage readers to pick up books with trans protagonists like those I’ve included above or those in the following list.
From the Great and Wonderful Kira Hawke:
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Roller Girl by Vanessa North
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (this looks like a “covert” trans book from it’s description)
Transgender Secondary Character/Love Interest
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Block (this also looks like a “covert” book)
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Traffick by Ellen Hopkins
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin — a genderfluid teen who’s sex is never disclosed on the page
Pantomime by Laura Lam — a fantasy novel with an intersex character who is genderfluid
Every Day by David Levithan — about a teen who wakes up in a new person’s body each day
Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin — about an intersex teen (trigger warning here)
None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio — also about a teen who discovers she is intersex
The Only Way by Jamie Sullivan — has a cross-dressing lesbian protagonist
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner — cross-dressing (adult book)
Virtually Reality by R.R. Hood — male protagonist gets trapped in a virtual world in a female avatar (adult book, not available for sale, only through website)
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff –yes, the movie was based on this, Kira recs it as an interesting take on gender
Liar by Justine Larbalestier — nonbinary, pathological liar protagonist in a murder mystery
If you find these books fun, useful, helpful, or great reads, please, please, PLEASE follow Kira Hawke on Twitter (@Kira_Hawke). They are awesome. Please also purchase, leave good reviews, and request that your library buy copies of books you like to support the author!
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Now go forth and be decent!