Transgender Lives: backstory and new resources

A.Nelson reading TRANS* LIVES

My friend Alex reading TRANSGENDER LIVES, and proving you really can see yourself in the cover.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for our (this book is a village!) new book Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices, out in September 2014:

Meet Katie, Hayden, Dean, Brooke, David, Julia, and Natasha. Each is transgender, and in this book, they share their personal stories. Through their narratives, you’ll get to know and love each person for their humor, intelligence, perseverance, and passion. You’ll learn how they each came to better understand, accept, and express their gender identities, and you’ll follow them through the sorrows and successes of their personal journeys.

Transgender Lives helps you understand what it means to be transgender in America while learning more about transgender history, the broad spectrum of transgender identities, and the transition process. You’ll explore the challenges transgender Americans face, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying and violence, unequal access to medical care, and limited legal protections. For transgender readers, these stories offer support and encouragement. Transgender Lives is a space for trans* voices to be heard and to express the complexities of gender while focusing on what it means to be human.

Here’s the backstory.

In May 2012, I was contacted by my editor at Twenty-First Century books–would I like to write a book for high school libraries about trans* individuals in America?  I’d been recommended to her because of Beautiful Music, and the trans* authors she’d asked were unavailable.  Sure, I said.  Why not?  And then I thought:  Oh lord. What have I done?  Once again, just like with Beautiful Music, I was plunged into immense, intense work.  So much research, so much information to gather, process and summarize, plus I needed to find people for the interviews.  Lucky for me, I knew some individuals who were willing to be part of the book.  But not everyone I asked was comfortable being in a book.

There were lots of things to think about, of course–what to include, how to be thorough, how to be respectful, how to check my own privilege as a cisgender woman.  I was blessed to find two different individuals who are trans* (who facilitate workshops and develop LGBTQ curricula for their day jobs) who were willing to provide expert reads to help with facts, voice and details.  Because of the individuals who agreed to be in the book, we didn’t have a lot of people of color to include, but we did have age, background, and regional diversity.  In the drafting phase, we had lots of information and seven extensive interviews (with family voices, too) to sort through.  I did a lot of agonizing.  I knew I’d encounter critics no matter what I did or didn’t do, so I kept my goal simple: to create a useful book that didn’t provide false information.

Then, of course, we had to jam it all into 72 pages!  That was the hardest thing.  There wasn’t space to explain all the terms I listed as synonyms for genderqueer, for example, and so the question arose: simplify, or include them and let the reader do the research? I decided (a philosophy I hold in my classroom as well) it’s better to have some inkling about many ideas than to have just one idea.  I decided to trust the reader to further advance their knowledge.

This book is intended to be a solid introduction to a group of individuals who deserve respect, and deserve to be known and accepted for who they are.  This book is for students (and adults) who need some general info, who need to understand that individuals who are trans* have been a part of human culture since someone thought to call us “human culture.”  It’s a book for librarians to pull out when someone says, “I need to know about being trans*,”  for whatever reason they need to know it.  It’s a bridge-builder.  It’s a way to bring the all-too-brief words (#$(* page limits!) of seven generous and kind individuals to a larger audience that needs to hear from them.  If someone reads Transgender Lives and learns something, hopefully they’ll go on to read more in-depth narratives from trans* individuals.   That’s a win-win for everyone.

Of course there are a few new books that didn’t get included in the resources section of Transgender Lives, and you need to know about them, because they’re very exciting.  I can’t wait to read them myself!  Click the link for more, but I’ve included parts of their blurbs here.

Rethinking Normal, Katie Rain Hill (Simon and Schuster, September 2014):  “In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity. Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.”

Some Assembly Required, Arin Andrews (Simon and Schuster, September 2014):  “In this revolutionary memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a girl, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began. Arin also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill…and the heartache that followed after they broke up.

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth (Oxford University Press, June 2014): “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a revolutionary resource-a comprehensive, reader-friendly guide for transgender people, with each chapter written by transgender or genderqueer authors. Inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves, the classic and powerful compendium written for and by women, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is widely accessible to the transgender population, providing authoritative information in an inclusive and respectful way and representing the collective knowledge base of dozens of influential experts. Each chapter takes the reader through an important transgender issue, such as race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health topics, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, arts and culture, and many more. ”

I also want to mention Topside Press, since they publish books exclusively by trans-identified authors (their official statement: “Topside Press, founded in 2011, is a new independent press with the intent of publishing authentic transgender narratives”).  The two books I’ve read from them, the novel Nevada (Imogen Binnie) and The Collection (a collection of short stories), are remarkable.  Because the books are edgy and intended for grown-ups, I didn’t include them in the back matter for Transgender Lives, but I’d encourage you to check them out.

To learn, to grow, to support: those are our jobs as human beings.  These new books will help you with all three.  Enjoy!

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