Notes from the Writing Trans Genres Conference (Everett Maroon)

I presented at the Writing Trans Genres conference this weekend and it was really great and different from anything I’ve been to before.

I imagine it will be weeks before I get the chance to do my own write-up about it (hopefully when the video of my workshop goes up that will prompt me to write something on my blog), both because I’m moving in two weeks and because I think it’s going to take me a little time to really reflect on why it was so great. In the meantime, I want to share this post by Everett Maroon, who I was lucky enough to have as a co-panelist on a YA lit panel (along with Kyle Lukoff and Annie Mok)  that gets at at least a fraction (only because I’m not sure the whole thing could be summed up in one post) of why it was so successful and exciting to be a part of.

One thing he points out toward the end, though, is the fact that they spent their budget to provide travel and accommodations for a large number of relatively unknown (but no less smart and important) writers instead of spending billions of dollars to fly out Chaz Bono. This meant that the actual people at the forefront of trans literature were actually able to attend, which meant that everyone–not just a few presenters and the people who could afford to fly themselves out–had something great to contribute, and workshop participants were engaged and asked thoughtful questions that really allowed the conference to feel like a meaningful exchange of ideas between intelligent and forward thinking adults.

Link  —  Posted: May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I have sometimes mentioned my work as an editor on my blog, specifically my work with young adult fiction, so I thought those of you who follow my blog might be interested in checking out my website, which I have finally gotten up and running after months of dragging my feet: Jackson Radish Editing Services

If you or anyone you  know is looking for an editor for your manuscript, paper, or article, please feel free to send them my way!

A few months late, but I wanted to share:
My booklist of trans young adult and children’s literature from the 2013 ISACS conference

In November, I presented at the ISACS (Independent Schools Association of the Central States) conference in St. Louis about trans young adult literature.

ISACS is an association of midwestern independent schools (which is sort of a fancy way of saying private schools, but there is a bit of a distinction), and I was invited to speak at their annual conference this past November about trans young adult literature as well as ways of teaching trans literature in the classroom.

My presentation was a bit different from other presentations I have given on this subject, because I talked about some ideas for teaching trans literature in a middle school or high school setting, not just about young adult literature, which is typically my focus.

We read an excerpt from “A Roman Incident” by Red Durkin from The Collection: short fiction from the transgender vanguard during the workshop, and talked about some ways it could be used in a high school or middle school English class. Some of the teachers (and librarians) had some great ideas about how to use it! I think one of the most interesting ideas was talking about outsider identity–specifically, the fact that the girl in this story is a competitive eater is very clearly the distinct feature that makes her an outsider in this story, while her being trans is probably the least interesting (but nonetheless important) feature about her, and the teachers had some interesting ideas about ways that could lead into classroom discussion. As far as I’ve heard, a few of the teachers were considering or planning on using the story in their classrooms, although I have not gotten any reports back yet.

Anyway, it was interesting to talk to teachers, who are dealing with teens in a much different capacity than librarians, about this, and I think we had some great conversations. I had meant to post about this sooner, but better late than never, right?

[Please note that if you are a middle or high school teacher reading this, I do recommend A Roman Incident for classroom instruction. While that particular story is appropriate for middle and high school (and even younger, although younger kids might not get it) students, not every story in The Collection is, so please be sure, as with anything you give to your students, to read any stories you plan to recommend to your students.]

I was just quoted about trans YA fiction in an article on Buzzfeed!

There’s not much to say about it. It’s a review of a book that I have not read, so I can’t vouch for the book, but any press about any kind of trans YA lit is always exciting.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, as I’ve been really busy.

One current project keeping me busy that I have not shared about on here is that I am collaborating as editor with an author (Kyle Lukoff, the other person quoted in the Buzzfeed article) who is also a trans librarian on a new trans YA novel! We have a long way to go before we will be looking for beta readers or anything like that, but we’re aiming to have a manuscript we can start sending to agents/publishers this summer. The novel is funny and quirky and poignant. It also is about a trans kid who transitioned a few years ago, so his transition is old news and his life and his totally cute and fun group of friends who decide to start a GSA in their high school are the real story. It also focuses heavily on a couple of “allies” who are sometimes hilariously (and sometimes devastatingly) misguided and totally turn the trope of trans YA fiction that gives too much airtime to cis “allies” (think Luna and Almost Perfect) on it’s head. Very exciting and I am loving working with such a talented author as Kyle on this project. I can’t wait until it’s a little further along so I can start giving more specifics and promoting it!

Link  —  Posted: February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized
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A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.

As a youth services & primarily teen services librarian who happens to be a man the issues of what a professor dubbed “the boy problem” has sort of fallen into my lap as a strong professional interest. I am not a particularly masculine man and more often than not, if I’m wandering the streets of a small town, it’s teen boys who find it incredibly clever and funny to harass and make fun of me for the way I look (teen boys are, of course, great at making fun of pretty much everyone, so it’s no skin off my back). When I got into youth services, I thought this might be something that impeded my ability to connect with boys in the library, but it has actually been quite the opposite. In any library where I’ve worked, I’ve been one of so few male librarians that, while in my personal life I have a hard time being read as anything but gay, people are so unaccustomed to seeing men working in libraries at all they have no one with whom to compare me, so somehow my perceived sexuality and lack of overt masculinity has never come into play in my work in libraries. In fact, libraries are one of the few places in the world where I feel people’s perception of me as a man far outweighs their perception of me as gay.

This has created exciting and unexpected opportunities to embody the literate male role model that experts in parenting, education, child development and emergent literacy amongst boys complain so rarely exists amongst teachers, librarians and other adults who work with children. When I took an interest in running the “Guys Read” book club at one of my libraries, I was welcomed with open arms to take over for another librarian who reluctantly ran the book due to lack of other male librarians willing to run it. By simple virtue of being a young-ish (and even younger looking as I am blessed and cursed to look about ten years younger than I actually am) man with gauged earrings (a regretful & relatively irreversible decision I made as a teen that has surprisingly been the number one thing teens compliment me on and often the thing which allows me to quickly gain their trust) who picks up on enough youth cultural references to seem like the cool older brother they’ve always wished they had, I somehow possess this ability to influence teen and tween boys in this way that so many educators and youth service librarians can only dream of.

me+skippy

Me with one of my teens in the library–used with permission

Given this unique position and my passion for encouraging active literacy amongst youth, how could I resist developing a profound interest in discussions of “the boy problem?” Although, as an advocate for literacy amongst boys, I would argue that the boys themselves are not the problem and perhaps the real problem is, among other things, both the men who fail to model the role of literacy in their own lives to those boys and the North American culture & education system’s limited conceptions of literacy.

So, as a man who has access to youth in one of the most literature focused environments, I am so thrilled to get the opportunity to un-do some of these cultural ideas surrounding reading and boys. As someone who reads fiction for pleasure, I have gotten the opportunity to share this love with boys through book clubs and through personalized fiction recommendations, often hidden within jovial conversations where boys are so absorbed in the topic of conversation that they don’t even realize that I’ve just convinced them to read a book. But one of the problems often raised when discussing “the boy problem” is that reading fiction for pleasure simply does not fit into the types of reading a lot of boys are drawn to doing.

In a lecture given by one of my professors, the line “Reading don’t fix no Chevys” really stood out to me. It struck me because one of the random resources I remember helping patrons with on the reference desk so often was the Chilton’s guides which, for those unfamiliar, are model-specific guides for different makes of cars that literally do inform users on the inner workings of Chevys (and Fords and other cars). While the act of reading them does not necessarily fix the car itself, these resources are pretty necessary maps that give someone with a certain automotive knowledge the tools to translate their knowledge to specific makes and models of cars.

One of the papers that I wrote when I took my Reference class based upon a reference observation was actually based on a reference interview concerning a Chilton’s manual. The library did not happen to currently have a print-version of the manual in question, so the interview turned into an extensive discussion of all the databases to which the library subscribed–including Chilton’s and Alldata, another similar resource, but also so many of our other databases. I got to observe a patron who probably never knew the library offered access to subscription databases walk away really excited about an entirely new set of resources he did not know had been at his fingertips the whole time and that he was excited to use.

I think about boys not having male role models in terms of literacy and wish this gentleman had had his grade school aged son or nephew with him to witness this instance of a relatively gruff, working class man becoming so excited about the ways in which literacy and his library’s resources could help him do one of the most stereotypically manly activities of fixing a car.

These instances in which literacy occurs during our daily lives are not exclusive to men or women or to such stereotypically masculine activities as auto repair, but also occur when we look up recipes in cookbooks or online, when we look up movie reviews & times, when we try to learn a new skill, such as crocheting, and so many other times in the instances of people of all genders and ranges of interest. In fact, in the age of the Internet, we consume instructional information in our daily lives more than ever before.

In imagining the man discussed above (or any other man or woman, for that matter) letting his child help him fix his car, having the child hand him wrenches and other small tasks (though I have done basic car maintenance out of the type of necessity created by poverty, fixing cars is not a skill or interest I possess, so I really can’t elaborate on the details of what minor tasks an adult role model would allow their child to help with while fixing a car, so please use your own imagination), I imagine that there is some piece of literature–the car’s manual, a Chilton guide (either electronic or print) or some other resource present & being used as reference. And I wonder whether the dad or mom or aunt or uncle, who may be the type of adult role model who reads novels to their kids or not, is referencing this Chilton’s manual themselves before asking for that wrench or if the adult is asking the child to come read over their shoulder and tell them what comes next.

Even as an adult man who reads a tremendous amount of fiction for pleasure, I would guess that most of the reading I do over the course of a day or a week, even in my leisure time, is for information. Reading is so incorporated into all of our daily lives and that is why literacy is such an important part of development. But when we talk with youth–particularly those who struggle to enjoy reading fiction–about literacy and reading, do we talk about all those other times in our daily lives when reading comes up? I know that I rarely do and I think this is primarily because reading is so integrated into my life that I scarcely recognize myself doing it when it serves some purpose beyond the purely indulgent act of reading a novel. I think it’s important, especially as a role model to young people, to expand my conception of the act of reading. I think, though, that by being more aware of the ways that literacy impacts our daily lives, we can be more intentional of the kinds of examples we set as literate adults. Introducing the children in our lives to the joys of fiction (and non-fiction) pleasure reading is important and we should continue to do so, but perhaps if we also read to them from our cook books and automotive manuals and some-assembly-required instruction manuals, we will succeed in making readers of those children, particularly boys, who look up to us more for the tasks we accomplish than the stories we tell them.

The librarian who runs thecardiganlibrarian on Tumblr has a feature every Friday called “Five Question Fridays” where she interviews a different librarian every Friday and posts it to her blog.  She contacted me maybe a month ago about being interviewed and the interview just went up today!
You can read the interview here.  I’m kind of excited about it and honored that she selected me.

While looking through the other interviews, I found an old friend who I actually tried to get ahold of a couple months ago but found that my contact information for her was no longer valid.  She and I were penpals starting my first year of undergrad.  I had no idea she was even a librarian.  She was very special to me during some formative years and it meant a lot to not only find her, but find that our lives had taken similar paths, even as we lost touch.  With all due modesty, thecardiganlibrarian finds some interesting and awesome librarians to interview and asks some good questions and I’m honored to have been chosen!