Posts Tagged ‘trans teens’

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!

MLABooklist-LiteratureOUTLoudToday I gave a workshop at the 2012 Michigan Library Association Annual Conference called “Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens.”  The workshop went spectacularly and I plan on writing about it in greater depth soon, but I had some requests that I share the book list I gave out and discussed during the workshop so I thought I would make a quick post sharing it.  It says this on the book list, but I’d like to just reiterate that this list is not meant to be a list of the best young adult literature for trans youth, it is a list on the existing young adult literature for trans youth and there are some titles on there that I cannot or would not endorse.  This is derived from a list I created on GoodReads which I have added to over time and which has also grown via crowd-sourcing over the year+ since I created it.  Some titles are omitted from this list but I tried to omit titles on the basis of them either being a) not teen/ya books or b) not featuring trans characters, rather than based on quality, but the list on GoodReads is ever expanding so I would recommend checking that out too.

I encourage readers to please feel free to use this list however you would like (I would prefer that you use it for good), but I ask that you please try to credit me if you use it when possible/appropriate.

Book List: Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens

*Edit: the link has been updated to include the correct author for Being Emily by Rachel Gold (see comments below)

I just read this article about attempted erasure of LGBTQ characters, as well as characters of color and characters with disabilities, in YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and I think you should read it too.

As a reader and a lover of sci-fi and fantasy (though I’m certain this happens in other genres too), this makes me really sad and frustrated.  The characters I want to read about exist, but I have no way to access them because they are being watered down into straight, white characters with no disabilities to please, well, straight, white readers with no disabilities.

It was so frustrating as a teen to have to go to a special section whenever I wanted to read about a character who was different.  I fully appreciate the fact that LGBtQ YA fiction (we’re working on doing something about the “t,” at least I am) is now becoming it’s own genre, don’t get me wrong, it’s an important genre and I am thankful it exists.  But as a teen, I always wanted to read a regular book that was not about the struggles of being queer, but where a queer character experiences something other than simply coming out, coming to terms with being queer, being bullied for being queer, etc.  Couldn’t a character deal with the reality of being queer while solving mysteries, playing sports, traveling through time or slaying dragons?  The message is, that if you are queer, the only story you have to tell is about being queer, and that’s all you’re worth–all you could possibly want in life is to come to terms with being queer and then go on to live a normal, peaceful, boring life.  That’s all queer people are, that’s all queer people are worth, queer people do not strive for excellence, we strive for the mundane.

As a library student interested in working with teens, this frustrates me too.  I want to develop collections and recommend books to teens that represent a diverse range of characters.  Having a strong collection of books that deal with LGBTQ issues and other issues which face diverse populations is really important to me, and when I have my own collections, this is something that will take priority and will represent small but substantial neighborhoods of my collection that I offer some level of priority which overrides simple market-based factors like circulation stats because, well, every time those books circulate is likely a million times more important and life-changing to the reader than other books.

But at the same time, that really sucks, to think that it’s okay to have diverse characters in books that, though intended for everyone, will probably only circulate well amongst people who are like the characters they describe (ie, books about queer teens will circulate with queer teens, books about teens with disabilities will circulate amongst teens with disabilities, etc).  Why would I want to give straight teens only books about straight teens, or teens without disabilities only books about teens without disabilities or white teens only books about white teens?  What kind of message does that send about what equals quality literature?  And I don’t really think it’s the teens who even care about this, it’s their parents!

I went to Allied Media Conference this weekend and it could not have come at a better time.

My head has already been swimming with ideas and urges to create some sort of project focused on collecting content focused on/for transgender/gender variant/two-spirit/aggressive/gender questioning (etc.) teens/youth. The idea of starting an independent press and publishing these books myself terrifies me, but I saw all these people who had independent presses at the conference and it got me thinking that that’s something a person can just do if they want to.

So, since my new attitude about things is centered around making conscious decisions to empower myself to do things that challenge and intimidate me (I’m not going to go skydiving any time soon, though), I have decided I need to do something along the lines of starting an independent press focused on publishing young adult books with trans* themes by trans* authors.

This will be a very new project for me and I’m going to have to learn some new things. I basically came to the conclusion that I cannot single handedly change the fact that there are not a ton of good resources out there for trans* youth by writing the books myself for a host of reasons. Hopefully this process will involve the publishing of some of my own work, but my story and point of view is by no means the beginning or end of the types of stuff that trans* youth want/need to read—no one person’s is. Also, while I am a good writer and I love to write, I know myself well enough to know that the skill I have that really stands out is my ability to organize projects with other people in communities. So why shouldn’t I be the one to get the ball rolling on a rad forum for trans* folks to get their voices out there to reach teens.

So I have a few contacts who are interested and I’m hoping to bounce some ideas off of them and come up with an initial plan. No doubt, this will include things like writing grants, coming up with a name (supposed to be a “fun” part, but I hate coming up with names, it’s stressful to choose the one name that will forever be associated with something), building a website (I’d love to have multi-media stuff on there, I met some cool folks at Allied Media Conference doing trans* media stuff that is more video oriented who expressed interest in including video and other multi-media stuff in the press, and I would love that, especially since multi-media stuff is really well suited for teens), figuring out what our first project will be (I’m thinking it would be good to kick off with some sort of anthology of short stories to publish and get out there, but also starting to put the word out for submissions of longer works.) Figuring out how we are going to deal with editing and selection—gosh, there is so much!

The idea of turning down someone’s story or manuscript when they are actually doing what people need to do which is write trans* related content for teens is horrible to think about, but I also would hate to put out something that really felt like it was going to make teens actively feel bad about themselves, and also will probably have limited resources to devote to publishing books, especially to start off. Where does the line between functioning as an editor/publisher and as a librarian fall? Taking on a project like this makes me feel like taking some classes on more of the archives side of the MLIS degree in addition to the young adult public library stuff I had thought would be my main focus would be a good idea.

Stay tuned for more information and updates about my journey into starting an independent press geared toward *trans youth!

If you are interested in contributing or being involved, please contact me at jackson[dot]radish[at]gmail[dot]com

*I’m using “trans” as an umbrella term to include transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, two-spirit, aggressive, and other gender variant folks, as well as those who are questioning their gender identities.

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In a deviation from the types of posts I have made thus far, I want to talk about something completely different.

I recently started my first library “job,” which is not a job at all, but rather volunteering at a teen center at a local library. There are certain things I’m not allowed to do because of union things surrounding the fact that I’m not an employee, but there is a lot of stuff that I do get to do and I love every minute of it.

One thing I don’t get to do is reference. I do, however, get to observe the real librarian doing reference, and can help kids who ask me questions.

My dream reference question goes a little something like this:

A kid shyly approaches the reference desk and asks for a title that sounds familiar. I search for it and realize it’s a book about trans stuff from the 300’s. We don’t have the book, so I help the kid put a hold on it, and the kid looks a little disappointed but doesn’t ask for help finding other books about trans stuff, but also kind of lingers. I seamlessly walk over and grab the perfect YA trans title for this kid. I respond so quickly yet casually that the kid doesn’t have a chance to wonder if I’m judging them before finding an awesome book in their hands and forgetting about the anxiety they had upon approaching the desk.

This is why I want to be a librarian. I mean, it’s not the only reason, and there are millions of other reference questions I would be almost equally thrilled to get, but this is the one I would love to answer.

The problem is, without going into details, I observed a reference question similar to this, and didn’t even have an extensive enough list in my head of titles to suggest. Some 300’s titles, of course, that would have been appropriate came to mind (anything by Kate Bornstein, for instance, would be good for teens, I think). It was not my reference question, though, and I couldn’t figure out good way to chime in (especially since I wasn’t at the computer) on the fly, as the person handling the reference asked the kid if they wanted her to show them where the book was, and the kid said no and then the reference kind of ended. I did casually say, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to read that,” knowing that if I was that kid and an adult even made reference to the fact that that was the kind of book they would read, I would remember and find an excuse to talk to that adult at a later date.

It irritates me that there are not many good books out there for trans teens. Tons of books that are generally for queer kids (way more than when I first came out as a teen), which feels amazing to see (though I feel a little jealous that I didn’t have those books as a kid) but so far, I have only been able to scrape together about 5:

  1. Luna by Julie Anne Peters
  2. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
  3. Boy2Girl by Terence Blacker
  4. Please Don’t Kill the Freshman: A Memoir by Zoe Trope
  5. Choir Boy by Charlie Anders (which I have not fully confirmed to be a YA title, though I know the main character is a teen)

I have not read them all (or any of them! Luna has been near the top of my “to read” list for a few years, and I’ve heard of a few others, though), but it’s also a pretty measly list. Especially considering how hard I have had to dig so far to find them.

The idea of writing a book terrifies me, but is something I have thought about a lot over the years. This kind of makes me think that if I write a book, it needs to be a YA book that deals in some way with trans themes. In the meantime, I want to make it a mission of mine to convince the awesome trans folks I am connected to to write books for teens (I think some of them would, too) and help them get them published.

More immediately, though, I’m trying to find more titles (by enlisting help of friends and doing more digging) and I’m going to start making and an annotated book list. So stay tuned for that!

But a question to my readers:  How do you build momentum around a certain subject to get people to write about it?  Contests? Grants?  Not that I have money to start a grant, but maybe trying to earn a grant to use tords something like that or else finding someone who has more power than me to partner on this?  Because I can get the word out to tons of trans people of all ages telling them they should write YA books, but it seems like there has to be a central point to rally people around in order to really make it into a movement of creating content where virtually none exists.