Since election day I’ve been in a state of despair. I couldn’t write this introduction, because all I could think of was giving up. Now, as I write this, I am sitting with a cat on my lap and the sun is warm on my skin. I am cat-sitting for a genderqueer author friend, and I am surrounded by shelves of queer and trans books. This is a safe space. I’m ready to write this introduction.
I am really, really scared. We have no idea what’s going to come next, and that makes it all the more terrifying. But I do know this: safe spaces are about to become more important than ever. As a trans teen, the YA community has become a sanctuary to me. It’s the one place in the world that I’ve felt safe to be myself in. It’s the only place I’ve found true allies– allies who center trans people– instead of people who make their allyship about themselves.
Just a few examples of this: when people came after me for fundraising to go to BEA, the YA community pushed back, and I ended up raising more than 4x what I’d set as my goal. That amount enabled me to go to ALA as well. ALA was the most incredible and validating experience of my entire life. Here are some tweets I wrote after it had wrapped up (you can see the whole thread if you click on one of the tweets!):
I want them to KNOW that trans teens can have that experience. That support for us exists in beautiful, amazing ways.
— Vee S. (@findmereading) June 27, 2016
That we can write our stories, talk about our representation, ask for the right pronouns. And that we can be lifted up.
— Vee S. (@findmereading) June 27, 2016
Adults have advocated for me, listened to me, used my pronouns, respected me, and centered me in their allyship. Fellow teens have done the same. One agent told me he’s interested in seeing a manuscript from me. A teen services librarian helped me get a job that I love at a library. And in addition to all of the amazing ways cisgender allies have supported me, I’ve gotten to connect and collaborate with other trans creators, which has meant everything.
So many people in the YA community have shown me they care, over and over again, in huge and small ways. I am so so grateful for every single bit of it. Of course, it’s not perfect. There are microagressions and straight up aggression. But there’s always been a core of people to support me. Now, that kind of safe space is vital for trans teens.
And yet. Other trans teens turn away from YA. I know only two trans teen book bloggers. Two. (And this isn’t because I haven’t looked, trust me. And it sure as hell isn’t because we don’t read.) Why do they turn away? Well, I recently tweeted some things about that. The tweets are harsh, and I will write a more cohesive post this week about what I mean. In short, however, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that other trans teens can find the same sanctuary that I have. The way the YA community presents itself to trans teens, the things they are most likely to see– books about how hard it is to know someone who is trans, blurbs that misgender and deadname their characters, well meaning cisgender authors whose allyship is mostly performative– that is not what a safe space looks like. That outward face of our community makes trans teenagers turn away– which is a travesty, because I know that others like me can find a safe space here.
In my post, I will be sharing concrete steps to fix this, but in many ways the remedy is simple: center trans voices. For example:
- Seek out stories from trans people
- Invite trans authors to panels and school visits
- Get trans people involved in marketing decisions
- Boost trans reviews
Don’t talk about how you came to accept us or how you relate because you were a weird kid too, don’t talk about how “brave” cisgender authors are for writing about “such a controversial issue.” No. This is the time to practice radical love and inclusion, not this soft, performative, feel-good allyship.
I’ve written about this kind of “acceptance” here. The article is about how it manifests itself in fiction, but this particular section has many parallels to how it manifests in real life, so I am rewriting it here:
“In some ways, [performative allyship] is very similar to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality (though religion is not typically involved in the former). That mentality positions gay people as depraved lost souls who just can’t help being gay. It positions the straight people who “accept” them as holier-than-thou saviors. It allows homophobic people to continue to be homophobic while also feeling good about themselves because they can forgive and love and accept gay people.
[Performative allyship] of trans people functions in the same way. It positions trans people as depraved, freakish, and pitiful. It says that all cis people who can find it in themselves to not be terrible to them deserve gold stars. It says they don’t need to challenge their transphobia, because of course trans men and women aren’t real men and women. Of course they’re kidding themselves. Of course it’s OK to judge and objectify them. [Performative allyship] never challenges this behavior. It actually—very subtly and insidiously—supports it. It lets cis people off the hook, placing the blame for their beliefs and behavior on the trans person. It positions trans people as a stepstool for cis people to use to feel good about themselves.”
In short, performative “allyship” does nothing for trans teens. All it leads to is cisgender people feeling good about themselves because they can accept people as freakish as we are. It does not lead to safe spaces. It does not lead to challenging their own biases, their own cissexism.
We need to change that outward facing face. So. Going forward? We need to center and prioritize trans voices. And that’s what we’re going to do here. This week you will hear from several authors, a comic book artist, a children’s librarian, and an editor, about their feelings and opinions related to trans YA. All of them are trans.
This week is for us. It is for all of us to talk in community, and connect with each other. There is not a huge amount of trans folk in the YA community, but we are here. So please, fellow trans folk: share your voice. Let us know what you think of these pieces. We want to be in conversation with you.
To our cisgender friends and allies: please, listen to us. Support us. Center us. This week and every week going forward. We need you now more than ever.
Although my current feelings are very much caught up in the American election, this series is also for international trans folk. We see you. We hear you. We’re fighting for you, too.
In addition, a week is a very short time in which to encompass all the work that needs to be done for trans teens. We would love to extend this series– if you are trans/nonbinary/two-spirit/etc and have a piece you’d like to feature on GayYA, please send it our way (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible. We won’t be able to feature everything, but we’d love to get a couple more pieces up.
It is important to remember that our fight for trans inclusion does not end this week. GayYA is committed to not only creating a safe space for trans teens on our site, but also making sure the Young Adult community becomes a radically safe and inclusive space. We’re going to be taking concrete actions toward realizing this goal. If you have ideas for ways that we can help you in this struggle, eg. by getting in touch with your school/GSA, running fundraisers to help a library or classroom purchase trans books, etc., please let us know (email@example.com). We’ll be moving forward with some of these actions ourselves, but we won’t be able to see everywhere that needs help by ourselves. So please, reach out. We are with you, and we will help.
Most importantly: Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t. Give. Up.
-Vee, admin and co-founder of GayYA