Writing While Trans: my transition and my writing

It’s an objective fact that I’m a better writer now than I was three years ago, before I started my transition. But why? Is correlation causation? Have I just been getting better as I’ve gotten older and read and written more? Or is there a connection between living as my authentic self, demanding things for myself that I knew objectively I needed, and my ability to render thought and feeling on paper?

In this essay I want to think about how the development of my self as a person relates to the development of my skills as a writer.

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borrowed from Frederik Rubensson

The first parallel that comes to mind is the element of rejection, or rather, fear of rejection. Any serious writer has had to come to terms with rejection and learn to work around it, to steady one’s hands and quell that urge to shut one’s laptop and give up writing forever at the first sign of criticism.

Similarly, coming out as trans (however ‘soft’ the launch of my new gender presentation might have been) was an exercise in building up emotional calluses. This fear is something that I can say categorically every trans person, out or not, has had to deal with at one point or another, and it’s something that I have had to overcome at the same time as I began undergoing hormone replacement therapy.

It’s simply impossible to live one’s life in constant fear of being ridiculed, castigated or alienated for one’s gender presentation. This isn’t to say that plenty of people don’t have to deal with this anyway: I don’t doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of trans people whose lives are still delimited by just these fears. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends and family supportive enough to convince me that the self I felt comfortable presenting was authentic and therefore valid. I’m still a bit frightened of large white cisgender men but I can look them in the eye from out of this small, weird body, and suffer their looks back.

Back to writing, then. Despite the fact that I have and do use writing as an escape from the trials of living inside my self, it’s incontrovertible fact that my writer self is my transgender self. There cannot not be a connection, since my writing and my gender identity are arguably my two most important qualities.

One of the most essential qualities for a writer is the ability to observe the world around oneself, so as later to recreate it in various forms on the page: one has to process all one’s experiences through an added filter (or perhaps this is only my experience, but I don’t think so). Similarly, a prominent (at least for me) feature of the “transgender experience” has been a heightened awareness of my surroundings, specifically how the people around me are reacting to the self I’m presenting to them. It’s not really even a conscious thing, but it’s something I notice if I’m careful and, honestly, it’s something I’m trying to train myself out of. At least, I’m happy being aware but hyperawareness carries with it a modicum of anxiety I’d very much like to be rid of. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that I am both more observant and more empathetic since beginning my transition.

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borrowed from Etienne

I’ve heard it said (by myriad spurious sources) that the best writers all had unhappy childhoods. I think for the most part this is nonsense. But I do think that ostracism from one social group or another, so often the defining feature of an unhappy childhood, is something that most transgender people deal with, sooner or later. It’s something that gives those children or people beginning their transition an outsider’s – and, I think, an observer’s – perspective.

I think what this all comes down to is the way being a writer, or being transgender, attunes one to the emotions (passive or active) of others, and makes one a more sensitive observer of the world. It’s much harder for someone who is constantly checking themself to ignore the world around them, and I’m thankful that I have writing as an outlet – I’ve often said when confronted by an unpleasant experience, ‘at least I can write about this.’

 

Hello! If you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope you liked my post. You may know that I’m working on crowdfunding a book called Pride, Not Prejudice, along with several other transgender writers. Crowdfunding means that we depend on individual pledges from people like you – people who are interested in transgender issues, or even just in expanding their own awareness – to make sure the book gets published. I’d really appreciate if you took the time to check out our crowdfunding page here, share it with your friends and family, and, of course, pledge for a special edition hardback copy of the book! There is also a discount code available for trans people whose income is being put towards their transition. If you’d like the code, contact me and I’ll send it to you!

 

Animate Prose and the Sculpture of Language: The Vorrh, a review.

Brian Catling’s The Vorrh (2012, Honest Publishing) has been on my radar for a long time. I’d never heard quite the right things said of it to make me take that last step into actually reading it, that is, until last month, when I found out Catling will be visiting Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh. His visit will coincide with the release of the sequel to The Vorrh, The Erstwhile (in March, details here). Eager for the chance to go to an event for a book I’d actually read, I borrowed a copy from my flatmate and got to work. Continue reading

Painting With Broad Strokes: Grace of Kings, a review.

I picked up Grace of Kings (Ken Liu, Simon & Schuster, 2015) originally because I was enticed by the idea of an epic high-fantasy story not set in a thinly-veiled version of western Europe. The setting of Grace of Kings is a refreshing blend of ancient China and Polynesia, and the un-Europeanness of the story is apparent from the very first page, with an elaborate culture and social hierarchy laid out in clear terms, and sustained throughout the book. Continue reading

Don’t Kill the Messenger: The End of the Day, a review.

First of all, happy holidays and new year to all of you! I’m reading something new for the new year. I got this copy of Claire North‘s The End of the Day (Orbit, April 2017) from work, our fiction buyer handing it to me and saying “can you read this for me please?”. I was sceptical, usually the proofs that get fobbed off on me (with some notable exceptions) aren’t that great (simply by the rules of trickle-down economics, I usually receive the dregs). I’m happy to say that this book is another exception to that rule. Continue reading

Drifting Sand and Lurking Terror: The Ice Lands, a review.

I have quite mixed opinions about The Ice Lands (by Steinar Bragi, Macmillan, 2016), which is relatively rare for me: I’m normally quite good at picking books that I know I’ll like. This one I’d seen in the shop in hardback and thought it sounded interesting. I read a preview online and made a mental note to pick it up at some point. A couple weeks ago I found a proof copy in the staff room and just like that, it ended up at the top of my list, for better or for worse. A lot of my criticism of this book stems from the content and structure of the ending, so while I’ll try not to go into specifics, there may be a few spoilers near the end.
Continue reading