As part of Trans Book Month on Just Love, in which we are highlighting trans literature, we have invited several authors to share some of their thoughts with us. Please welcome B R Sanders who’s kicking off these guest posts today…
By Trans For Trans
This is a famous quote from Toni Morrison that has guided my writing career:
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
I love this quote. It is a guiding star, particularly for those of us writers who are marginalized. One of the main reasons I started writing fiction was precisely because I so rarely saw representations of people like myself in the genres I most often read: I wanted to read more fantasy and science fiction about transgender people. And I wanted the trans people in these stories to just be people. I wanted to read about trans people living full lives. I wanted to read about them making choices and struggling with things beyond their trans identity.
So often when trans people are included in media—books, movies, games—we are a joke. Or, if we’re not a joke, then we’re a tragedy. Always, we’re there only to make a point for cisgender people about…something. About injustice, maybe. Or about what happens when people have the audacity to transgress the gender binary. Or how ludicrous self-determination is. Some point about something that has no real relevance to our own lives.
Trans characters are not allowed to simply be people with lives and families, even though we are actually just people with lives and families. I want to read books about people like me, with lives and families, but in genre settings. People like me, with lives and families, in space! People like me, with lives and families, who are elves. You get the picture. The choices out there are very limited. Either I can read spec fic where people have lives and families (and are in space!!), or I can read transgender tragedy porn, but I very rarely get to have both.
Write what you want to read. Write what you know. Easy peasy. I want to see myself reflected in stories. I write about trans, queer, and non-binary people living and loving and quietly kicking ass. Because trans and queer people do live and love and quietly kick ass every day.
I have lived a dozen love stories in my life, but I have to dig through thousands of books to find those same stories reflected back at me. I am not an exception. I am not unlovable, and literature needs to stop acting like I am. My little stories and books are acts of tiny rebellion. They are revolutions in print simply by treating trans people with respect and love.
The secret is that I’m not alone. There are other people who want to read stories like this, too. Trans people are desperately hungry for stories of ourselves, and we’ve always written ourselves into literature under the radar. And we always will.
Reading a book with a trans person written by a trans person is like coming home. It is an experience that is decidedly hard for cisgender authors to replicate. It’s not impossible—there have been some excellent representations of trans characters by cis authors—but trans authors are much more likely to get us right. Trans authors are more likely to let our characters breathe and live and have scope and depth. And have families. And experience joy. And get old. Think about the last time you saw or read about an old trans person. How many old trans characters can you name? Can you count them on more than one hand?
I write for my own people. So that we will have old versions of ourselves surrounded by children and grandchildren who adore us. So that we are the heroes of our own stories. So that, every once in awhile, we are the stars that shine the brightest. We are resilient beyond measure. We deserve reams of epic poetry. This is the best I can give us.
B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B writes about queer elves, mostly, as featured in their two novels, the award-winning ARIAH and their debut novel RESISTANCE, both of which are set in the same universe. They love drinking coffee and sleeping, but alas, drinking coffee makes it hard to sleep.
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Trans Characters in B R Sanders’ stories:
In the Aerdh universe, Ariah has a genderqueer character, Halaavi. Blue Flowers alludes to a number of gender non-conforming attributes of blue elvish society. Those attributes are picked up and discussed further in The Adviser and the Diplomat. And the protagonist of Sigils is also genderqueer.
Outside of Aerdh, Crossing the Bridge explores transgender identity using a ghost story. The Scaper’s Muse is a weird little tale about the flexibility of gender; it was included in Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. The Sharpshooter is another one with a genderqueer protagonist, and Things We’ll Never Know has a trans woman mama-bear heroine.
3 thoughts on “TRANS BOOK MONTH: By Trans For Trans, by B R Sanders”
Yay for trans month and yay for this essay.
Frankly the dearth of queer characters of all types over the age of 45 or so (and even then, the 40-somethings are nearly always buff, white, cis “silver haired” men) is extreme. If I did not live in a neighborhood surrounded by queer people of all ages, it would be tempting to think they don’t exist IRL.
But for trans the situation in fiction is more extreme simply because IRL trans people die before their time more than any demographic I know of. Anything that shows them living long and fruitful lives will be a huge boon to everyone.
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This is so important. There are so few books with diverse, well-represented trans characters. Especially once you start trying to find other intersections, whether that’s older trans folks, those with less common orientations (ace or aro?), trans POC, or disabled trans folks. We all need happy stories!
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We have another recommendation post for books with trans and ace/aro characters coming out soon (um, maybe even today). Maybe you’ll find something good to read…
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