Our Reading Lives

A Personal History in Trans Lit

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Ms. Constance Augusta A. Zaber is a New England writer and general artist interested in history, sex practices, libraries, what she’s going to eat next, and Virginia Woolf. Visit constancezaber.com for links to her stores and her sex blog. Follow her on Twitter: @constancezaber.

lunaLUNA It’s eighth grade and I can’t stop reading this slim YA novel. After enough reminders from the school librarian, I return their copy and special order my own copy from the bookstore/café I work at. There are some books I reread because I’m a depressed teenager who finds a semblance of sanity in returning to her favorite books but I don’t even particularly like Luna. I think the narrator is bratty. (I do like how much opera she listens to because I don’t know anyone else my age who likes opera.) Luna comes off as selfish and flat, I don’t even enjoy the author’s use of language, and yet I can’t stay away from this book.  There’s something in it, something familiar that I’ve never felt before and it terrifies me. Each time I read the novel the pain inflicted upon Luna feels real, sometimes realer than my own. Even though this book hurts me I keep rereading it because finally I know a girl like me. I can’t put that into words yet, I’m still telling myself I’m a boy, but buried deep inside me is the knowledge that I’m a girl and now I know that I’m not alone.

finding the real meFINDING THE REAL ME I’m fourteen, at summer camp, and I’m having a hard time being a boy. In our workshops about gender as a social construct I find myself lying about how comfortable I am in my “male” identity to cover up the fact that I actually loathe every minute of it. One of the counselors sees something in me and very casually gives me this anthology of personal essays from a wide variety of trans people. Just like Luna I find myself reading and rereading it in a way that might border on obsessive. The glossary is full of foreign words and I read it out loud but under my breath, each word (ze, mtf, cisgender) sounding like the spells from my favorite fantasy stories. Among the contributors there is such a wide variety of identities, pronouns, and experiences that I become disoriented as I try to take everything in. There’s so much pain and heartbreak in these essays but there’s even more joy and hope and strength and happiness. This is new to me, the trans stories I’m used to are the ones from television shows like CSI or Law and Order which always involve us on a slab in some morgue, even Luna ends right as she begins to experiences any real happiness. For the first time in my life I know that there are trans stories out there that aren’t full of suffering and for some reason I find this immensely comforting.

nevadaNEVADA“What do you mean you haven’t read Nevada?” I don’t appreciate the tone in my friend’s voice, like most of their recommendations this comes with an element of Cool Kid mentoring the school’s Nerdy Girl, an element of Read THIS If You’re The Right Kind Of Trans, but their recommendations usually end up being solid so I let it slide and borrow their copy. I’m almost 21, in my first year of my second college, and while I’m openly identifying as a nonbinary trans person I know that for me I’m just gathering my courage to say that I’m a woman. Nevada becomes an escape from my mess of a life, a submersion into a fictional world whose main character’s life is such a shit-show that she makes me look like I’m put together. Maria Griffiths is an irresponsible mess I want to give a stern talking to and yet it’s her story that begins to give me the space to come out. This is the first fiction piece about a trans woman I’ve read that doesn’t focus on her coming out, doesn’t waste pages talking about medical procedures that I can’t afford, doesn’t try to educate me. Instead for the first time I’m reading a book about a trans woman bicycling in Brooklyn while drunk and kind of stealing a car and just living her life and for the first time I can begin to see a life for me.