Amanda Lepore—a socialite, model, and muse to photographers including David LaChapelle and Terry Richardson—often talks about how the media used to focus on one transgender woman at a time. There was Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s, she says; Candy Darling in the ’60s; Renée Richards in the ’70s; Tula in the ’80s; and Lepore herself in the ’90s. The past few years have brought increased visibility to trans people and their stories—and that’s one reason, she notes, that the time is right for the publication of Doll Parts, her memoir (Regan Arts, June).
Lepore worked with Thomas Flannery, her literary agent and cowriter, who’d been the one to suggest the project. Writing about her life, she says, didn’t come naturally. “I live more in the present, as well as look toward the future,” Lepore says. “Looking back on my past is not something I normally do, so reflecting on my childhood was probably one of the hardest parts of this memoir for me.”
Jazz Jennings, another high-profile trans person, is also reflecting on her childhood, and she’s still going through it. In June, Crown will release Being Jazz (ages 12 and up) by the 15-year-old YouTube personality and reality TV star.
Jennings has been an outspoken advocate for trans visibility and rights since 2006, when she and her family spoke on national television about her transgender childhood. Since then she has, among other projects, cowritten a picture book called I Am Jazz (Dial, 2014, ages 4–8) with Jessica Herthel, who at the time was director of the Stonewall National Education Project.
As Jennings begins adolescence, she’s become increasingly self-reflective, and that perspective manifests in her new memoir. “I’ve always been confident and accepting of myself, but as I have gotten older, I have become genuinely proud to be transgender,” she says. “But I’ve also realized that being transgender isn’t all that I’m about.”
Whereas Jennings has lived as a girl since early childhood, Laura Jane Grace—founder and lead singer of the punk rock band Against Me!—was in her 30s when she came out publicly as transgender in a 2012 Rolling Stone profile.
Tranny (Hachette, Nov.) draws on Grace’s journals dating to when she was eight years old. “I’m sick of dragging them all around everywhere I go,” Grace says. “The plan right now is to burn them once the actual book is out.”
Recently, she made a very public statement by setting something else on fire: a copy of her birth certificate, which she burned on stage in Durham, N.C., on May 15, in protest of the state’s so-called bathroom bill requiring people to use the public rest rooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. Outlets including USA Today, Esquire, and Vogue picked up the story.
A Broad Spectrum
Grace is adamant about the need to have a variety of LGBTQ perspectives in the media. “It’s important for there to be room for across-the-board representation of the broad spectrum of experience when it comes to gender, and for all of it to be valid.”
Consider Christopher Street (Rizzoli, Oct.), a collection of 70 portraits by former Rolling Stone chief photographer Mark Seliger. Seliger has lived near Christopher Street, a historic gathering place for the LGBTQ community in New York City, for over two decades and, in that time, has captured a variety of personalities and styles within the local trans community.
Other titles explore how trans people fare in institutions not necessarily known for acceptance of various gender identities. Akashic’s Edge of Sports imprint has just published Cyd Zeigler’s Fair Play; in its review, PW said the book, subtitled How LGBT Athletes Are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports, “should be required reading for anyone involved in the playing, coaching, and administration of organized sports.”
It includes a profile of mixed martial artist Fallon Fox, the first openly trans MMA fighter. Fox, who had her first professional fight in 2012, had begun hormone therapy in 2003 and underwent sex-reassignment surgery three years later.
When Fox came out in 2013, the MMA community questioned whether Fox had an unfair advantage in women’s tournaments; she continues to compete against other women.
The Young Ones
As a new generation comes of age, children’s and YA novelists are depicting transgender characters in diverse ways.
In the picture book Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury, out now, ages 3–6), a boy named Errol and his teddy bear, Thomas, bike, work in the garden, sit in a tree house, and have tea parties. After Thomas nervously comes out as a girl bear named Tilly, the book ends with Tilly and Errol doing the exact same activities they always did.
“Kids and teens are so much more open,” says Joy Peskin, editorial director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, and editor of Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity (Nov., ages 12 and up), which stars a transgender teen and her best friend on their way to crash her father’s wedding—a father she last saw before she transitioned.
Family relationships take center stage in Donna Gephart’s recently released middle grade novel Lily and Dunkin (Delacorte, ages 10 and up). Lily, a transgender girl, has a supportive mother and sister, but her father is convinced she’s going through a phase.
“[Gephart] was trying to take different points of view, based on different family dynamics,” says Krista Vitola, who edited the book. “She wanted to show how a person’s perspective is based on the experiences they had growing up.”
Despite the progress made in representing LGBTQ characters, the publishing world is only beginning to take on intersectional representations—in which characters’ overlapping identities (including their sexuality, gender, race, or ability) interact in complex ways. When Anna-Marie McLemore started writing When the Moon Was Ours (St. Martin’s Griffin, Oct., ages 12 and up), a fantasy novel about a transgender Pakistani-American boy named Sam and a gay Latina named Miel who has roses growing from her skin, she initially tried to make Sam white and Miel straight.
Nervous about representing multiple identities, McLemore felt she had to censor herself. But the story didn’t take off, she says, until she embraced her protagonists’ range of identities.
“At the heart of this book is my belief that transgender characters, queer characters, and characters of color deserve fairy tales,” McLemore says.
Another October title, Beast by Brie Spangler (Delacorte, ages 12 and up), presents an explicit riff on fairy tales, specifically “Beauty and the Beast”: it depicts the burgeoning romance between a misfit boy and a beautiful, intelligent girl he meets in group therapy, whom he doesn’t realize is transgender.
Voices of Experience
Perhaps the most salient aspect of representation is providing the opportunity for transgender writers to tell trans stories—not just as memoirists, but as novelists as well. Meredith Russo’s debut, the YA novel If I Was Your Girl (Flatiron, out now, ages 13 and up) is an uplifting romance centered on a transgender girl. Though the book isn’t strictly autobiographical, it draws heavily from the author’s experiences.
“There’s a level of authenticity that Meredith brings to this book you can’t bring if you yourself aren’t trans,” editor Sarah Dotts Barley says. “When I signed this book, I didn’t see trans characters that often, and when I did, they were side characters. I feel lucky to be able to publish a book about a trans character by a trans writer.”
Similarly, marketing for novelist Elliot Wake’s romantic thriller Bad Boy (Atria, Dec.) focuses on the book featuring a transgender character and being written by a transgender author. Like his 2015 novel Cam Girl, the new novel is heavily informed by Wake’s experience growing up with gender dysphoria. Bad Boy is also influenced by Wake’s transition, because he wrote the first draft before starting testosterone.
“From research, I knew to expect certain changes: increased energy, confidence, calm, and a totally ridiculous teenage-boy libido,” Wake says. “What I didn’t know was how T would affect my emotional sensitivity. As a writer, I’m something of a raw nerve. That sensitivity lets me tap deep into my characters’ psyches—and I was worried I’d lose it, or that it would change, and I’d have to relearn how to write.”
But when Wake began the second draft after starting his transition, he found that the testosterone helped his process. “T enabled me to be more confident in my decisions, less anxious about screwing up.” He explores these changes through the main character in Bad Boy.
Even as mainstream publishing begins to embrace trans stories told by trans people, some authors remember very well when this wasn’t the case.
Poet and educator Gabrielle Glancy recalls how her novel, Vera, which publishing co-op Oneiric Press has just released, was roundly rejected when it was written nearly 20 years ago because its title character is trans. “Back then, nobody was ready for that,” she says. “It stymied people.”
Vera’s jacket copy includes quotes from the rejection letters she received, including one that perhaps presages the current slate of trans stories: “I would guess there’s a readership hungry for this book.”
Ryan Joe is a writer living in New York.