So I guess this is my coming out review? I actually have a blog post for that, but of course, some of my transition experiences thus far will be interspersed throughout this review.
Hello, world. I’m Kara now. (That’s pronounced Car-uh.) I’m a trans woman. My pronouns are she/her.
To My Trans Sisters seemed like a perfect book to read and then review on the day I came out online. It’s a collection of letters from trans women to trans women—so, if you had asked me back when I read For the Love of Men, I wouldn’t have considered myself the target audience. Now I most definitely am! Oh, how time makes fools of us all. Charlie Craggs has engaged a very diverse set of voices, which is commendable. These women are from all sorts of places—UK and US, predominantly, but there are other voices here too. They are a variety of ages and have followed many career trajectories (strangely high proportion of military or ex-military women though!). This is the anthology’s principal strength: it accepts and highlights that there is no such thing as a monolithic trans(feminine) experience. As someone who is coming to womanhood towards her middle age, I find that extremely reassuring and helpful.
The letters in this collection are varied yet also similar. Many are written in the form of a letter to one’s younger self, dispensing wisdom the author wish she had known then. Some are written to the hypothetical trans reader. Others are poems, or extremely short tidbits of ideas. As with any collection of this size, the quality of the writing is extremely varied. Not every letter is going to be a hit; indeed, it’s possible most letters won’t be a hit. I found myself agreeing with some, disagreeing with others, and even agreeing/disagreeing within the same letter! And that’s pretty neat.
I basically was looking for two things with this book. The first was confirmation/validation of my personal trans journey. The second was advice or wisdom from women looking back after years, decades even, of being out as transgender and their perspective, which is of course so different from mine as a trans woman in her first year of this whole process. I am a baby!
I really liked Laura Jane Grace’s admonition to “Live as fully as you can, always without apology” (10). That’s definitely a motto I’ve always followed my whole life and is likely why I’ve so abruptly and publicly decided to come out: it’s how I operate. I cannot compartmentalize. I decided it was time to acknowledge I’m trans; I started telling the people most important to me; and then I laid the ground work to come out to everyone else. Today I came out to my colleagues at work; on Monday, when my new classes start, I will come out to my students.
Similar to the above motto, Andrea James says, “transition can liberate you from fear. As much as we might hope and dream and plan, transition is ultimately a leap of faith, an act of courage” (117). I like this. It acknowledges the immensity of this journey while congratulating us and celebrating us for who we truly are: courageous. You know, a lot of my friends have commented, as part of their reaction when I told them, that I’m brave. And I see it. But I’m also super privileged: I’m white, able-bodied, have secure employment and housing … I have a lot of privilege that many trans women don’t have when they consider coming out (and hence, why some never do). So I’m not sure I’m courageous so much as savvy! Nevertheless, I won’t lie. This is a huge thing, and I feel brave for admitting this to myself, firstly, and then for deciding to make it a reality.
Jen Richards also gave me a poignant reminder that “Being trans does not make you special, it just makes you trans.” By this she means that, if one fixates and obsesses over one’s transness at the expense of cultivating other hobbies, interests, and relationships, then of course one’s trans journey will be more daunting. I find this very important to keep in mind. This is all so new to me, so fresh, and I feel an incredible euphoria—after all, I’ve just reframed my entire existence in a way that makes me more comfortable! Yet, at the end of the day … yeah, I’m trans, but I’m so many other things. I’m a best friend. I’m a teacher. I’m a knitter. I’m a reader. Being trans is as much a part of me now as any other aspect of my identity, but it doesn’t make me special. It’s my unique combination of all these attributes that makes me special. Obviously, for a little while, I’m going to be obsessed with my transness. This is a huge adjustment and learning curve! But eventually, I’ll heed Richards’ words and settle down.
I also really identified with Martine Rose’s perspective on acknowledging one’s trans identity:
From a very young age I have always had the wish that I had been born female and this wish only go stronger with time. But I have not felt this wish arose out of the way I was born; I just felt intensely jealous of females for their freedom to wear beautiful clothes, make-up, etc., and I thought that being a painfully shy person, life would have been so much easier for me if I were female in a world that still largely expected men to take the lead in those early days.
This perspective coincides much more with mine than some of the more stereotypical narratives about being “born in the wrong body” or “always knowing” one is trans (which are great if they apply to you, but they don’t apply to me). I’m still sorting through my past, re-evaluating my actions in hindsight, uncovering things that might be indications earlier of how I felt. It was just so nice to hear another trans woman express this sentiment.
Then Rose goes and ruins it by adding, in her conclusion, “please don’t lose your femininity (if you are M>F) after you have had the op. I see so many who used to enjoy ‘dressing up’ as attractive women before but seem to lose interest after the op.” Ugh. Who cares what you wear?? Clothes do not make the woman; makeup does not make the woman. I’m going to dress exactly as feminine or masculine as I want regardless of the status of my genitals, and in every single outfit, I’m still going to be a cute girl. And I’m really sorry that Rose doesn’t have the freedom to see the world that way.
Because Charlie Craggs, the editor, closes out the anthology with her letter, and I also really agree with this point:
… but without even poppin’ a single ’mone, without any surgery or laser, without eve presenting as female, my perception of myself totally changed because I finally accepted myself.
YES. SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE TRANS WOMEN AT THE BACK. That’s exactly how I felt during the sleepless night I had my epiphany. Like, yeah, new glasses and a new hairstyle and new clothes are going to help. Hormones might help one day. But none of that stuff matters as much as this enormous sense of rightness that I felt in the days that followed. As I talked to my friends and family, as I tried out my new name, I kept experiencing that euphoria rather than the dysphoria that so many of us face. I loved it.
There were definitely some viewpoints I didn’t appreciate. For instance, Amazon Eve says, “If this isn’t something that manifested in you from a when [sic] you were little, it’s probably not legitimate.”
What the actual fuck.
The only thing worse than doubt and shaming is doubt and shaming coming from within the house. I went out and checked Eve’s Twitter feed after this, and I probably shouldn’t have. I didn’t even have to read past the first line of her bio: “Intersectionality is nothing more than a loser matrix for terminal self-pity.”
Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope. Every. Single. Tweet. Is problematic. Oh my.
This kind of toxicity within the trans community (within any community) is awful, and I don’t want it around. And, honestly, it’s making it harder for me to recommend To My Trans Sisters wholeheartedly to … well, my trans sisters. It’s one thing to welcome diverse and even contradictory views in an anthology like this. Nevertheless, it is still very important when creating an anthology directed at marginalized people that one considers the overall ethos one wants to foster. An anthology can be open and still have minimum standards, and I don’t think people like Amazon Eve meet those standards.
(Also, the actual editing? Not great. There are typos and grammatical errors, and it doesn’t seem like Craggs or any other people who copy-edited the book took the time to work with the various contributors.)
I wish I could unreservedly recommend this book to my trans sisters. I don’t know. I liked elements of this book, certain letters and certain people and certain sentiments. I disagreed civilly with others and less civilly with a few. It’s worth mentioning that, for all I sought validation from older trans women in this book, I went into it with an extremely firm and confident grasp on my newfound identity—that is, I was easily able to shake off the doubt or dismissiveness I felt from people like Eve. So consider that too.
You know what would be great? If we had more of these books. Because then we could pick and choose which trans-focused, trans-targeted books we read! (Yes, I know there are others out there, and maybe I will even get to them soon—but we need more, more, more!) Until then … like many other collections of writing by marginalized people, To My Trans Sisters is uneven, enjoyable, questionable, and all right.
But I … I am much more than all right.