Growing up as a trans girl, I could not figure out how to express my gender truth. I lacked the strength to contradict the world. I lacked the language. And I had no viable examples to point to, even in fiction.
The closest I came to a trans avatar was the character Arha (“The Eaten One”) in The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin. My sixth-grade teacher, Miss Musgrove, read it aloud to us. It’s the story of a girl randomly chosen to be the high priestess of nameless dark gods.
This book transported and enthralled me. I felt myself to be Arha, called upon to renounce selfhood in lifelong servitude to inimical forces I did not understand.
Arha’s story did not give me the power to immediately speak my gender truth; but it did afford me a dollop of bleak hope. It taught me that one could survive such an unexpressed life, at least for a while. That counted as a win for 11-year-old me.
The other half of growing up as an unexpressed trans girl was that, paradoxically, I got to experience male privilege. Looking back post-transition at who I was then, I see a kind, well-meaning “boy” and “man” with an easy, confident, and somewhat obtuse sense that his understanding of the world was right and complete.
When you move through the world as (apparently) a straight, white, nondisabled male person, the world defers to you. As a result, even if you have the best intentions, you can still easily fail to have a clue about how clueless you are, particularly about the lives of those who do not share your privilege.
Stories help with that. A well-crafted story about life as “other” offers privileged readers the chance to feel what it’s like trying to survive life outside the usual boxes. The closed loop of privileged thinking can be hard to break into, but still, as an author, you never know when you might get through.
So, as I write my stories of young “other” humans struggling to claim selfhood in an often hostile world, I have two goals.
One is to reassure young readers who have begun to sense they may not fit neatly in the usual categories. “You are not alone,” I strive to tell them. “And, if you can hold yourself together, there is hope.”
The other is to say, gently, respectfully, to readers who enjoy privilege, “Hey, good human, no offense, but perhaps you know less than you think you do. Care to come on a journey with me? You might learn something. You might grow in empathy.”