This week’s essay has a little shift in tone, as we spend a little more time on something personal.
This is the week of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the TDOR, it has become the most solemn observance to the worldwide transgender population-at-large. From Wikipedia:
"The Transgender Day of Remembrance, also known as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, has been observed annually on November 20 as a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. It is a day to draw attention to the continued violence endured by transgender people."
In different communities may have vigils throughout the preceding week, and tomorrow, I will be the speaker at Cornell University for the Cornell and Ithaca College TDOR service.
I would not be speaking at this event if I were not transgender. But I also would not have been asked if I were not a writer.
And as I am preparing my speech for tomorrow, I am wondering…where does the self end and the work begin?
That’s what it means to be a writer working in the margins. Even when as you write your story, you are doing so while representing others.
Even if one yearns for the chance to speak only for only for oneself, as writers of color, or as queer or trans writers—our very existence is seen as a narrative—and in many ways, it is.
The fact one is transgender and has not been erased and actually found one’s way into print is a story.
As trans folk we are not granted the privilege of safe art, of faultless fiction, pure fantasy—because life does not give us the privilege of safe art, of faultless fiction, pure fantasy.
And, for this, I am profoundly grateful. The connections that readers, especially trans and queer and Asian readers, have with my work is humbling.
There is some responsibility...one is asked to advise, or to speak at a school or at an event like the Trans Day of Remembrance.…and when you speak, you represent trans people—whether you like it or not.
Whether you like it or not, you become literature, as well.
I think that being a trans writer, a queer writer, a writer from the margins, allows a closer view to a deeper question—is literature defined by its writers, or its readers?
I would like to think literature as for readers. After all, no matter how good you think your work is, it doesn't matter if no one reads it. Anne Frank wrote a diary; it did not become literature until it was edited and published.
What is transgender literature? Or Asian American literature? Or, well, you know the drill. What makes these literatures authentic?
As writers and publishers, we can make some educated guesses—critics and scholars can take turns debating as well—but in the end, the readers decide whom they invest in.
Basically, what is trans literature? What trans readers say it is. Who are trans writers? For now, because I am trans, I am being accepted as one, and I am honored.
Yes, I have felt, “No—I am more than my work! I have borders. I have boundaries. You get my ink. You do NOT get my blood.”
For I can’t worry about work once it is out in the world. Did the image work, did the message get through? Did the poem matter? Did character get to you? Once to book is out there, it’s out there.
For me? I examine my work; I examine my life. Am I being honest on page? Am I being honest in my life? If I am preaching wisdom, am I living wisely? If I write about survival, did I survive enough?
Perhaps there’s a little survivor’s guilt thrown in, as well. Was I ever suicidal? Should I be? Was/am I really strong or resourceful, or was I lucky, sheltered—invalid? Am I queer enough? Trans enough?
For, memories and expectations can be merciless. I’ve befriended many queer artists and writers over my life. Far too many of them are gone. And though it is comforting to assume we write and compose and create to purge our demons, I wonder how many of my friends felt the dark and shapeless weight of living—or not living—up to the expectations of their communities.
Which I suppose leads me back to this, week, to this Transgender Day of Remembrance.
And really, to those doubts—as with so many other doubts—I have no answer. I will write my story, live my life, and repeat the process.
I have no idea what life will throw at me, but I want to honor my dead.
I think of all the trans people who never got the chance to write a book. I think of the family and children I’ll never have. And yet, I have seen cherry blossoms. I have ridden a very fast train. And eaten Cinnabon.
And I want to keep writing poems and essays and stories and music and making some connections with amazing people… and most of all, I want my story to end with as much happiness as possible.
If it ends at all.
And knowing this, one feels honored and special and excited.
And so, we write for the living. We write for the dead.
We write our part of a story that continues, even after whatever happens next.
Please note that this week's newsletter contains links to different interviews in which I chat more about Light From Uncommon Stars, as well as living and writing overall.
Cover image: eoneren/collection: E+/Getty Images
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