Trans Women Share Wisdom 'By Us, For Us'

Trans women reverse the trend of seeing "others define and describe us" by sharing their own truths and advice in Letters for My Sisters, available now from Transgress Press.

BY Mitch Kellaway

July 16 2014 3:00 AM ET

"If you could write just one letter to someone who is beginning their gender transition or to your younger, pre-transition self, what would you say?"

A new anthology, Letters for My Sisters: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect, asked transgender women to answer this question, according to publisher Transgress Press. The result is a heartfelt collection of advice, confessions, regrets, and triumphs from 35 women — the largest number of contributors to a collection by trans women yet published.

Edited by engineer Deanne Thornton and film producer and activist Andrea James, the collection was inspired by a 2011 companion book for trans men titled Letters for My Brothers. The collection includes well-known writers, including GLAAD cochair Jennifer Finney Boylan, and many emerging voices who wish to comfort and help their trans sisters by sharing their own stories.

"For too long now we have let others define and describe us," Thornton and James explain in the book's introduction. "This [collection] excludes the voices of others. The only voices here are our own. ... This book isn't biographies, but a distillation of our thoughts and feelings about who we are, where we have come from, and how we got there."

Click through the following pages to glean insight from the trans community's older sisters. More info about Letters for My Sisters can be found on the publisher's website.

Full disclosure: Mitch Kellaway is an assistant editor for Transgress Press. He was not involved with this book's production.

"Dear Jim" by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Listen, I know you're afraid right now. Don't be ashamed of that. Fear is a human emotion, and while in future years, people will tell you how brave and courageous they think you are, it's also true that it takes courage to survive the pre-transition time as well. Quite frankly, this condition can peel the bark off anyone, and I think of you as a hero, you sweet man you. If it weren't for you, you big goofball, I wouldn't even be here. Let's hear it for the boy!

I wish there was something I could say to you that would make it easier, that would take away all the pain, but like a lot of things in life, advice about transition is probably wasted on people who need it most. You have to stumble through it, making all your mistakes, if you're going to learn anything. It's the mistakes that make us human, not eluding them.

Still, here are a few thoughts. I don't know if these will help, but they are things that come to mind, here in the heart of my middle age.

First, stay off of the television, and keep your name out of print until you are absolutely sure that your story is going to be the one worth telling. I have seen a lot of our sisters rush before the cameras before they were ready, and the result was that yet another trans girl was forever captured in the public eye as vulnerable and uncertain. For a lot of trans women, a television camera can be kind of like The Biggest Mirror in the World. Make sure, if you're going to be on TV, that you're doing it in order to do well by others, and not in order to puff yourself up like Furious Frog.

And if you do wind up on TV, remember that you set the agenda. Without you, they don't have a show. So if they try to put you on the defensive, just tell them, Hey. We're not doing that. Make sure you know what your message is going to be, and don't be afraid of practicing it. Before talking to a reporter, memorize the two or three things that you know you want to come out of your mouth. Then, no matter what they ask you, say the things you want to say, regardless of the question.

… In the meantime, if you have the chance, try to turn the conversation away from yourself. I know you are very interesting right now, but try to bear this burden with humility. In some ways being so interesting is a little bit like having a disability. You can find a cure, though, by opening your heart to other people. Practice saying the phrase, "But enough about me…" You may find that strangers want to pour their hearts out to you right now, and you can do a lot of good in the world by listening.

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