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The Transgender Issue
Putting together a transgender edition of Litro has been a harder endeavour than you may imagine. Over the last five years, huge strides have been made towards better trans visibility and self-representation. In the US, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have spoken beautifully on the challenges faced by trans people, particularly trans women of colour, whilst Chelsea Manning, Laura Jane Grace and Caitlyn Jenner have all raised the profile of our community. In Britain, there are more newspaper articles and television programmes being produced from a trans perspective than ever more, as people recognise the damage done by the mainstream media and its sensationalistic, voyeuristic coverage of trans people and attempt to carve out some space for themselves.
Traditionally, trans writing has focused on autobiography and memoir – the only means by which the first transsexual people could explain themselves to a bewildered public – and then theory, which responded to attacks from feminist and conservative critics alike. I tried to secure an extract of a book by one the most influential 1990s theorists, Kate Bornstein, as her work had a huge effect on me when I read Gender Outlaw as a confused twenty-something, and led me to a long line of trans and queer authors whose ideas changed the way I thought about sex and gender – and not just my own. Sadly, I couldn’t, so I hope you are not too disappointed with one of my short stories, set in the 1990s, as a substitute.
There is very little ‘literary’ fiction by trans people. Excluded from ‘serious’ art as our identities have been dismissed as inauthentic, we have tended to prefer genre fiction, or to focus on activism, as the political situations for trans people worldwide have been so dismal. Where trans people have appeared in literary fiction, we have tended to be one-dimensional characters, ciphers for an author’s wider opinions about gender, used to make a narrative more ‘exotic’ or to give it a ‘twist’.
Here, I have tried to feature writers who identify as trans and/or queer, and write from such a position, although I am not certain that all of them do – just that they seem sensitive to the people and issues involved. As a voracious reader of fiction, I am delighted to showcase several short stories. The first is by writer/performer Jet Moon, who I encountered at the Transfabulous Festival of International Transgender Arts in 2008, which showed me a world of poetry, performance and playfulness that I’d never thought possible as a closeted teen, ten years earlier. I have also included a story by Sanam Amin, an author from Thailand whose subtle approach to the subject undercuts any preconceptions one may have about the nation’s kathoey or ‘third gender’ community, and a long piece by Barney Walsh, as well as flash fiction by Mark Brown.
There are also essays by Scott Esposito, who came out as trans in a stunning article about Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up and his own gender last year – in this issue I present another piece of his highly personal film criticism, this time on Pedro Almodóvar. Also included are a poetic text by artist Raju Rage about clothing, gender, race and identity, and musician, writer and activist CN Lester taking down the cliché of being ‘born in the wrong body’.
That seems an appropriate place to begin, so welcome to the transgender edition of Litro.