To My Trans Sisters, edited by Charlie Craggs. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 978 1 78592 343 2.
Although this collection of contributions from 85 successful transwomen is nominally for transwomen just starting their journey, in truth it is an entertaining and informative read for all of us. There are undoubtedly some weak chapters here, but most are so short that it is not long before you are on to a better one. I suspect some of the authors of the weaker chapters, after reading some of the outstanding contributions from the other women, now wish they had a do over.
Each chapter vividly reflects the personality of the author. While some chapters detail the authors’ own journeys and some sound like boasting, most are sincere and some are so heartfelt they almost made me cry. The diversity of the women is on clear display here. That’s one of the pleasures of the book. Despite most of the women being from England and the USA – with only a few from Asia and Africa – there is no shortage of different life experiences. You may not see yourself in them, but you nevertheless come away with a great appreciation for what a diverse lot we trans sisters are.
In spite of this diversity, a few common pearls of wisdom keep recurring. While I recommend you read the book, I’ve distilled a few of the major words of advice that are most likely to keep you on a good path.
Be patient. This one keeps coming up over and over again. The good thing about patience is that it allows you to reflect on where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. It takes time. Breathe. You’ll find the process of becoming to be just as important as being.
Be good at something. Find your passion. Build your career. As actress, writer and producer Jen Richards says, “If being trans is the most interesting thing about you, well sis, you need to reboot your life.” Or this from professional racing cyclist Natalie Van Gogh: “Look at transition as something that is part of your normal daily life, but don’t let it become life.” Unfortunately the experience of Audrey Mbugua in this volume serves as a counterpoint to this. She is from Kenya and was set for a career in science, but bigotry derailed that and of necessity she became a trans activist. “Sometimes a cause is more important than your family, friends, your comfort and life.” Mbugua’s chapter is a strong one in this collection.
Don’t get hung up on passing. Don’t spend your entire life trying to live up to impossible standards of femininity. From writer and barrister Bex Stinson: “Don’t think that anyone else’s perception of you can damage your worth or invalidate your identity.” This is good advice, but by far the best chapter on this subject is Kate Hutchinson’s. I laughed out loud as she related how a red wig that she found on eBay liberated her from the torment of passing and allowed her to walk proudly with a “bright red beacon” on her head. Hers was one of those chapters that made me want to shout, “You go girl!”
Be confident. Ah, well yes, that’s easy to say, but when you’re down in the hole that’s a battle in itself. Nonetheless, it needs to be said. The answer is inside of you. The above mentioned Kate Hutchinson also has some advice here: “Keep being your awesome self and you won’t go far wrong. Your confidence will build and you will be unstoppable.” Another way to build confidence is to be resilient, which comes up often in this collection also.
People will surprise you and it’s not as bad as you think. I include this one because I’ve found it to be true, but as so often happens in the trans experience, there’s a flip side. Some people will not surprise you, and “you’re about to go through hell”. I couldn’t resist a sardonic laugh at these contradictions. In a way, they are both true. For example, RAF pilot Caroline Paige says, “you are loved by more people than you can ever imagine” but then she seems to blow up this cheery bit of news a few pages later when she says, “Sadly, my parents and two brothers couldn’t accept me.” Her lack of bitterness and her compassion toward the family that rejected her shows, however, that her positive experiences have informed the way she chooses to live her life.
This book is a mixture of rah-rah encouragement and blunt talk, which seems appropriate for the journey you’re on. It shows our diversity, but also our commonality. I’ve summarized some of its recurring themes, but I recommend reading the book anyway. It’s funny and wise and entertaining and most of these trans women are very good company.
To My Trans Sisters is available for loan at the Ottawa Public Library.