Making YA Spaces Safe for Trans-Folks?

Come in, have a seat, Fox has FEELINGS on how to make the YA world safe for trans/ gender-nonconforming folks.

I’ve been to a lot of cons/ festivals/ launches etc. Kidlit & YA are my safe space. I fit. I’m welcome. Or so I thought.

But lately, not so much. Realising this = one shaken, angry, heartbroken author. Not because I feel let down (I do) but because we share this space with young people. Some of whom are trans/ gender-nonconforming. Some of whom are vulnerable. ALL of whom deserve to feel like they belong, and are respected. That’s what we DO, as kidlit folks, right?

I’m not a demanding person, but I’m done. I have some demands. I want our kids to feel safe. I want to feel safe…

** DISCLAIMER: this isn’t a dig at any one person or event. Lots of tiny micro-aggressions have added up over time.**

1st: Pronouns. If you know a person’s pronouns, USE THEM. This sounds easy. You’d be surprised how many times I get misgendered by people who know. (Yes, everyone fucks up sometimes. We’re not expecting miracles. If you do, correct yourself, apologise, move on.)

Actually, correcting yourself is especially important if you realise what you’ve done during introductions. First impressions stick, they affect how people will likely think of us from that point on. Please don’t make us have say ‘well actually, I’m not…’ and simultaneously call you out and out ourselves. It ranges from uncomfortable to unsafe for us to do this. Sometimes we just can’t, and then we’re stuck with it (and all the associated dysphoria/ confusion this can cause). And in small circles like the book world, this can spiral so fast into more introductions and conversations, and before you know it, half of the room thinks of you one way, the other thinks of you as someone else.

It sounds tiny, like, it’s a tiny word and NBD. I promise you it isn’t. People NOTICE pronouns. It may be subconscious. They file us into neat little gender boxes. They also hear ‘this is a woman in a suit/ a guy in a dress/ one of those kids jumping on a trend’ if there’s incongruence or confusion.

FYI, I don’t care whether you’re referring to a real person or a character, GENDER US CORRECTLY. I also don’t care whether you wrote that character. Talk to and about us with respect. We notice. It all adds up to a general mental picture people have of us and how we should be treated. And being seen as fakers/freaks/something we’re not is dangerous as fuck. It gets us killed.

2nd: BATHROOMS.
Some of us literally weigh up whether it’s safe for us to use bathrooms at all. Even in all-day events. Stop making that harder.

Go ahead and assume that people know which bathroom space best fits them.
Even if you know they’re trans. Even if you heard a pronoun you don’t think matches. I promise we’re no threat to you, we just want to pee (and not get yelled at/ assaulted/ outed while we do so).

And venues/ organisers? Can we do away with gendered bathrooms/ make safe, gender-neutral options available, please? Some of us do not fit in either binary category and it isn’t safe for us to try.

3rd/ finally (for now): please make your staff aware of policies to safeguard transfolks who may get abuse. Make it safe & easy for them to come to you for help. We…are not actually as safe as it appears (even in ‘nice, friendly Britain’) unless you make it so.

These things might sound tiny, or obvious, or like they’re not actually a big deal if you don’t follow them. And yeah, we deal with this stuff everywhere and every day. But YA isn’t everywhere, it’s a space where people matter, where we show the world what’s possible, where everyone belongs. And right now, we’re not acting like it.