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.

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.

A Too-Small Thank You for a Very Big Thing

I slept last night. And it’s a far bigger deal than it sounds. Because I’ve not been sleeping. I’ve not really been functioning. I’ve been anxious and scared and angry all the time. Interacting with people sends me reeling, wondering how they see me, second guessing my value in any situation, convinced that everyone’s just putting up with me.

I’ve been exhausted, but not sleeping; unable to switch my brain off, and terrified of the resulting nightmares if I do.

I don’t feel safe in my own skin, and the more I realise that, the harder it is to ignore. Social transitioning’s helped. Tiny physical changes at the gym have helped. I get glimpses of what it’s like to feel comfortable and confident, and it’s wonderful, but the more I find that, the harder the other moments are. It’s why transitioning is important, and why waiting-list limbo has become impossible for me.

It’s been bleak, lately. I couldn’t see a way out, and I’ve been thisclose to giving up on everything.

Not all of this is transition related; there’s a lot of overwhelming stuff right now – but it’s a massive, inescapable part of it. But last night, for the first time in months, I went to bed with more peace than crippling fear. And I slept.

You did that. I’m a long way off of surgery, but I’m suddenly in a position to take that first step – to jump the 19 month queue for a first appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic. Suddenly I’m not in this endless swirly black hole of waiting. And that’s because of you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. <3333

An author being visible because today seems like the day for it

It’s International Transgender Day of Visibility today, so here I am, being visible. Okay, I talk about gender/trans stuff on social media a lot, but today I want to be more visible. Visibility matters.

It’s a couple of weeks since the brilliantly wonderful Michael Waters‘ first piece highlighting LGBTQIA authors went up on B&N. (Check out the series of interviews here and here. You should probably seek out everyone else’s work too, they’re amazing.) Michael asked some brilliant, thoughtful questions. Obviously. It got more personal than I expected, and covered ground I haven’t consciously (or publicly) trodden before. Since space and common decency couldn’t possibly allow him to share it all, and maybe something in there will help somebody feel less alone or weird or scared, I’m sharing the full text today.

This is me. Um. Hi.

Pronouns you’d like me to use in the feature?

He or they pronouns, please. ☺

Details about your family? Your life growing up?

I was a hard-to-get-to-know kid, quiet until I was comfortable. Often found hiding in books, but equally happy up trees, building dens, and tromping through the countryside. Either way, I had my head in stories and adventures. (And I can still build a watertight shelter and find you a decent meal in a forest today.)

When did you first have an inkling that something was different about your gender, and how did you initially react?

Retrospectively, probably when I was three or four. A close family friend always merged my first and middle names. I hated it, and one day I had a total meltdown over the fact that it didn’t fit, it was super girly and it wasn’t my name. I screamed and shouted, and then when I realized how much rejecting my names upset people I shoved it aside.

I’ve always felt weird and uncomfortable, but I didn’t ever know what to do with that. I didn’t have the language or experience to explore why. So for years (decades) I just sort of lived with the discomfort, avoided situations where I could, withdrew and ignored it and pretended nothing was happening where I couldn’t. And I’d make up stories full of endless confident, adventurous and brave people, who were exactly who I wanted to be, in one way or another.

When did you first decide the label genderfluid fit you best? / What does being genderfluid mean to you?

I discovered the label maybe 2 years ago, and I danced around it for a while before I was comfortable using it. Which seems to be a pattern for me, actually: see label/ part of transition/ expression; squint at it, declare ‘that can’t be me’; keep drifting back to it; realize I was in some kind of denial. **jazz hands**

I’m still not actually sure it genderfluid fits ‘best’. Not on its own. Genderfluid is such a varied, shifting identity, and it’s radically different from person to person. And when people find out that that’s how I identify I end up clarifying, ‘For me, it’s this, and I identify in these various ways: genderfluid, usually transmasculine, very occasionally I swing right back to cis woman or right into man’. I use trans and transmasculine as often as I do genderfluid. But it’s definitely me, and it’s really, really comforting to know that I’m not the only one experiencing changes in my gender identity, because wow, it can be disconcerting.

What to you is the difference between identifying as genderfluid masculine vs identifying as a boy?

For me, the fluidity is a big part of not identifying as boy; I can’t identify as a boy on the days when I’m not even close, when I swing way back into girl territory. There are days when I am a girl, when all of my past experiences and social upbringing feel as right as they possibly could, when my body fits, when I feel part of the sisterhood.
Even on the days when I’m right up close to boy, though, actually identifying fully as male is rare. I’m not. I’m a lot more comfortable at that end of the spectrum, but there are parts of the male experience I don’t usually identify with.

How far along are you in the coming out process?

That’s a tricky one, and I’m going to have to break it down a bit:

Firstly, I’m still…somewhere on this journey of figuring out exactly who I am. There’s no particular/ expected thing to transition ‘to’ as a nonbinary individual, but I know I want to transition in some ways, to find a way to exist that is much more comfortable than I am right now. I feel like I’m still in the process of exploration and coming out to myself, let alone anyone else.

Secondly, we live in a very cisnormative, binary-led society. And in that environment, coming out isn’t something you just do once. It’s not a big, singular event where you can dance through the internet and share yourself and it’s done and everybody knows. In the real world, people you interact with every day will make snap judgments about your gender, and refer to you or treat you in certain ways because of that judgment. Whether you live with it or come out is a judgment call Every. Single. Time: is it safe? How much does their perception affect me? Do I have the energy? Will it make any difference?

And finally, in the traditional sense, I’m… pretty much out. My friends all know; I’m open about where I’m at across social media; I often talk about being queer, trans and disabled as part of school (etc) talks and workshops. It’s important to me to try to be the kind of visible role model I wish that I’d always had – to do what I can to make things better for the next generation.

The exception is a few family members. Sometimes, voicing things is hard. Sometimes the right moment just doesn’t come along. And sometimes people aren’t in a place where they could hear it. As much as I wish that I could share it with them, right now it wouldn’t be good for anyone.

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about being genderfluid?

Of all the comments I’ve encountered, the idea that genderfluid people are ‘confused’ or ‘attention seeking’ is the worst. Yes, it can be a confusing, terrifying thing to navigate, but we’re very, very aware of our bodies and minds and the way we feel, and we’re sure of ourselves as anyone else.

‘Not being trans enough’ is a close runner up. This is never, ever an okay thing to perpetuate. A lot of identities come under that umbrella term, and no single identity or way of expression is the ‘right’ one. If you identify as trans, you are trans. You have nothing to prove. You’re okay.

Why did you decide against using the name Sarah? Does the name Fox have any particular significance to you?

I love my birth name. Part of me is very, very attached to it. But society genders names like they gender people, and with that perception comes a bundle of expectations. A lot of the time, those expectations simply do not fit me, and I grew tired of the mismatch. Of having to explain. Of having people double take when I matched he pronouns with a ‘female’ name. Of people assuming I’m someone I’m not.

So I went looking for a more neutral name that would always fit. I ended up with a really long list of names I loved, and I intended to give them all a try but Fox kind of stuck. It’s mine, and I adore it. There’re a lot of reasons it resonates, and I’ll share them if you ask me in person, but I love the way it makes me feel – strong, and lithe and a little wild, with stories at my back and the wind in my tail.

What is your sexuality? Have you changed how you define it since identifying as genderfluid?

I identify most readily as queer. It’s complicated. It was always complicated, but it’s moreso when you take away stationary gender markers for yourself. I’m pansexual, and mostly attracted to a bunch of things not directly related to a person’s sex or gender. But it’s hard to want to engage at all when you don’t feel true or valid or good about yourseld, and I feel like I’m rediscovering and redefining my sexuality as I grow more comfortable with myself.

I know you have a disability, but I’m not remembering exactly the details. Could you talk a bit about it here, and also talk about any thoughts you have on the intersection of being queer and being disabled.

I have what’s probably CFS/ fibromyalgia, although there’s still some debate. Essentially, it means I’m pretty much sore and tired at all times, although the intensity of it varies; some days it’s hardly noticeable, and others I can barely move. I tire faster than I used to. My joints hurt. I get weird sensations running along nerve pathways. Sometimes my limbs don’t work quite the way they should and I’m super clumsy, unsteady, or my fingers won’t type. And sometimes I get brain fog, so tired that I just can’t think.

There is huge cishet privilege in our society, and huge ableist privilege too. We are often not catered for, in terms of language or physical space or expectations. I feel like I spend a lot of my life trying to navigate places not quite meant for me, having to educate people, to assert my needs or my right to exist. To ask for accommodations – use these pronouns, please, this name; I’m going to need a chair, a break, extra time…

And you’d think that one marginalized group would understand what it’s like and make an effort to accommodate others, but it’s often not the case. Finding somewhere that all parts of you can comfortably get along is hard: queer spaces may not be accessible, disabled spaces may not be queer friendly. And it sucks.

We need more awareness, I think, across the board. Normalization. Representation. Discussions. I’m not weird or gross because I’m trans, because I’m queer, or because I’m disabled. I’m not making unreasonable demands. I’m just asking to exist, and to be valued.

Has the way you view writing changed since identifying as genderfluid?

I don’t think the way I view writing has changed since identifying as genderfluid, but I think finally having that language to describe myself, having to assert myself and finding myself standing up for transgender kids in various settings have all made me much more aware of representation (which I did not have, which a lot of us still don’t have) and much more intent on putting that right where I can.

Talk a bit about your upcoming releases.

My second book, KALEIDOSCOPE SONG, is a South African LGBTQ (yes, all of these) music narrative, set in a township, all rhythm and first loves and finding your voice; it’s discovery and heartbreak and joy. There’s attraction which looks a little like mine, and actual queer culture. There’s a non-binary character and a bi character and gay characters, and one who really doesn’t know how she identifies yet, except in love with the girl.

I’m immensely proud of this book. Writing it taught me a lot about who I am, what I stand for, and the stories that I need to tell.

Right now, I’m working on a middle grade novel, with a genderfluid main character, their disabled best friend, 17 motorbiking dads, a crow, and all things pirate. It’s a lot of fun, and I adore my characters. Indie is the kid I wish I was – the good parts, but with much, much more self awareness, confidence, and the language to tell the world their story.

Queer book recs:

Everyone should have Alex Gino’s GEORGE in their life. Middle grade trans representation, written by a trans author? Where the character is not misgendered through the narration, and it feels entirely real? Yesssss.

Right now, I’m pushing Pat Schmatz’s LIZARD RADIO into everybody’s hands. It’s brilliant and weird, and the closest I’ve ever come to seeing myself on the page. It’s not me, but no book can ever represent everyone, and the sense of queerness and otherness and rejection of the binary even while you’re stuck existing within it is spot on.

And everyone everyone everyone should read Marieke Nijkamp’s gut-wrenching THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS and Dahlia Adler’s swoonworthy UNDER THE LIGHTS. Possibly together, in a sort of Totoro/ Grave of the Fireflies combo (but the order you read them in is entirely up to you).

Chasing the Moon: a Eulogy

This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Harder than any book I’ll ever write. And it’s important; as important as the woman it was for.

Chasing the Moon

When Mum died we gathered, as you do, and we started to remember. All the little things that you forget as you go about your day. All the things so commonplace that you don’t notice them until they’re gone.

Everyone remembered. The cards and calls poured in, full of memories and stories big and small, all of which are bigger, more important, on the inside. Each one of a slightly different Viv. We all remember differently. We have our own stories. She gave each of us our own version of her.

But there were common threads. Things that I think she’d want you all to take away today, and keep until you need them.

My mum believed in wearing purple now – both literally and metaphorically – not in waiting to get old and get away with it; she’d tell you to screw everybody else and their opinions. If it feels right, you do it.

She believed in trees and the stars, and the powers of the earth. In fate or the universe or something else, big and vast and mostly good. And that if you stayed connected to it, you would be all right.

She believed – with infuriating persistence – in thinking positively. ‘Think positively,’ she’d say, and your headache will vanish, workload will diminish and the sky will open up and rain cookies upon us. If you just think positively.

She believed in Lavender oil, and it’s ability to heal all things – cuts, burns, anxiety, insomnia. Lavender will fix it.

And she believed in ‘getting on with it,’ whatever that might look like at the time.

But most of all, my mum believed in all of us.

In people. And that they’re good, and smart, and capable of absolutely anything.

As we thought of Mum that first night, my dad said, ‘Family was the most important thing to her.’

It stuck. He’s right. She’d have fetched the moon for any one of us.

Actually, no. She wouldn’t. She’d have taught us some strange way to catch the moon ourselves, whenever we needed it…Probably with string, and whispering to the night and a bucket full of lavender water. But after we’d looked at her all scornful, we’d have tried it, and it would have worked.

Give a kid a bucket, and he can catch the moon.

My dad was right, family was the most important thing to her.

But he’s forgetting something.

‘Family’ did not mean blood ties, not to Mum. It did not mean marriage.

It meant people.

My mum had a habit of meeting people and adopting them. Caring. Helping where she could.

She believed in us.

I didn’t want to come today. I didn’t see the point; Mum wouldn’t be here, and all I wanted was to find a forest, somewhere quiet that I could connect with the earth she loved so much. But I was wrong. She’s here, in every one of you. Every story of her that you carry.

Today we’re saying goodbye to one of the kindest, most generous people any of us will ever have in our corner.

It sucks. It isn’t fair.

But if she were here, she’d be telling us to ‘just get on with it’. To think positively.

And honestly, the best tribute any one of you can give to that, is to go out and catch the moon.

The Obligatory New Year’s Post

2015 was A Year.

My debut released, I held the most wonderful, affirming book launch, filled with many of my favourite people and celebrating all the things that we wish for.

I saw my book on shelves, and heard from readers. Oh, the readers! You guys make my heart sing and my world go round.

I visited the US and met my US editor and publishing team, some brilliant authors and wonderful librarians. And then my book came out in the US, too.

I spoke at a whole bunch of conferences, festivals, and schools. Every one of them amazing.

I ran creative writing courses for some incredible young people.

Last Leaves was well received critically (5 starred trade reviews?!) and even appeared on the Carnegie nominations list. (Whuuuuut?! :D)

I read great books, ate some great food, hung out with some of the best friends anybody could have.

I slept beneath the stars, and curled up by a fire.

It’s. Been. Amazing.

But it’s also been hard, and I got to the end of 2015 feeling more than a little battered.

It’s been a year of deep, hard reflection, upon myself, my identity, my journey. It’s been a year of carving out a space for myself and standing up for the real me.

It was a year of continued chronic illness, of learning how to live with that, and (working on) accepting that it might be around for a while.

I’ve consciously, actively put my self into public view, because if I’d seen someone like me growing up, maybe I’d have figured everything out a whole lot sooner. Maybe I’d have felt safer, more secure. I’m so glad I can do that. But it isn’t easy.

It’s been a year of Life Stuff, which I won’t talk about here, but which has affected me in all the ways that life stuff does.

And amongst all that, I wrote my second book; a book which I love wholeheartedly and am extremely proud of, but which nearly broke me. At one point I thought it had. I almost gave up. And I’ll forever be grateful for my friends and CPs for not letting that happen.

And at the end of this hard, brilliant, awful year, I got a permanent reminder of the power and importance of stories. A reminder to keep going, because the next story might just keep somebody’s heart beating good and strong.

King Mansolain is sick, and the only thing that might keep him alive, is stories - a new one every day, to ensure his heart beats strongly. His loyal subjects answer the call.
King Mansolain is sick, and the only thing that might keep him alive, is stories – a new one every day, to ensure his heart beats strongly. His loyal subjects answer the call. (From a childhood favourite, THE KING OF THE COPPER MOUNTAINS, Paul Biegel, illustrations by Babs Van Wely)

2015 is done. I’m here. I made good art. I met good people, and, I hope, fostered hope and creativity in others. And much as I’d like an easier ride this year, I’m ready for anything. And I’ll be telling stories regardless.

Stuff and things!

Soooo, after well over a year of promising to get around to it, I finally have a website! Isn’t it BEAUTIFUL?

This’ll be where all the general Stuff I Want To Talk To The Internet About appears. It will probably be sporadic, and only occur when I have interesting and important things to say. Expect news, rants, and shiny things.

In the meantime, have a gander at the other pages, and feel free to get in touch.