Brevity’s Upcoming Special Issue: Trans* (Transgender, Gender-Nonconforming, and Gender Expansive) Experience
November 16, 2022 § 2 Comments
By Zoë Bossiere
Most people don’t know I’m trans. When strangers look at me, they see my long hair and high cheekbones, hear my soft voice. No one guesses based on how I present now that I grew up with so much ambivalence about my gender.
As a girl who never felt like girl, I lived and presented for much of my childhood as a boy, with a bowl cut and a strong preference for he/him pronouns. When puberty made passing untenable, I began to understand myself as androgynous, neither boy nor girl (the term “non-binary” was not in wide use at that time), a Gender Outlaw in true Kate Bornstein style. Later, discouraged by how few people around me understood my gender, I became whatever others saw in me, even as what they saw—most often, a cisgender woman—did not feel quite right. Nothing really did.
The ambivalence I felt about my gender lingered into adulthood. For a long time I didn’t feel I could describe myself as transgender because I hadn’t heard a trans person telling a story like mine. Throughout my childhood I had searched for stories that would help me make sense of myself in books, on television, and from all the boys and men I knew in Cactus Country, the Arizona trailer park where I grew up. But it was only after I began writing my memoir that I realized complicated gender stories, while not at all uncommon, often go untold.
The unconscious associations many hold of trans people are often unwittingly based on decades of near-ubiquitous media portrayals of trans-coded villains and crude transphobic jokes. In real life, transgender identity is a vast spectrum of experience where each trans person’s story is unique. Some folx lean more heavily toward identifying binarily as a man or a woman. Others forgo the spectrum all together, describing themselves as non-binary. Some are consistent about what pronouns feel right for them while others adopt more fluid approaches to how they want the world to address them. In short, there are many ways to be trans but few stories that represent all these myriad paths. Most recently, the alarming success of the many cruel legislative attacks on trans rights from conservative, “gender critical” and religious groups both exposes how unfamiliar the greater public is with who and what trans people are, and highlights how misunderstood we continue to be.
The dearth of trans stories in our culture also renders trans people less able to recognize themselves. Despite my experiences growing up, by the time I took my first creative nonfiction workshop in college, I still didn’t see myself as trans. In that writing class, I was assigned to read an essay from Brevity. Clicking around the website, I couldn’t stop after just one essay. I read another piece, and then another. Soon I had read an entire issue. In the coming weeks and months I would pore over Brevity’s digital pages, hoping to learn more about how its writers managed to pack such amazingly full, vivid, compelling stories into so few sentences. But I was also drawn to the breadth of experience represented in the each of the issues I read. My favorite quickly became Brevity’s Experience of Gender issue. I will always remember how gutted I felt after reading Torrey Peters’ “Transgender Day of Remembrance” for the first time, and the spark of recognition from Madison Hoffman’s “Genderfuck,” which mirrored some experiences of my own.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the essays I read in that issue were some of the first stories I had ever heard by people with perspectives like mine. The longer I became involved in the writing community, the more of these true stories I found. Little by little, I began to write my own. In this midst of this discovery, I became Brevity’s managing editor and had the pleasure of reading every published essay in its vast catalog from 1997 to its then-current issue for The Best of Brevity anthology. In its 25 years of publication, Brevity has featured essays by writers from so many different walks of life over more than 70 issues, with several special issues including the aforementioned Experience of Gender issue, the (Glass) Ceiling or Sky? issue, the Race, Racialization, and Racism issue, and the Experiences of Disability issue.
In response to the growing waves of legislative attacks and transphobia in the United States and across the world in recent months, the editors here at Brevity would like to devote space to essays by transgender, gender nonconforming and gender expansive writers for our 75th issue in service of greater trans visibility and representation—of more portrayals of the complex, often messy, but always beautiful ways trans people can and do identify.
For this special issue, Brevity, along with the help of our lovely guest editors Krys Malcolm Belc, Silas Hansen, and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, is seeking essays that consider what trans identity is, what it means, and how our understanding of it has changed and continues to change over time. We are hoping to hear from folx across the spectrum, and encourage submissions from those who might not consider themselves “writers” but have an important story to tell. We are especially interested in reading work that explores trans embodiment, examines encounters with transphobia, and/or otherwise gives voice to underrepresented perspectives and experiences.
Brevity’s submission portal for the special issue will open via our Submittable page on December 1st and close at the end of April 2023. Please help spread the word about this call for submissions on social media, in your writing groups, at local LGBTQIA+ organizations, and to your students! Thank you for supporting Brevity and trans writers. We are looking forward to reading your work and sharing some amazing essays with our community this coming year!
Zoë Bossiere is Brevity‘s Managing Editor. She can be found online at zoebossiere.com