Last week, a leaked memo from the Trump administration revealed a plan to crack down on civil rights and protections under Title IX for transgender and gender nonconforming people by constricting the legal definition of sex as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” The policy would undo several decisions made by the Obama administration that cumulatively loosened the definition of gender in federal programs, intending to legally enforce gender identification as the choice of the individual.
The memo has caused an uproar among the transgender community and its supporters, many of whom have taken to social media to voice their refusal to back down, sharing their stories with the hashtag #WeWontBeErased. The phrase was coined by trans actress and activist Laverne Cox last year on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31. “We acknowledge that when trans folks are misgendered and disavowed, this is yet another attempt to stigmatize and erase us,” Cox wrote in an Instagram post. “We acknowledge that folks at the intersections of multiple identities are targeted and must be lifted up. On this Trans Day of Visibility, we reassert that we will not and cannot be erased.”
The trans community has also implored the help of its cisgender supporters in its fight for continued recognition. One way of ensuring that their voices remain a part of the public conversation is to read trans writers and authors in order to promote a more widespread understanding of their experiences, both in fictional works and in the real world.
Here are nine transgender and gender nonconforming writers who are contributing to the conversation in meaningful ways through the written word.
Thomas Page McBee
Thomas Page McBee’s 2014 memoir, Man Alive, provides a hard look into what defines masculinity while the author comes to terms with what sort of man he wants to be during his transition. In the book, McBee contends with trauma at the hands of men—his abusive relationship with his father, and a violent mugging that nearly killed him—as well as our shared humanity, and the continuing importance of empathy. McBee is also a writer for Netflix’s forthcoming show Tales of the City and frequently speaks about the importance of diversity and representation in media around the country.
Meredith Talusan, a contributing editor at Them, is a journalist and author of the forthcoming memoir Fairest, which delves into her experiences as an albino first-generation Filipino-American. In her writing, Talusan focuses on trans issues through the lens of minority communities, and she recently spoke to The New York Times about the experience.
Japanese-American writer and poet Ryka Aoki writes about identity as a trans woman in her essays and book of poetry, Seasonal Velocities, but she intends to be read first and foremost as a human being. “If a trans musician can make the audience cry by playing Chopin,” she asked during a lecture at Amherst, “how else, but as a human, can she be regarded?” Aoki was recently recognized by the California State Senate for her commitment to free speech and artistic expression, and her efforts to promote the voices of the trans artistic community.
Novelist Imogen Binnie’s self-published pitch-black comedy Nevada tells the tale of a young trans woman attempting to stay true to herself and her sartorially punk roots while working in retail in New York City. Her book has garnered praise from the trans community for its uncomfortably honest portrayal of the New York–based trans experience in one’s 20s and 30s.
Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel Freshwater, which came out earlier this year, discusses identity through an Igbo spirit: specifically, a supernatural presence called an ogbanje. Freshwater is, at its core, about the fractured identity of a young Nigerian woman who lives a fraught life pulled in many directions as a result of the spirit, an experience that Emezi (who identifies as nonbinary) has said echoes their own. Emezi is working on their first young adult novel, Pet, to be published early next year.
Vaid-Menon is a performance artist, writer, and poet, who recently wrote an anthology of poems titled Femme in Public, about encountering street harassment as a gender nonconforming person. Vaid-Menon feels that calling gender nonconforming or trans people “brave” or “inspirational” is ultimately othering, and prevents people from really confronting and solving the problems that trans people experience daily. “People think they know trans people because they follow a trans person on Instagram,” they said in a recent interview. “But what I’m trying to do with my art is not just sort of say, ‘Trans people deserve rights,’ but, rather, ‘Trans people are emotionally complex, confused, loving, hating, depressed, wonderful, exquisite, boring.’ ”
Diana Tourjee is a GLAAD Award–winning editor at Broadly, where she is closely covering the developments around the Trump administration’s latest machinations around gender, and is also currently writing a book about LGBT activist and trans rights pioneer Flawless Sabrina. Tourjee’s profiles, which range from interviews with Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings to Alyssa Milano (about why cis women should fight for trans rights), have made her an important voice for trans people in digital media today.
Writer, activist and speaker Raquel Willis is an organizer for the Transgender Law Center, the largest organization in the U.S. advocating on behalf of trans and gender nonconforming people, and a founder of Black Trans Circles, a project that aims to develop the leadership of black trans women in the South and Midwest by creating talking circles in which women can work through their trauma and elevate their narratives as a group. Her writing has appeared on Vice, Buzzfeed, HuffPost, and other publications. Willis spoke at the Women’s March on Washington last year, where she discussed the importance of women of color in our national conversation. She is currently working on a book of personal essays about her experiences.
Kay Ulanday Barrett
Kay Ulanday Barrett, a Filipino-American queer writer and activist, writes about, and seeks to bring awareness to, the trans experience for people from Asian backgrounds in his poetry book, When the Chant Comes. Barrett is currently touring his book, with visits scheduled around the country.