These are the days of miracle and wonder, according to Paul Simon, and when you consider how quickly public opinion has changed on same-sex marriage in the past twenty-two years—68 percent opposition in 1996 to 67 percent support in 2018, according to Gallup—it’s anyone’s guess how the needle will move on other contentious social issues as the Gen X, millenial, and Gen Z generations gain prominence in coming years.
We’re also super encouraged by recent polling (Public Religion Research Institute) showing that 62 percent of all Americans are more supportive of transgender rights over the past five years. Surprisingly, even 52 percent of conservative-leaning white evangelical Protestants voice support for the transgender population. Miracles never cease.
This week, we’re pleased to introduce Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne, co-authors of Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You. In her review for the September/October issue of Foreword Reviews, Eileen Gonzalez called the book a “gentle and affirming … guide through the joys and risks of coming out, transitioning, dating, and more. It works its way through issues ranging from consent to dysphoria to spirituality, delivering candid information and practical advice. No subject is off limits.”
With help from the American Psychological Association’s Magination Press, we connected Eileen with Kathryn and Karen for this email interview.
Eileen, take it from here.
Trans+ was written by and for trans people and focuses exclusively on issues that affect transgender and gender-nonconforming teens. This is extremely unusual, if not entirely unheard of; in fact, the back cover copy describes Trans+ as “groundbreaking.” What do you expect/hope the impact of this book will be?
It’s important to understand that Kathryn is a trans woman and Karen is a cis woman, so it was written for trans people by a trans person and person who loves them.
And yes, to our knowledge, there has not been another book written specifically for transgender and non-binary youth that addresses the wide range of topics that Trans+ does. Our hope is that the book will make it into the hands of trans and non-binary youth and that they will feel less alone as a result of reading it, as well as give them access to the knowledge they need to continue being wonderful and marvelously themselves.
Karen, I know you’ve written other books, but I understand that this is your first time writing a book, Kathryn. What was it like working together on Trans+? Did you learn anything from each other during the writing process?
We don’t think the book would have turned out this well if we hadn’t written it together. Kathryn brought her lived experience as a trans woman who has worked with LGBTQIA+ youth for 15 years, and Karen brought her expertise in comprehensive sexuality education and writing together to create Trans+. Working together was a joy. We were able to collaborate with each other every step of the writing process, and we think it shows in the final product.
Kathryn most enjoyed learning more specifically about how transgender people have existed all throughout history and all over the world. It’s something that she always knew anecdotally, but digging into the facts made her feel less alone and closer to her ancestors.
One thing that struck me about this book—and that I think readers will appreciate—is how frank and forthright it is. You don’t sugarcoat the challenges transgender teens may face, but neither do you dwell on them. It’s a really nice balance between honesty and optimism. Can you discuss your approach to covering these important issues and how you achieved that balance?
We talk to our readers the way we would have wanted to be talked to when we were their age (which is the same way we would want to be talked to now). It was important to give readers the facts as honestly as possible, acknowledge how those facts might feel, and remind them that they aren’t alone in these hard experiences.
We also made sure to not dwell exclusively on the difficulties of being transgender. There are so many amazing experiences a transgender person can have that their cisgender peers won’t, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t perpetuate the transgender narrative’s obsession with the trials and toils of being trans.
Another thing I really enjoyed was the fun illustrations featuring people from diverse backgrounds. There is gender diversity, of course, but also racial diversity, religious diversity, and more. How did that come about? Was that a conscious decision, and if so, why was it important for you to have such inclusive illustrations?
We can only take part of the credit when it comes to the diversity in the illustrations for the book. Yes, we were very clear about our desires for the art from the very beginning of our discussions with Magination Press, but the bulk of the credit is due to our amazing illustrators, Anne Passchier and Nyk Rayne. From the very first pencil sketches we received, we were blown away by the beautiful diversity of humanity that they captured.
Our commitment to including diverse art was twofold. First and foremost, we always seek to dismantle systems of ableism, ageism, cissexism, classism, colorism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, sizeism, and all other forms of oppression. Second, it was our guiding principle from the start of our writing process that we wanted our readers to feel less alone. Including as many different types of people as possible in the illustrations, allowing readers to see themselves or people like them in the book, was one way to achieve that aim.
You also include opinions from trans and gender-nonconforming teens and young adults on a wide range of issues. You mention in the introduction that you included these sections so that young transgender readers would know they are part of a community. Can you talk a little more about when and why you decided to solicit young people’s opinions for your book? Was it something you wanted to do from the beginning?
Youth were involved from the very beginning. Before we began writing, we sent out a survey to trans and non-binary youth to get their input on the topics that were critical to address in the book. From there, we developed a rough outline and used that to recruit trans and non-binary youth contributors who could write about their personal experiences with those topics for the book. Again, the intent was to bring in as many elements as possible to repeat the message that readers were not alone in their feelings and experiences.
You both share some of your own very personal thoughts about, experiences with transitioning and being transgender. Why did you choose to share these stories, and what do you hope readers take away from them?
Karen feels that the voice and story of an ally and advocate are important for trans and non-binary youth to hear so that they know those people are out there supporting them exactly as they are.
Kathryn is always quick to share her experiences with transitioning and being transgender as a means to dismantle the trans narrative. She also wanted readers to know that trans adults also struggle with similar issues, not to discourage them about growing older, but to be honest with them about the ongoing process of transition and personal growth.