July 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’ve been touring with Trans Like Me for about a month and a half now, and we always run over time in the Q&A sessions. So, it made sense to do an online Q&A – a video for people who like vlogging, and a transcript for those who don’t.
Any questions about trans activism, history, feminisms, futures? About taking a book from inspiration to publication? Leave a comment, and I’ll do my best.
June 21, 2017 § 49 Comments
On December 18th, 2015, I posted a blog entry: the option for my first book, Trans Like Me, had been picked up by Virago, for UK and Commonwealth publication. It’s a year and a half later – and I’ve been in bookstores for nearly a month, with American publication scheduled for next year with Seal Press.
When I first began this blog, back in 2010, I never imagined that what I wrote and explored here would form the foundation of a book. I did want to write a book about gender – about being transgender in particular – but always figured it would be an academic text with a long and referential name. I’d seen people blogging with the express intention of getting a book deal, and wasn’t impressed – the results too often veered between transparent and inauthentic, and flat-out desperate.
But plans pan out in odd ways, and (amazingly), here we are. A piece of advice which has always helped me is to write what you’ve needed to read. It’s certainly what I tried to do with Trans Like Me – and I thought it might be useful to do the same thing about what I wished I’d known about the process of writing for publication. Not the nuts and bolts of finding an agent and selling a book (good advice found here) – but some steps which helped me move from writing from a smaller to a larger audience, and to find exactly what it was I needed to write.
1. Define your core values
I began blogging for a number of reasons: because I’d been writing for online publications since my teens and had missed it, because I wanted to be part of a broader conversation, and because I wanted to reach out and find more people at least a little like me. Two other reasons: I thought it would help my career in general, and because I believed I had something useful to say. I got the confidence to put those reasons in practice through a workshop I attended at the MIDEM conference in January 2011. Amidst the corporate horror and music-as-commodity, there was some amazing advice on how to build a career as an independent musician. First and foremost: ‘define your values’.
You could be cynical, and call it ‘building a brand’ – but it’s more than that, and deeper. The rest of the seminars talked about creating a persona to sell copy with – but this one workshop explained how to find the best in yourself, learn how to get comfortable with it, and to communicate those values to others. To become secure enough in who you know yourself to be that it becomes your calling card, and protection against the kinds of quick and easy temptations that can scupper a career.
I figured that the best I could bring to my work was my sincerity, my love of knowledge, and my willingness to turn that knowledge on its side and see what changes. Those values gave me a lens to work through, and – when my career picked up and a range of offers started coming in – an easy way to filter out those that didn’t mesh with my deepest instincts. Trust me: if you’re any kind of marginalized writer, the majority of interest you’re shown at the beginning will be on the condition that you fit yourself into a predetermined niche. Knowing what I was best at, what I was proud of, and what lines I wouldn’t cross made it easier to turn down work from tabloids that spread hatred, not to sell a sob story and ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. Most of us have to make compromises as we go – but I’m really glad I decided on what I would and wouldn’t do before I was put to the test.
2. Define your intent
Who are you writing for? Yourself, your friends, your community, the wider world? What is it that they want to read? And how are you prepared to challenge both them and yourself?
I think it’s okay not to know those answers starting out, and to be totally prepared for those answers to change – maybe over time, maybe piece by piece. But I don’t think I would have grown as a writer if I hadn’t paid close attention to which pieces resonated with which readers, and learned how to balance my need for expression with others’ need for information and understanding.
After a few years of writing I noticed that it was my more educational posts that were getting the most hits and shares, and the best feedback. It gave (it gives) me pleasure, and purpose, to be able to help people to learn, and my educational posts were the ones that led to my most high profile and profitable commissions. Snarky, personal posts? Not so much. And, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy them so much, although they felt cathartic to write – I didn’t feel like I was expressing myself so well, and I wasn’t sure how much I was adding to anyone else’s day. So I stopped worrying about writing those feelings and thoughts up as posts: I can send my friends long, snarky rants without anything held back, and can focus the small amount of writing time I have on playing to my strengths.
3. Forge connections
This was the hardest step. I’m a performer, so most people assume that I’m super confident at all times. But I’ve had plenty of experience of being judged, hated and excluded – I don’t often find networking as easy as it might look on the outside.
Nevertheless, there’s no way I would have landed a book deal without the kindness of others. And I think that, for most people who want to move from blogging to mainstream/paid publication, forging connections is an essential part of the job.
There’s a lot that’s been written about how to play people and tilt the field in your favour – I’m not so sure about that. But what I have found to help:
* See possibilities everywhere. I was introduced to my agent, Laura Macdougall, by the writer Kaite Welsh. I’d met Kaite through the website the F word – I’d sent a press release for a classical concert, Kaite reviewed it, and I reached out to say thank you. She got in contact for an interview, we bonded, she fell off a stage, the interview was pulled…but we stayed in contact. Which leads to my second point…
* Don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview. Shortly after the stage incident, I asked Kaite if she’d be willing to answer some questions about the literary field in exchange for coffee and muffins – and she said yes. You might be surprised by how often people are prepared to say yes. That interview gave me the information and confidence I needed to push for the next stage in my career – and, to be honest, meeting with people you admire, working at the stage above you, helps to get your name into the ring.
* Do your research. Research into the people and the fields you’re trying to connect with, and into the work you need to do. Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd, and Beyond Talent by Angela Beeching were invaluable tools.
* Follow up! There’s no point in having those conversations, exchanging those emails, pencilling in dates, if you never make good on them. Set a reminder. And then set several more.
* Identify what it is you have to trade. Writing (and music) are notoriously shitty for paying in ‘exposure’. Nearly all of us have day jobs, and learning the balance between taking unpaid gigs while also learning how to negotiate yourself a living wage is a tough one. But there are times where I think it’s worth it to take unpaid work, and that’s where you’re able to trade something other than money. A singing lesson for an editing session, for example. A charity gig that will genuinely expand your base, while helping a good cause. Know your worth, know what you can give, and make sure you’re getting in return.
4. Allow for more time than you think you need…
…and know that none of it is wasted if you choose to make use of what you learn.
Despite not seeing myself writing a work of popular non-fiction, I was fully convinced (in 2010) that I would be a published author by, say, 2014. I had been writing fiction for years, and had had interest from agents since my teens. I had a novel ready to sell, and was sure that my academic gender tome would be ready before long.
If I’d have known that it would take another seven years, I would have been utterly overwhelmed by that odious mixture of blocked ambition and total sense of failure familiar to so many of us. It would have crushed me. And yet, of course – obviously – I couldn’t have written this book that I’m so proud of without all of those seven years – sense of failure and all.
Everything I’ve done in that time has helped me to become a better writer – everything. The additional personal hardships I’ve experienced have led me to a greater sense of compassion, an ability to sit with what is painful without the need to be flippant or caustic. All the additional years of teaching and training taught me better ways of expressing myself and communicating concepts unfamiliar to the listener or reader. Broadening the scope of my reading (my early blog posts are heavily influenced by the postgrad music psychology/psychotherapy research I was doing at the time) made my writing more legible. And, as much as it shouldn’t happen: experiencing incremental degrees of crap from strangers on the internet did help me learn how to protect myself – as much as anyone is able to.
For the first time, I’m able to contemplate temporal ‘setbacks’ with a sense of equanimity, rather than panic and shame. You have to get there on your own but, if you’re struggling with a sense of ‘wasting time’ or not being good enough fast enough, please know that you’re not the only one, and that you’re not condemned to feel that way forever.
5. Connect the dots
There will always be a glut of writers on the subject closest to your heart. No theme is original, and every field is crowded. But, if you’re going to try, I think the best way forward is to embrace everything particular to your own experience – especially the parts that don’t feel special – and connect the dots to find your place.
Obviously, that’s not how everyone does it. Plenty of people are prepared to lie about themselves, craft a fake persona, for the chance of a book deal: look at the success of Thug Kitchen. I’m sure they’ve made a hell of a lot more money than me.
But I know that what makes me go back to a particular blog, share it with my friends, pre-order a hardback I can’t really afford, is honesty. It’s the combination of experiences and insights that combine to make a truly unique guide to a subject you thought you knew, that allows you, once again, to find the extraordinary in the everyday. It’s watching someone use every talent they possess – whether that’s as a carer, a parent, a teacher, a patient, whatever – as another tool with which to reach their readers.
There are plenty of trans writers out there. There are plenty of non-trans people writing about trans lives. When I started blogging about trans issues, and my own trans life, I didn’t always see how every other part of me could factor in. But the more I did it, the more I allowed my barriers to drop, the more I could do – and the more useful it became.
I would always pick a writer that brings their total self to the page over one who thinks that a ‘writer’ is somehow not a total person. I think that a great many readers – and agents and editors – would agree.
May 18, 2017 § 4 Comments
Or: the ways in which disbelief and suppression hurt trans people. And how, despite it all, we resist.
I’ve checked in and realised how long it’s been since I’ve written here. The reason being that I’ve been caught up writing and editing my first book, Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us – published next Thursday on May 25th.
I’ll be writing more on that – what it means to move from blogging to long-form non-fiction, what I’ve hoped to do with the book, what it means for the next year – next week.
Until then, I really hope you enjoy the first extract from the book, linked above. And thank you for all of the support over the years – more on that too, to come.
March 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
For LGBT History Month this year, I was honoured to be invited to speak at Oxford University – and determined to demonstrate the ways in which trans history is very far from a niche concern.
If you’re a trans person, you’re probably aware that ‘trans issues’ described by the mainstream media very rarely match up with our lived truths. What is often erased, smoothed over? The fact that this has been going on for a very long time – that things have been different, and can be different again – and that our history is necessary for our future survival.
Video and audio podcast below. I hope you enjoy.
How the Japan mass murder relates to parental murders, abortion and assisted suicide (and why the world’s been silent about it)
August 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
An absolute must-read on what the Sagamihara mass murder tells us about the dismissal of disabled people’s lives
July 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
There are some blog posts you start knowing exactly what it is you want to say and what it is you need to accomplish with those words.
This is not one of those blog posts.
Like the majority of Remain voters in the UK, I’m still struggling to come to terms with all that’s happened in the last twelve days. Like a great many of us living in the UK, regardless of how we voted, I feel like I’m trapped in some kind of satirical version of my own country: we have no prime minister, Labour politicians are eating their own at the expense of forming a genuine opposition, the mainstream media is awash with rumours, innuendo and scaremongering. Official police reporting shows a fivefold increase in racist hate crimes: community reporting suggests that the true number of attacks is far higher. Many industries, including those in which my partner and closest friends work, are considering divesting from the UK and moving their offices elsewhere. Without EU funding, and in the environment of another likely recession, I don’t know how the music industry here will survive unscathed and without major changes for the worse. Cuts to contemporary, fringe and classical arts have already taken a toll – selfishly and unselfishly, I fear for what will be destroyed next. Like many trans people, I’m pessimistic about what will happen to funding for trans-specific projects, and about the future of transition-related care in the NHS. I’m white, middle-class and a Londoner – luckier than most – but I fear for my loved ones, my interlocking and divergent communities, my students, and myself.
I was hesitant about writing this post because, in the face of what we’re facing, what do I have to offer? But, thinking through a few things which have helped, seeing what’s helped friends, benefitting from advice from those friends – I thought that anything, no matter how small, would be better than despairing and staying silent.
These are five things which have helped me over the last week and a half, and which I hope have helped me to support others. I hope they might provide some small help for you too.
1.Use social media/the internet for a specific purpose only
I put this first not because it’s the most important, but because I’m incapable of doing anything else without this foundational step. My manic depression is not usually situational but, in this instance, it most definitely is. I know I’m not the only one. Does this sound familiar: wake up, check the news, keep checking the news, check reactions, check conflicting reports, check in with your social circles, check back to Twitter, become increasingly hopeless, look up and realise that three hours have gone by, and that you’re now too low to move? I realise that this might sound hyperbolic and ridiculous to those without the tendency to this kind of cycle – but there it is. Greater connectivity to the wider world in some ways – and a greater sense of being trapped in our own heads, overwhelmed with information that feeds every anxiety and nihilistic impulse.
So I’m trying to limit myself to using the internet – any part of the internet – for a specific purpose only. This doesn’t mean ignoring what’s going on – on the contrary, I think we have a duty to keep ourselves informed and ready to act – but that there has to be an underlying reason and a goal. Writing to your MP? Check for facts and figures. Joining a campaign? Research your options. Wanting to support your friends? Check for guidelines and methods. But that endless clicking, that downward spiral of despair, serves no one. Deliberately exposing yourself to additional pain is not virtuous, and reading more and more about current and potential suffering is not, on its own, a way of combatting that suffering. Go in with a game plan – to learn, to comfort, to support, to act – and then get out.
2. Listen to those most affected and follow their lead
This one should go without saying, as should its reverse – those most affected should have no qualms about putting themselves first. But for people like me – white, British, not perceived as an immigrant (though I am) – it’s more important than ever to listen, learn and follow the lead of those who know best. Essential resources:
Media Diversified – start here
3. Break out of the echo chamber
As a trans person who frequently needs to retreat from the overwhelming ignorance and cruelty of the outside world into spaces full of like-minded people, I’m not knocking the need for ‘echo chambers’.
What I am attacking is the way in which people with more societal privilege, myself included, frequently put our own comfort over the need to reach out, communicate and challenge. Sometimes, yes, it’s too much – too dangerous, or too damaging. But not always.
When white people (again including myself) shy away from a colleague or a relative’s racism, because we don’t want an argument and we don’t want to make our own lives harder. When a difficult conversation starts, but we avoid it because we don’t want the heartache. When we boast about blocking xenophobes and racists on facebook, even though they were our friends once and we might be able to reach them over the course of an evening, offline and over drinks, if we really tried.
It’s not that you can magically change someone’s mind overnight – changing opinions takes time, exposure and, often, the sense of being self-directed. But when we abdicate this responsibility, what is it that we’re doing? Leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. Someone who has a lot more to lose than we do.
So please – have that difficult conversation. Talk to your racist aunt. Listen and talk and challenge. This is the best advice I’ve found on the topic so far. But don’t keep yourself ‘pure’ at the expense of other people’s misery.
4. Join something
In the past few months I haven’t exactly been subtle about the fact that I joined the Labour party as a Corbyn supporter. Nothing to do with a ‘cult of personality’ – simply because he’s the first mainstream politician I feel able to invest in, in an anti-Austerity, pro-peace kind of way.
That might be the right choice for you too, or it might not be – but we’re all needed, whether that’s in the main political parties, on the fringes, or in combination. In the same time it takes to send a string of tweets, we can send an email to an MP. Small campaigning and activist groups are always in need of donations and support – no matter how small, in time or money. Amnesty International always needs support for their letter writing campaigns. In you can march, march – it you can’t, there are hundreds of things you can do from home. But (terrible saying ahoy): you have to be in it to win it. There are the main political parties; there are groups like Sisters Uncut and The People’s Assembly. We all have different needs, and views. But we can all find a place to do our bit.
5. Make use of these feelings, and make them count
It’s easy to remember when the feeling has passed, and far harder to do when in the throes of depression: every emotion can be fuel for the fire of change. Even depression, even the kinds of lows that seem the very definition of stasis, can be something, can help us to change, to make change, if we want them to.
I can’t pretend to a sense of optimism, and I can’t yet begin to see a silver lining. But I know that those feelings – despondency, hopelessness, enervation, rage – can engender the kind of action that can create something to be optimistic about. They don’t have to be end states – they can be beginnings. They can be ways of being cut off, and they can also be ways of forging ahead and bridging divides.
I find that easy to remember when it comes to the personal, and hard when it concerns the wider world. But my friends have reminded me of that, post-Brexit, and have given me goals to set those feelings towards.
I’m writing this to remind myself of the fact – and in the hope it will remind you too.
Good luck – to you, to me, and to all of us.