A letter to trans writers who are thinking about trying to get published
I promise you, it’s not worth it.
Now, I know you think I’m just trying to keep those sweet sweet publishing dollars all to myself. You might also think that I just don’t want the competition, that I love and want to be one of the few, the only, trans people writing for children.
But please believe me. Publishing while trans means that you send your inkblood and soul to cis strangers, and sometimes cis friends or acquaintances, and they tell you that it’s not good enough when what they mean is that they don’t understand it or are threatened by it or don’t believe you’re the best one to spill it.
Publishing while trans means that you see cis authors make money off of parodies of you and your friends and lovers, twisted fun-home mirrors that you can recognize yourself in if you squint uncomfortably. And they are lauded for their bravery, their daringness to tell the truth.
And while you tell your truth, you’ll have agents say they “just don’t love it enough” (what, exactly, do they not love enough? is a question you don’t need the answer to). You’ll have editors tell you that it “just doesn’t quite work,” when what they mean is this doesn’t make me feel good about myself.
Take up calligraphy or learn how to make sourdough. Or send your writing to friends who will truly see it, or read it at open mics and let the applause suffuse you. But don’t try to publish.
Of course, there may be a shortcut. Well, not a shortcut, a long cut. They may not want you as a trans author, but they may accept you as “just” an author, if you cut the you out of it. My first book is about collective nouns, my second is about poetry. Both were easy as pie to sell, and neither is about being queer or trans (unless you think that reveling in the decadent frivolity of language is queer, which I do). Maybe if you can get them to respect you as a writer first and trans second, you could parlay that into a deal for a book that strikes closer to home.
Of course, that probably won’t work. They still won’t want your trans story (I’m not talking about, like, how you came out or started hormones or decided not to start hormones, they’ll definitely want that, they just won’t want whatever you write that isn’t about that). But now when you get the kind rejections, the “the writing just isn’t there,” the “It isn’t for me,” you can at least see through it now. You can stop wondering if you’re good enough, and know that they aren’t good enough.
None of this will feel better, but at least it will be true. At least you know that you are being stopped, and not by yourself.
Take up jigsaw puzzles or teach yourself the violin or volunteer at an animal shelter. These things will hurt you less than trying to get published.
And now dear one, I hope you have read this far. I hope you know that I know that this letter won’t work. I hope you know that I would never write this letter to you if I thought it would actually dissuade you from writing, and trying to get your writing to as many readers as possible. If I thought this would work I wouldn’t write it, we need you too badly.
My advice is sound, and I know you won’t take it, and I’m glad you’re not taking it (I’m not taking it either, I couldn’t if I tried and I have tried).
I need you to keep trying even though I want to protect you. I need you to sell your book for enough money to pay your rent for at least a little while. I need you to chip away at this wall of ignorance and mediocrity and cis-normativity with me. We need your voices and your stories (again, not the one story they’ll let you tell, the stories you have to tell).
If you read this letter and think “Fuck you, dad, I’m gonna get that deal even if you think I can’t,” then I will seethe with pride and joy and jealousy when you succeed. If you read this letter and think “ugh he’s right it’s too hard,” my heart will break with you and I will be proud of you for taking care of your precious self.
Also, remember to follow submission guidelines closely, and double-check to make sure you’re spelling the name of the agent you’re pitching to correctly. And don’t burn bridges even if you’re completely sure they lead nowhere you want to go. Shores can change, and bridges never span the same river for long.