Introducing Both/And: Trans and GNC Writers Tell Their Own Stories
Trans people are at a cultural boiling point, yet our voices are almost nowhere to be found
Happy Pride! It’s been a minute since I’ve written an editorial letter, but I’m doing so now to bring your attention to a special project that I’ve been working on at EL. I’m writing to introduce Both/And, a new limited essay series by trans and gender nonconforming writers of color—the first of its kind—and to ask for your support.
I first had the idea for this series last fall, in the wake of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special. Chappelle infuriated me; the widespread support he received infuriated me even more. But what incensed me most was how rarely trans people, and especially Black trans people, were given space to contribute to a cultural conversation that targeted us. We were the existential center of a cultural boiling point—and our voices were almost nowhere to be found.
Everywhere I turned, allies spoke up for us. Though vocal allies hold a crucial place in any fight for equality, I quickly realized that many allies are ill-equipped to speak on our behalf. Giving voice to our perspective, our history, what transness is, and what it isn’t—this is work that we must do. And we must be the loudest, most visible ones doing it.
As a Black woman, I can say with certainty that the Black community would never stand for a cultural conversation about us, that wasn’t also led by us. And yet so few people with powerful platforms—who happily discussed Chappelle and his transphobic rhetoric—invited a trans person of color to their proverbial table to join the discussion.
I quickly tired of what I was seeing, hearing, and reading. I realized that in my position, I have the ability and the responsibility to identify, mentor, and publish trans writers of color. I can ensure that the most vital writing about us comes from us.
This year, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 42 states, and thus far, two dozen of those bills have been passed into law in 13 states. A massive wave of copycat measures based on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill have been introduced, all of which ban classroom instruction around sexual orientation and gender identity. The majority of these efforts target the transgender community, specifically criminalizing access to gender-affirming education and medical care for young people.
It’s also worth noting that while these bills focus primarily on young people, any rollback of legal protections for the LGBTQ community will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in that community: young people and transgender women of color. Right-wing anti-LGBTQ activists have designed these bills with the goal of long-term marginalization. It seems their hope is that by criminalizing transgender identity, they will eventually erase the transgender community writ large.
To paraphrase Michael Chabon when he introduced the 2005 Best American Short Stories anthology, a story is the shortest distance between two brains. In a decade when the transgender community has gained unprecedented visibility in both pop culture and socio-political contexts, the publishing industry lags behind. Books published by trans authors are few and far between, and largely limited to white trans people and celebrity memoirs.
In the 10 months since I became the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature, it’s become increasingly clear to me just how much work publishing must do when it comes to elevating the most marginalized voices in our society. According to the 2019 Vida Count, only 6% of literary magazine contributors identify as non-binary, and according to the 2019 Lee and Low Books Diversity Survey, fewer than 1% of publishing professionals identify as gender nonconforming or transgender.
As the first Black, openly trans editor of a major American literary publication, I know that it’s not enough to be included in the conversation. Both/And will elevate the stories of those at the forefront of the fight for racial and transgender equality, while employing EL’s significant literary platform to uplift transgressive writing. I’m honored to be able to offer the unique opportunity for a dozen trans and gender nonconforming writers of color to be edited and published by a fellow trans writer of color.
Apart from the editorial work, what I’m most excited about is our commitment to paying each writer $500 per essay—5x our standard rate—and to a hire trans or non-binary editor in a supporting role.
This is a significant undertaking, one that falls outside our previously allocated budget. Please donate whatever you can today to support this effort. Our goal is to raise $15,000 by the end of Pride Month, and every amount helps.
On Wednesday, June 15th, President Biden signed an executive order that aims to combat the 300+ anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced across various state legislatures. There’s no doubt that in some way, this measure of progress is the result of diverse people, voices, and stories. In his speech, he reiterated one of his frequent talking points, saying “We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation.” At Electric Literature, we believe that literature has the power to shape public consciousness. Storytelling breaks down barriers in numerous ways; perhaps the most powerful being the building of empathy, an essential tool in such a battle. Help Electric Literature support trans and gender nonconforming writers of color in this fight.
Denne Michele Norris