Wed, Jun 10, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Filling a void in transgender literature

An increasing number of authors and publishers have been producing children’s books that focus on transgender characters

By Alexandra Alter  /  NY Times News Service

The transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner has brought more visibility to the movement for transgender equality, writes Alexandra Alter.

Photo: E! via AP

Sam Martin was browsing in a Boston record store 23 years ago when an unusual photography book caught his eye. Martin flipped through its pages, which featured portraits and interviews with women who had become men, and started to cry.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not the only one,’” said Martin, 43, who started transitioning to male from female after he bought the book. “When I was growing up, I never saw people like me in movies or books.”

Martin is now on a mission to change that. He belongs to a small group of emerging authors who are writing children’s literature that centers on transgender characters, hoping to fill the void they felt as young readers. His debut work of fiction — a semi-autobiographical story about a transgender teenage boy who falls in love with an older boy on the beach in Cape Cod — will be published in a collection this month by Duet, a new young adult publisher that specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer fiction.

“My goal was to write stories that would have helped me feel less alone at that age,” said Martin, who works as a Starbucks barista in Washington and writes at night.

A few years ago, gender fluidity was rarely addressed in children’s and young adult fiction. It remained one of the last taboos in a publishing category that had already taken on difficult issues like suicide, drug abuse, rape and sex trafficking. But children’s literature is catching up to the broader culture, as stereotypes of transgender characters have given way to nuanced and sympathetic portrayals on TV shows like Orange Is the New Black and Transparent.

Recently, the highly publicized transformation of the reality TV star and former Olympian Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner — revealed to the world via a glamorous portrait on the cover of Vanity Fair — brought even more visibility to the movement for transgender equality.

More writers and publishers have started tackling the subject, not just with memoirs and self-help guides tailored to transgender youth, but through novels aimed at a broad readership. This year, children’s publishers are releasing around half a dozen novels in a spectrum of genres, including science fiction and young adult romance, that star transgender children and teenagers. “In our culture, it was really something that was in the shadows, but suddenly people are talking about it,” said David Levithan, vice president and publisher of Scholastic Press. “As our culture is starting to acknowledge transgender people and acknowledge that they are part of the fabric of who we are, literature is reflecting that.”


Several of the movement’s debut authors have published books drawn from their own experiences. Last fall, a transgender teenager named Jazz Jennings published I Am Jazz, a picture book she co-wrote about a transgender girl. Simon & Schuster released dual memoirs by Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews, two transgender teenagers from Oklahoma who met and fell in love.

Andrews, 19, said that books for young adults on the subject were scarce when he began transitioning to male from female in 2011.

“When I first started transitioning, I mostly had YouTube as a source,” he said. “I wanted to write a book to help others because there were not a lot of sources out there, and I thought that one book could save a person’s life.”

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