Trans Book Month on Just Love is all about elevating and celebrating trans authors and trans narratives. Today we’re thrilled to have Alex Gino on the blog. Alex is the author George, a middle grade novel about a transgender girl!
Thanks for taking some time this morning to chat with me, I’m really, really excited about this!
Can you start by talking about why you wanted to write George? What was the motivation behind that?
So when I was growing up, there were no trans characters in children’s fiction—there weren’t really gay characters in children’s fiction. Those times I encountered transness, it was a joke, or an insult, or some other negative thing. And I’m sure that affected how I grew up, not seeing things that I was connecting with, and being told whatever I was saying wasn’t a thing, and not having any proof that anyone else was like me. Which is not everyone’s trans story, but it is mine. And as an adult I went to the children’s section, because I’ve always loved children’s books, and there still weren’t any books with trans characters. There were some gay characters by 2000 or so, but there still weren’t any books with trans characters.
So I said, “This is the book I wish I had.”
When I started writing it, I didn’t think it would go anywhere, but I wanted to be able to read the book, and it felt like the only way that would happen is if I was the one to write the book.
When you were writing George, did you find that it was an ideal time, when trans awareness in media was starting to become more prominent, and it ended up being perfect timing? Or did you sort of have to fight and convince people that this was a book that needed to come out right then?
Luckily the former! I started working on it in 2003 or 04, and for a long time it was just, “No one will ever publish this, but let me write it anyway.” But then by 2012-13, that was happening, where trans people were telling more of our stories, and it went pretty quickly from “Why am I even writing this?” to “I better get this done before some cis person comes out with one first.”
I sent it out to some agents. I had a great agent who worked with me for a year to make it a stronger book, and then we sent it out to publishers, and Scholastic picked it up right away! It went smoothly because of the time.
After George came out, did you get responses from parents and kids who were able to identify with it… who had finally found representation? And what was that like?
It… it’s been phenomenal. I’ve gotten lots of feedback, most of it positive. It’s been great! I’ve gotten feedback from a lot of cisgender people who feel that they have learned something, and that’s great. But what’s really powerful is when I hear from trans kids and trans adults, who say Thank you. And from families with trans members in them, who have been needing this, needing to see ourselves reflected on the page.
In 2017, it seems like Trans is something that is, if not accepted, at least known about. You have Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox—trans voices are coming out in the media more openly. But one of the things that I’m seeing is cis voices sort of overwhelming that… for example, Matt Bomer playing a trans woman in Anything, and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. What is the importance, in your opinion, of having own-voices, of having trans writers and actors telling trans stories?
Trans people need and deserve to be telling trans stories. And what has happened is that a number of cis people—and I’m talking about writing more than film, because that’s my area of expertise—a number of mostly white cis women have taken it on to be ‘the voice of trans people’, to give visibility. Which is not visibility! That’s “Ooh, this is a cool story, and I want to put my head into something new and weird!”
No thank you.
That doesn’t mean that cis people shouldn’t be writing trans characters. There’s a difference between writing a trans-themed book, or a book about transness, and writing a book that has trans people in it. Yeah, have trans people in your books! But don’t try to explain what transness is. That’s not the goal, it’s not helpful. Cis people often put a lot of their notions and centering of cisness in it.
That said, there are so many ways of being trans. I’m not trans the way my character is trans. My character is a binary, a trans girl. I am genderqueer, I am non-binary. So it’s not autobiographical, and it’s not ‘own voices’. Yet it’s still coming from within the community. So I’ve started using the phrase ‘near voices’ instead of ‘own voices’.
In the last year or two, what are some books that you’ve read that have been amazing for the trans community?
In YA, the field is growing. Meredith Russo is amazing. If I Was Your Girl is fabulous, and whatever she comes up with next is going to be even better.
But the field is thin in middle grade and picture books. I don’t know of any other trans authors. A lot of books are written by the mothers of trans kids, which makes sense… but so many of those books are about how amazing the parents are for being accepting. And that becomes the focus of the book. *sighs* That’s how I feel about that!
Another thing is that the trans writers that I know who are published—in children’s and YA, not adult—are pretty much all white! It’s a very limited field right now.
I’m curious to know if you’ve heard of any trans books for kids?
So I’m coming from a cis perspective, so what I think is good may not be—
Oh, don’t worry, I’ll let you know if it’s not!
*laughs* The only one that comes to mind right now is one that I discovered at BEA, called Charlie and Mouse.
It’s about two brothers and the adventures they go on, but for most of the book Mouse is given no gender identifiers, and alternates outfits between cowboy boots, a tutu, and more. I’m not sure if Mouse is trans, but the character is definitely shown as non-binary, which is never remarked upon. There’s also a gay couple living next door.
Oh, I don’t know that one!
It was something that I’d never seen in a children’s book before, where you have a kid whose clothing choices are accepted. It’s about letting your kids be who they are.
Another picture book, by a cis person, is by Lesléa Newman. If you’re gonna have someone cis write about a trans character, let it be Lesléa Newman. She wrote a book called Sparkle Boy. He uses ‘he’ pronouns, and he is a boy, but he likes sparkly things: nail polish, tutus, all these things that are really cool! And the sister keeps saying, “But you can’t do that!” And all the adults say, “Well, I’ve never seen it before, but he’s doing it, so clearly you can!”
Oh, definitely need to look for that one!
These kinds of books, and the fact that they’re slowly but surely appearing in libraries, I think it’s going to start to change how the next generation sees the world.
Before I let you go, can you just talk about what other stories you have in you? Do you have anything in progress or coming up?
I do, I do!
I’m working on another Middle Grade novel. It’s about a seventh-grade girl in California, and she’s white, and her baby sister is born deaf. She has a black deaf friend online, and a black lesbian aunt. It’s about learning when to speak up and when to step back, and how to navigate trying to be a racially-conscious white person, and also disability. It’s taking on a lot, but the world is a lot. And kids need tools.
In a world where so many books are unconsciously written for white kids, this is a book that is consciously written for white kids, to talk about race and the privilege they have.
Hopefully next fall. It’s going out to sensitivity readers now.
Congratulations on the success of George, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. Thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with me today!
Alex Gino loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive. They would take a quiet coffee date with a friend over a loud and crowded party any day.
Born and raised on Staten Island, NY, Alex has lived in Philadelphia, PA; Brooklyn, NY; Astoria (Queens), NY; Northampton, MA; and Oakland, CA. In April 2016, they put their books and furniture in storage and have been driving around the country in a motorhome.
Alex believes young people need tools to talk about and reflect on real issues in our world. Their work-in-progess is a middle grade novel about Deafness, racist police violence, baby sisters, and learning about your own privilege.
Note: Alex uses the singular-they, and the honorific Mx., pronounced “Mix”. (e.g. Mx. Gino is hoping they still have ice cream in the freezer.) If you are speaking or writing about Alex, please do the same.
You can find Alex online at http://www.alexgino.com/