2016 Resolutions, Part 2: Gender

On Monday, I talked about how I had a hard time tallying up the authors that I read in 2015. A little bit of it was just a numbers issue, and my legendary failure to be any good with math. Some of it was heavier, like assigning a race and gender to each author.

There’s the question of books by multiple authors, or books that have authors but also illustrators contributing. For example, last winter I read Let It Snow, a collection of novellas by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle. Is that two ticks in the women’s column and one in the men’s? Is it three ticks in the white column, or just one? I read multiple books by some writers. Do I count them more than once? Am I tracking books, or people? I hadn’t come up with any of these answers in advance.

No matter how you count it, I came up with a very small number of non-white authors. I talked about my resolution to read more racially diverse authors in Monday’s post. Today I’d like to examine my relationship to gender and how it impacts my reading.

When I was doing my tally, I assumed I would be able to discern gender from the author’s name, their picture, their pronouns, or a combination of the three, but that isn’t always true. For one thing, there’s a history of female authors writing under male or ambiguously gendered pen names. At one time, it was because writing was considered a masculine profession. These days, it’s because a book with a woman’s name on it is more likely to be considered just for girls or women, whereas a book written by a man is for everybody. I am rolling my eyes super hard at this idea as I write, but the bias exists. Just ask Joanne Rowling.

Then there’s the fact that not everyone fits into the gender binary. For all I know, some of these people might identify with a gender that’s different from the one I would assign to their name or picture. Presentation and pronouns might give me some hints, but who am I to say for sure?

At the end of my not-so-scientific book tally, about two-thirds of the books I read last year were written by women, the other third by men. Not nearly as drastic a difference as the racial one, and not something I see the need to address. I’m sure there were other years when I read more men than women, and I will probably have those years again. Once I really started to think about gender, though, I realized a concerning absence. To my knowledge, none of the books I read were written by a transgender or genderqueer author.

I say “to my knowledge,” because I can’t know for sure. There are post-transition people who choose never to come out to the general public. They just want to live their lives, and I respect that. But there are trans authors who are out, and I didn’t read them last year. Looking back, I didn’t even read any trans stories written by cis authors. In 70 books, I can think of only four that featured characters who were trans or nonbinary. There was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them side character, a genderfluid god, a murdered trans soldier, and a villain who uses their magical ability to swap genders as a method of disguise. Not great representation. I can find better.

I’ve lived my whole life feeling secure in my identity first as a girl, and then as a woman. I won’t say it was always comfortable, or that I didn’t struggle with femininity, because it wasn’t and I have. But I lived with the knowledge that this is who and what I am supposed to be. The gender I was assigned at birth “stuck,” as one of my professors in college liked to put it. That has afforded me undeniable privilege. At a glance, people assume I am a woman. They use my preferred pronouns automatically. People I’ve just met don’t ask me uncomfortable questions about my genitals. The same, unfortunately, isn’t true for trans people.

I’m beginning to feel like a broken record here, but part of why I read is so I will grow in empathy. Reading is the fastest, easiest way to ensure that I get out of my own head and into someone else’s for a part of every day. It’s important that I seek out people who have had different experiences from mine.

 

Now, how do I translate this into a plan of action? I’ve already said I’m going to read 35 books by authors of color this year. If I pick a smaller number of transgender authors, does that look like I’m placing less value on their experiences? I don’t want to do that, it’s not fair and it’s not my job. The whole point of this experiment is to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I’m not sure assigning myself a number, and then patting myself on the back when I reach it, is the best way to do that. Then again, having a quota does force me to actively seek out more diverse literature…

I have no answers. For now, let’s say that I’d like to read more trans authors, and more trans narratives, this year, and leave it at that.

How are your reading resolutions going? Found anything new or exciting yet? Do you have any favorite books by trans or genderqueer authors to recommend? A quick google found me this Buzzfeed list, which seems like a not-terrible place to start.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *