When Aron Marie, who lives in Chicago, came out as queer a few years ago, reading books with queer stories helped him understand who he was.
But until a year ago, Marie had never read a book with a transgender character. He had seen movies and TV shows that told trans stories, but said the depictions felt “very narrow and very limited”.
Last November, Marie, a self-proclaimed book nerd, decided to seek a more meaningful portrayal by starting a virtual monthly book club highlighting books by and for trans communities.
“I really just want the chance to see what trans people’s books about trans people look like,” said Marie.
Transmasculine Alliance Chicago is a peer-led community group for those assigned female at birth who identify as trans, transmasculine, non-binary, or question their gender. Through the organization, Marie connected with Pim Halka, the library assistant for exhibition and creative programs at the Evanston Public Library. Together they created T-MAC book group, a book club aimed at transmasculine individuals, open to women who are transsexual, gender non-conforming, non-binary, questioning adults at birth.
The T-MAC Book Group is now preparing to celebrate its one-year anniversary this month. Halka said he enjoyed the culture that built up among group members as they bond over books.
For zir, it made sense to experience a casual hangout where transmasculine and non-binary readers can connect outside of the formal spaces organized for pride events.
“It’s really encouraging to come together regularly to celebrate our own art and culture, and not just something like Pride or Trans Day of Remembrance or Trans Day of Visibility,” said Halka. “Just come and get to know each other better and build a culture by getting to know each other better.”
Meetings of the T-MAC Book Group take place every fourth Friday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The meetings are advertised on the Transmasculine Alliance Chicago’s social media channels, including Facebook and Discord, and typically attract between four and ten attendees.
The group meets through Zoom, which according to Marie and Halka was a conscious decision to make meetings as accessible as possible. Meeting in a virtual room removes barriers like transportation, although a lack of a consistent internet connection can be an issue.
Every meeting begins with an introduction and a check-in activity. The participants then take part in an informal popcorn-style discussion about the monthly book, which, according to Marie, often leads to lively conversations on all sorts of topics.
“Generally speaking, the conversation never got stuck,” said Marie. “Trans people read books by trans writers – there are a lot of things to unpack and talk about, so in general it’s a pretty lively meeting.”
Participants vote on future book selection at the end of each session. Members can also add past book titles and future suggestions to an ongoing document. To date, the club has read a wide variety of genres, including nonfiction, poetry, and a graphic novel.
The book club read in January Julian Jarboe’s “Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel,” a collection of 16 stories ranging from body horror fairy tales to mid-apocalyptic Catholic cyberpunk.
Through the links to the library, Halka invited Jarboe to attend the meeting. Jarboe, whose book tour was canceled due to the pandemic, said they were already looking for alternative virtual events.
“I don’t need to talk about things like trans voices as that abstract force,” Jarboe said. “We can just talk about the stories. It’s not necessarily that a trans audience will understand exactly what I’m doing either. It is that their interpretations will surprise in more complicated ways and I find it really exciting to talk about. ”
Jarboe spoke to the group about the book’s allegories and influences before joining the discussion. While many stories involve queer and transgender characters, Jarboe said they were also interested in writing about disability, monstrosity, and scientific fabulism – a type of science fiction that involves Italo Calvino-esque fantasy.
Participants also examined how Jarboe integrates issues of religion and spirituality, something that Marie says many trans people have grappled with throughout their lives.
“I was very excited to be able to visit the book club,” said Jarboe. “I think it’s probably one of my favorite alternative book tour stops.”
This month’s book selection is Nick Krieger’s “Nina Here Nor There,” a contemporary memoir on the author’s gender awakening after moving to San Francisco.
Before starting his own list, Marie said he had difficulty finding collections of trans stories by trans authors. He said lists of LGBTQ + books often led to literature with cisgender characters.
“If you’re looking for LGBT books, you don’t necessarily get trans-specific books,” he said. “Of course there is a lot of overlap in communities, a lot of people within trans-communities also identify as queer. But there are differences in experience. ”
The group’s ongoing document is part of their larger goal to improve access to trans books through public libraries. The Evanston Public Library procures digital copies of every selection from the T-MAC Book Group, and often orders physical copies as well, Halka said.
“This program was helpful in uncovering independently published but also popular trans voices in the community that would otherwise simply not have been in the collection,” said ze.
For the future, Halka hopes to hold more virtual author talks and to build diversity within the club.
Marie said he was proud to have found the 12 books the club has read to date and is excited about the growing field of transliterature.
“You don’t recognize yourself or your identity in a vacuum,” said Marie. “We’re always looking for things to connect with in broader society. And to see yourself represented in literature is a really strong thing. “
Book club attendees can register for future meetings Here.
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