Pride not prejudice: Growing up trans and telling my story
Eris Young urges DIVA readers to help support a new book about trans people
I’m non-binary: I don’t consider myself male or female. I’m not special, it’s just that neither role suits.
I grew up with a nameless anxiety that made me shy and unforthcoming as a teenager, made picking out clothes impossible, meant no matter what haircut I got I always hated it. It wasn’t until I made my first transgender friend, at university, that I began to understand – I was uncomfortable with a role I was being asked to play, a role that everyone in my life taught me was essential and non-negotiable. I didn’t know how to talk, how to dress, how to behave around people who wanted me to be a boy or a girl when I knew, without knowing, I was neither.
I started my transition – medical and social – in 2014, and have been presenting in my everyday life as gender-neutral since then. I prefer that when people talk about me in the third person they use singular “they” rather than “he” or “she”. Apart from that, I’m pretty normal. I drink too much coffee, I’m on my phone all the time, and I’m worried about my future.
Eris Young. Image credit: Laura Shand
I’m also a writer. It was hard growing up without seeing anyone who looked like me. I had no role models, no adults to look up to and think, “I want to look and live and be just like you”. Writing, for me, was always a way to figure out who I am and what I’m supposed to do with myself.
This childhood need for someone to model myself after – and the pain and pleasure of creating myself from scratch – is what I write about in an essay for Pride, Not Prejudice, a crowdfunded collection of writing by 20 transgender and non-binary people, published by Unbound.
Some of us are writers, others are activists, filmmakers, photographers and marine electronics engineers. In Pride, Not Prejudice we write about identity and coming out, about activism and feminism, mental illness, parenting, race, grief, and music, being transgender and Christian, and being transgender and in prison.
As I mentioned, Pride, Not Prejudice is being crowdfunded, meaning that the book will not be published unless readers are willing to pre-order it, raising the money to cover production costs ahead of time. Crowdfunded collections like the wildly successful Nasty Women and The Good Immigrant (also from Unbound) give minorities, like women and immigrants, the power to say Yes! People do want to read books about us! Here they are!
But most people don’t know a trans person – at least not an openly trans person. We’re on the news and on the big screen, and we’re getting shot with alarming frequency, but the stories told about us, by filmmakers and writers looking to capitalise on the scandal or heartbreak of the "misunderstood transsexual", tend to sanitise our stories or make them more tear-jerking than they really are. Most of us just want to live our lives without fear.
There’s no one way to be transgender, and no two trans people have the same story. What any trans person trying to mobilise us as a community will tell you, though, is that transgender people are isolated and poor. We’re disproportionately at risk for violence, mental illness, poverty, and homelessness. We’re potential readers but we don’t have capital. The first people to pledge to any crowdfunding campaign are the creators’ friends and family, so what do you do if you’ve been kicked out of the house and your friends don’t know you’re trans?
So crowdfunding has been, as you might expect, slow. At times during the process I’ve asked myself, “Is it too early?” Are people not ready for authentic, un-scandalised, un-glamorised trans stories? But I can’t believe that. I have to believe that people who aren’t transgender want – and deserve – to know what it’s really like to be us, to read about the incredible diversity of our experience.
We’re living in times of great uncertainty. A Trump presidency, Brexit, and the rise of European neo-fascists have a lot of people on edge, and it’s more important than ever that everyone has a voice.
If everyone who saw this article pledged for a copy, we’d be funded in the snap of a finger. The essays in Pride, Not Prejudice will be personal and angry and heartbreaking but also hopeful and revelatory. We’ve got so much collective history to share with the world. What we need most of all is for people, like you, reader, to invest in this book, in our stories.
If you enjoyed this article, and you’d like to help us tell our stories, please pledge for a copy of Pride, Not Prejudice at unbound.com/books/pride-not-prejudice.
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