When Chicago resident Aron Marie first revealed his homosexuality several years ago, reading books centered on queer stories helped him understand who he was.
But until a year ago, Marie had never read a book featuring a transgender character. He had watched movies and TV shows telling trans stories, but said those performances seemed “very narrow and very limited.”
Last November, Marie, a self-proclaimed bibliophile, decided to seek more meaningful representation by launching a monthly virtual book club showcasing books by and for trans communities.
“I really want the chance to see what books written by trans people are like about trans people,” Marie said.
Transmasculine Alliance Chicago is a community-based, peer-led group for people assigned to a woman at birth who identify as a trans, transmasculine, non-binary or question their gender. Through the organization, Marie connected with Pim Halka, the Library Assistant for Exhibitions and Creative Programs at the Evanston Public Library. Together they created T-MAC Book Group, a book club for transmasculine people and open to trans women at birth assigned, gender nonconforming, nonbinary and questioning adults.
Now, T-MAC Book Group is preparing to celebrate its first anniversary later this month. Halka said Ze enjoyed the culture that developed between the band members as they bond around the books.
For zir, it turned out to be significant to experience a relaxed gathering space where transmasculine and non-binary readers can bond 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 exclusively around something like Pride or Trans Day of Remembrance or Trans Visibility Day,” Halka said. “To simply come to know each other better and by getting to know each other better, build culture. ”
T-MAC Book Group meetings are held every fourth Friday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Meetings are promoted on Transmasculine Alliance Chicago’s social media channels, including Facebook and Discord, and generally attract between four and 10 participants.
The group meets on Zoom, which Marie and Halka said was a deliberate choice to make the meetings as accessible as possible. Getting together in a virtual space eliminates barriers such as transportation, although the lack of a consistent internet connection can present a problem.
Each meeting begins with presentations and a recording activity. Next, attendees participate in an informal popcorn-style discussion of the Book of the Month, which Marie says often leads to a heated conversation on all kinds of topics.
“In general, the conversation never stopped,” said Marie. “Trans people reading books by trans authors – there’s a lot to unpack and a lot to discuss so in general it’s a pretty lively meeting.”
Participants vote on future book selections at the end of each meeting. Members can also add titles of past books and future suggestions to a current document. So far, the club has read a variety of genres, including non-fiction, poetry, and a graphic novel.
In January, the book club read “Everyone on the Moon is a Personal Essential” by Julian Jarboe, a collection of 16 stories ranging from fairy tales of body horror to half-apocalyptic Catholic cyberpunk.
Thanks to the library’s connections, 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, so when the opportunity arose, they were excited to speak to a trans audience.
“I don’t need to talk about things like trans voices like this abstract force,” Jarboe said. “We can just talk about the stories. It’s not necessarily that a trans audience understands exactly what I’m doing, either. It’s that their interpretations are going to be surprising in more complicated ways that I find really exciting to talk about.
Jarboe spoke to the group about the book’s allegories and influences before participating in the discussion. While many stories include queer and trans characters, Jarboe said they were also interested in writing about disability, monstrosity, and scientific fabulism – a type of sci-fi that incorporates Italo Calvino’s fantasy. .
Participants also looked at how Jarboe integrates themes of religion and spirituality, which Mary said many trans people struggle throughout their lives.
“I was really thrilled to be able to visit with the book club,” Jarboe said. “I think this is probably one of my favorite stops on the alternative book tour.”
This month’s selection of books is “Nina Here Nor There” by Nick Krieger, a contemporary memoir on the author’s awakening of the genre after moving to San Francisco.
Before starting his own list, Marie said he struggled to find collections of trans stories from trans authors. He said LGBTQ + book listings often lead to literature featuring cisgender characters.
“When you search for LGBT books, you don’t necessarily get trans specific books,” he said. “Certainly there is a lot of overlap in the communities, a lot of people within trans communities also identify as queer. But there are differences of experience.
The group’s current document is part of its larger goal to increase access to trans books in public libraries. The Evanston Public Library obtains digital copies of every selection from the T-MAC book group and often orders physical copies as well, Halka said.
“This program has been useful in shining a light on popular trans voices released independently, but also in the community that otherwise simply wouldn’t have been in the collection,” ze said.
Going forward, Halka said he hopes to hold more virtual author discussions and build diversity within the club.
Marie said he was proud to have found the 12 books the club has read so far and that he is excited about the growing field of trans literature.
“You can’t get to know yourself or your identity in a vacuum,” said Marie. “We’re always sort of looking for things that we can connect with in society at large. And just being able to see yourself portrayed in literature is a really powerful thing. “
Book club participants can register for future meetings here.
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