Jesse Monteagudo

Two Recent Entries in the Transgender Literary Renaissance

Filed By Jesse Monteagudo | June 08, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: American Library Association, Balancing on the Mechitza, gender outlaws, Kate Bornstein, Lambda Literary Awards

genderoutlaws.jpegBooks by or about transgender people are experiencing a literary renaissance similar to the one enjoyed by lesbian and gay books back in the 1970s. The transgender experience has been written about in so many good books recently that this year's Lambda Literary Awards included two transgender categories (Fiction and Nonfiction) for the first time.

The American Library Association's Stonewall Award for LGBT Children or Young Adults Literature was awarded this year to Almost Perfect, Brian Katcher's touching novel about a high school's jock relationship with a trans girl. But there are as many transgender experiences as there are transgender people, so the best "transgender books" are often anthologies that attempt to showcase the diversity of the trans community.

Two books, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation and Balancing on the Mechitza, are examples of some of the excellent trans literature that has surfaced in the past few years.

In 1994 Kate Bornstein wrote Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, a still-essential title that chronicled Bornstein's transition "from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist." In Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Bornstein symbolically passes the torch to writer and theatre artist S. Bear Bergman ("Butch Is a Noun"), who shares editing chores with Bornstein.

The rightful winner of the Publishing Triangle's Special Award in Nonfiction, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation collects the experiences of a generation of transgender and genderqueer authors, artists, and activists who came of age since the publication of Bornstein's epochal first book. GO: TNG features a variety of first-person essays, poems, performance pieces, dialogues, cartoons, and even a recipe: "Telyn's Amazing Vegan Curry," by Telyn Kusalik.

balancingonthemechitza.jpegOther contributors who make Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation so compelling are Roe-Anne Alexander, Zev Al-Walid, Luis Gutierrez-Mock, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and, of course, the always-delightful Bergman and Bornstein. In "Marsha P. Johnson::ten suns the transformer::" Tamiko Beyer eulogizes the late trans activist and Stonewall veteran while in "Shot, Stabbed, Choked, Strangled, Broken: A Ritual for November 20th" Roz Kaveney created a poem that should be read at each and every Transgender Day of Remembrance.

A mechitza is a barrier that separates men from women in Orthodox Jewish synagogues and at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Transgender Jews, especially the observant ones, "balance on the mechitza" that separates the genders literally and symbolically. In Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, editor Noach Dzmura collected "spiritual autobiography, rituals, text study, assistance for community organizing, and theory to advance the idea and the practical reality of transgender inclusion in mainstream and queer Jewish spaces. The book provides classical Jewish texts with traditional and activist interpretations that support and validate transgender lives."

Among the contributors to Balancing on the Mechitza are trans Jews like Bornstein, Aaron Devor, and Martin Rawlings-Fein, as well as some supportive, non-transgender women. On the other hand, there are no contributions from non-transgender men (no surprise), and only two submissions from Orthodox Jews - both written by Beth Orens, a trans woman who literally "crossed the mechitza." As a gay Jew who values my transgender friends, I learned much about this segment of our community by reading Balancing on the Mechitza.

Book Details

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation
Edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
Seal Press, 302 pages, $16.95

Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community
Edited by Noach Dzmura
North Atlantic Books, 250 pages, $16.95

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