Joyful narratives: celebrating the young trans person I never got to be

Cultural insight expert Becks Collins on why reading trans books in their 30s has helped them feel supported and loved

I am a 34-year-old trans masculine person. My pronouns are he/they. When I came out a year ago in 2021, I was met with acceptance from some, rejection by others, confusion by many. I can honestly say however, that I have never been more comfortable in my own skin. 

Reading has been an important part of my transition. I have always read a lot of books, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. Since coming out, I now read a lot more YA (young adult) books, typically featuring characters between the ages of 14-24. You’d think there wouldn’t be much for me to relate to in stories about people that are 10 years younger than me, but I can’t get enough. 

And I’m not alone. Queer YA fiction has exploded in the last 5 years. Iron Widow, a queer sci-fi story about giant robot pilots written by a non-binary author, is now being developed into a major movie. The Netflix adaptation of the romantic graphic novel Heartstopper has captured hearts everywhere. Queer adults like me are reading these joyful books just as much as Gen Z are. 

Everyone’s journey is different, and I don’t speak for anyone else, but here’s why these books appeal so much to me at this point in my life:

I didn’t have access to positive trans narratives when I was a kid

I was a ‘tomboy’ as a child. I now understand that I was striving to live as a boy, but I had no frame of reference in terms of what that could look like. Trans people were simply not on TV or in books when I was young. The only trans masc movie I remember seeing as a teenager was Boy’s Don’t Cry (1999), which was so horrifically traumatic (the main character is attacked for being trans) that I honestly think it scared me off even contemplating transition for a long time. Instead, I just existed in an identity that felt uncomfortable and wrong. I’m so happy for young people, now that they have happy queer narratives that I never did. 

Transitioning feels like a second puberty

Learning to live as a masculine person has been awkward for me. On the one hand, I’m settling into loving the masculine parts of myself, the one that society tried to make me hate for so long. On the other hand I feel like I’m learning a new way of talking, walking, dressing. Even though I am what’s known as a queer ‘elder’ (as I’ve been an ‘out’ bisexual and immersed in the queer community since I was 17), I’m now also a ‘baby trans’, in that I have only just started my trans journey. These coming-of-age YA narratives help me think through the awkwardness I feel, so I don’t feel alone. 

Being queer and trans in 2022 is scary, we need to remember that joy is possible

Despite increased representation in media and more protections in some countries, violence against trans people is still horrifically high. This year the UK government banned conversion therapy for gay and bisexual people, but left trans people out. NHS waiting lists for gender-affirming care are up to 4 years long. Social media has created a platform for anti-trans rhetoric to be spread. Our rights, so hard won by the amazing people who fought for years before us, feel continually under threat. Joyful narratives about young people finding acceptance, found families, strength — these books remind us that we are worthy of respect and love, and that it is possible, despite the hatred we encounter. 

Like all marginalised people, it’s comforting to imagine a world where we’re truly accepted, supported and loved

One of my favourite books this year was The Sunbearer Trials, by trans author Aiden Thomas. It’s like a cross between Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, based on Mexican mythology. It’s set in a ‘queer-normative’ fictional world, which means queerness is totally accepted by all characters. Two of the main characters are trans, there’s gay parents, a non-binary parent, all equal parts of the fabric of life. In books like this, the queerness of the characters is not part of the drama at all, it’s just who they are. It’s so, so comforting.

I do also read ‘grown up’ books, but I will continue to read young adult books as well. They are my safe place and a source of connection to a community that I’ve always needed, but have only just found. I hope they help others just as much as they help me. 

Editor’s note: Becks wrote this with Transgender Awareness Week (13-19 November) in mind. We’ve also picked out a piece by Pink News, 33 trans people making the world a better place.

Becks Collins, Semiotics, Cultural Insight, Innovation & Strategy

Becks helps brands and institutions understand how culture is changing, and how their brand values sit within an ever-evolving consumer landscape. Using semiotics, cultural insight, ethnography and in-depth consultation, they identify innovation and communication opportunities to better connect with consumers, and positively contribute to communities, employees and the environment. They also write cultural commentary pieces focusing on gender, diversity, body positivity, LGBT+ issues and climate change for a wide variety of clients.

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