Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

GLBT Week- Guest Blog from Cris Beam

Hi, and thanks for letting me blog on your site, and for NCOD! My book, I Am J, isn’t officially “coming out” until March, so it’s fun to be able to write about it before I’ve even seen a real copy.

The main character in my book is a young transguy named J, who lives in New York City. When I was J’s age—seventeen—we didn’t have a coming out day, and we certainly didn’t have blogs or even the internet. (Okay, I sound like a hobbling old grandma now, but I promise, I’m not. This wasn’t so long ago.) Anyway, what young queer kids had was books. Whenever we could venture out of our stuffy little closets, crammed with mixed tapes and Doc Martens, we would sneak to the library or bookstore to find ourselves reflected. In my case, because I lived in San Francisco, I had A Different Light.

A Different Light was a fabulous bookstore. Located on Castro Street, nestled next to (if memory serves) a Mrs. Fields cookie shop, it was floor-to-ceiling gay. Muscle men with their dogs would rifle through beefcake magazines, and women in black leather would peruse the vampire titles, long before vampires were hip. I sat on the floor reading Jeanette Winterson, hour after hour, breathing in the chocolate smell from next door and feeling, finally, safe and somehow seen.

I didn’t want to be too seen though, at least by the shopkeepers, because I could never buy anything. I couldn’t risk bringing anything queer-related home. I just read my books, and put them carefully back on the shelves. And the employees just let me be and one day, one of them offered to buy me a coffee since I had been sitting there so long.

I knew, scrunched up on the floor of A Different Light, that one day I wanted to write books for young people and provide a similar lifeline. What’s funny is the way, when you read fiction, you want to see yourself reflected. When you write it, an entirely different person comes out.

My character, J, doesn’t like to read books, and he wouldn’t be caught dead walking into A Different Light. He’s spent a lot of his young life fighting against the taunts that he’s a dyke; he’s seventeen, and he wants to pass—as a straight man. Like, yesterday. So he has an uneasy relationship to this whole “coming out “ idea.

National Coming Out Day was first conceived, in 1988, in conjunction with the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Like so many other factions in the movement, the “T” was added later—and for transpeople, coming out can have very different implications and meanings. I think it’s important to talk about the “T” (as in transgender, and as in truth) on coming out day. Because it’s not just an extra letter, and it’s often not the same.

When transpeople come out, it’s a wonderful and honorable thing. They’re showing cisgender and transgender folk alike that gender is varied, and they make the world a safer and better place. In real life, I have a transgender daughter, and she would not be where she is had there not been many transpeople before her who spoke openly about their choices and their pain. In book life, J would not be able to choose to live quietly as a straight man, who doesn’t want to disclose his status, were there not such out and open trans activists clearing his path. (Then again, he’s only seventeen; maybe if I write him again when he’s 30, he’ll have changed.) My point here is, it’s a choice. Coming out as gay and coming out as trans are not the same thing, and ideally we’d allow for distinctions and nuance. For many trans people, living safely as their target gender is their goal and ultimate haven, and coming out is a violation of a long personal journey. For others, coming out is a relief, as they find community, friendship, possibility. And for others, it’s a radical act of courage especially when, for example, their personal definition of gender doesn’t fit one of the two, three or five boxes provided. Coming out becomes one long explanation, again and again and again.

So, in a roundabout way, this brings me back to books. On National Coming Out Day, I’d like to posit the theory that not all of us need to or want to or should “come out” in the same way. I’d like to broaden the conversation, and really think about what coming out means to trans and gender variant people—and not just as an extension of GLB. And a big part of conversation is listening to, and reading, transgender stories. And smelling the cookies next door.

Please read my book, I Am J, when it’s released from Little, Brown in March, 2011.


  1. I have Transparent sitting unread on my bookshelf, and after reading this guest post I'm going to have to pick it up very soon. I look forward to reading I Am J when it comes out next year.

  2. I need to pick up Transparent after LOVING (no seriously, really loved it) I Am J. And Cass, I have my arc here in the pile of books to return and / or lend to you :)