Volume XXIV: A Look at Trans Rep in Publishing by the Numbers
And ways to support and amplify
The fight against anti-trans legislation is closely connected to the publishing world. What is the status of trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer representation in publishing and why is it important for readers to push for more?
[Dear readers: This issue contains discussions of transphobia.]
In the past few years, there’s been a visible rise in hate crimes against trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer folks, as well as anti-trans legislation. From violent protests outside Drag Queen Storytime events to a record number of bills attempting to ban safe spaces, gender affirming care, and other life-saving resources, there seems to be a new headline every day. It’s also important to note that although we’re seeing such stories in the spotlight in a way society likely never has before, anti-trans violence is not new, nor is the fight to combat it.
March saw an alarming number of legislation brought forward and passed targeting trans* community members; there were over 400 bills in play across the U.S threatening LGBTQIA+ rights. But there have also been huge demonstrations of support for the trans* community: We saw intersectional celebrations for Women’s History Month; A huge call and response to Sim Kern’s Trans Rights Readathon—a fundraising and awareness effort that over 2,500 readers, authors, and booksellers participated in to raise donations for varying organizations; And the amplification of Trans Week and its recommended actions. And on this Trans Day of Visibility and beyond, we hope that these efforts will only continue to increase.
In this newsletter issue, we’re diving into how readers can support and amplify trans* equity. We’re also ecstatic to be featuring an excerpt from Sawyer Cole’s recently-released memoir Coming Home.
We use trans* in the newsletter as “a shorthand way of signaling…[the inclusion] of many different experiences and identities,” such as those who identify as genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary, per Transgender History by Susan Stryker. Note that not all genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary individuals identify as trans and vice versa, and not everyone is comfortable sharing information publicly. Gender is personal and a spectrum.
A Deeper Look
Few publishers publicly release their author and/or workforce demographics. While there always are privacy concerns around collecting and sharing such information, making this information public can help hold companies accountable in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion—including to increase the industry’s small number of (publicly-known) trans* authors.
In 2022, the Pew Research Center published a study noting that 5% of individuals ages 18-29 identified as nonbinary or trans. How does publishing compare? Between 2019 and 2021, Penguin Random House’s catalog of new releases contained:
3% by trans/nonconforming authors
1% by “other”
<2% preferred not to say
PRH’s reporting not only reveals a small number of trans authors, but also conflates trans and gender non-conforming identities—which, especially by leaving out the the signifier cisgender, also erases trans women and men.
For years, author Ray Stoeve has informally tracked YA/MG releases written by trans and/or nonbinary authors that feature trans and/or nonbinary characters—including releases from the Big Five, indie presses, and self published books. According to the list, in 2023 there will be a total of 27 books published that fit these parameters. Penguin Random House alone reportedly publishes 15,000 books a year. If interested in seeing how these numbers shape up historically, you can also check out Malinda Lo’s informal tracking of LGBTQ+ YA novels published annually between 2011-2019.
It’s no surprise that the overwhelmingly white, cisgender industry publishes books featuring white, cisgender characters. According to Lee and Low’s 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey, of employees across the publishing industry (including the Big Five, review journals, indie presses, university presses, and literary agencies):
1% identified as genderfluid/genderqueer/non-binary
<1% as a trans man
<1% as a trans woman
<1% as intersex
<1% as other.
When the literary agents, editors, marketing managers, designers, publicity team, and more don’t reflect our society’s diversity—especially at the decision-making level (see the following image)—the books they choose to represent, acquire, and promote cannot either.
The good news is that, as always, we readers have the power to create change. If we can increase representation in publishing—both in the workforce and in the numbers of published authors—we can make an impact. There are also wonderful indie presses, such as LittlePuss Press, rooted in amplifying trans authors. Not only does literature provide critical representation, important for those seeking a sense of belonging and validation, but it also builds emotional and empathetic resonance, which in our society is much-needed as we see bill after bill brought forward and book after book banned.
Read on for an excerpt from Coming Home, a memoir by Sawyer Cole. Sawyer (they/them) is currently residing in Green Bay, WI after moving from a small rural town of Yadkinville, NC. They are recently married and have three kids. You can find them wrangling their kids, reading all the queer literature, or studying for their graduate program they're currently enrolled in. Purchase the book here.
We often want to get to the ‘good parts’ of our story without healing from the trauma that got us here. We want to fast forward, but life doesn’t work that way. I had to learn how to sit with myself, to immerse myself in the messiness before I could write about the messiness. I couldn’t write about what I hadn’t dealt with. I couldn’t write about what I hadn’t yet come to terms with. And while I’m still navigating that healing journey, one that will continue to evolve as I do, I’m now at a place I can see clearly. I’ve pulled up a chair and let the messiness teach me. I’ve asked it questions. What are you trying to teach me? Where did I misstep? Was I the problem? Who am I? What do I believe in? Those are hard questions to ask. Even harder to truthfully answer yourself. Even harder still, to correct the course, to change the trajectory. But questions are necessary as part of your journey. Pull up a seat. Lean in. Listen. And when it no longer serves you, remove yourself from the table.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic that are rooted in and/or guided by an intersectional feminist lens.
Each published writer will receive their choice of one of the following:
$25.00 gift card to bookstore of choice
$25.00 donation to organization of choice
Feel free to reach out with any questions and submit your pieces either at the link below or via email, with the subject line Collected Words Submission.
Moral of the story: I need more shelves.
The attempt to (further) restrict the rights of trans* individuals is rooted in white supremacy and its valuing of white, western, patriarchal norms as dominant. Throughout history, anything that has challenged the norm and its framework (including intersectional feminism, Black Lives Matter, etc.) has been considered a threat, and extreme violence—physical, mental, and/or political—has been taken to try and suppress any uprooting of the norm. White women especially have played a role in upholding these deeply problematic values.
So: How can we readers push for the publication of stories by trans* authors?
Stay in-the-know about legislation and book bans in your area, including at a local political level and with your school board.
Protest, advocate, donate, and vote with corresponding organizations and community movements. Attend school board meetings to push for safe spaces. Just because your area isn’t facing bans now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
Subscribe to Erin in the Morning for updates.
Follow the Trans Formation Project’s weekly updates on Them.
Contact your local state reps about the bills in your area.
Check the ACLU’s tracking system for updates.
Follow and amplify trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary authors and influencers in the book community.
Request their books at your local bookstore and from your local library.
Preorder their upcoming releases.
Educate yourself on gender equity and read books by trans* authors that have nothing to do with identity—because these stories are just as important.
Follow #TransRightsReadathon for plenty of books to get you started.
This reading list from trans-owned A Room of One’s Own has plenty of suggestions.
Learn more about inequities in publishing, including with review outlets such as The New York Times.
Support queer and trans-owned bookstores. This list from Libro.fm can help you get started.
Donate to organizations providing critical resources for members of the trans community, including gender affirming care, housing, and more, such as The Trevor Project, the Trans Women of Color Collective, Trans Legal Health Fund, The Okra Project, the Sovereign Bodies Institute, and Call Blackline.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. In a few weeks, we’ll be diving into The Bandit Queens, likely one of Olivia’s favorite reads of 2023. And don’t forget to check out our free downloads (wallpapers, templates, and more), and our exclusive downloads for newsletter subscribers (with password newsletterdownloads).
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.