A guide to transgender visibility

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It’s been 10 years since activist Rachel Crandall established Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) as the first holiday of its kind: a celebration of transgender and nonbinary people, meant to raise awareness of the discrimination we face in order to create a world where we can enjoy the fullness of our lives.

Many trans people face a grim decision regarding visibility in an era where modest gains for trans rights coexist with rising far-right reactionary backlash. This can be particularly difficult for newly-out trans people or those just beginning to fully embrace the complexity of their identities, as they attempt to navigate the murky, uncertain waters of being visibly trans. Here are a few pieces of advice that I hope can bring clarity.

How do I handle cis people asking me to explain my gender to them?

One of the least fun things about being visibly trans is when cis people take it as an invitation to interrogate you. Not all of these interactions are hostile, but enough are, and even if it’s just an overly inquisitive friend, cis folks don’t understand how invasive those questions can feel. Whether it happens face-to-face or online, it can be difficult to know how to navigate those situations, especially if you (like me) feel an obligation to try and educate people who just happen to be a little clueless.

You don’t owe your story to cis people, though. It’s good to increase awareness, but unless they’re planning to pay your invoice, you don’t need to feel any obligation to do labor for them. Judge each interaction on its own, and if you feel comfortable and safe enough in that moment to share how you relate to yourself, go for it — bringing more empathy into the world is always a noble goal. If not, well…we’ll get to that in a minute.

Read on…

The History of Living Forever

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Jake Wolff’s debut novel The History of Living Forever is a science fiction story, a gay romance, and a Hardy Boys mystery all rolled into one. But the ultimate moral dilemma of its teenaged protagonist almost lifts the book above any specific genre.

At the centre of the story is Conrad, a high school student whose life is upended by the sudden death of his chemistry teacher and lover, Sammy, “the kind of guy who uses semicolons in text messages.”

Conrad was having an illicit affair with Sammy and his passing leaves the sensitive student reeling. After Sammy’s death, Conrad discovers his notebooks, which are filled with disjointed pieces of information about his search for an elixir of life. It is left to Conrad to pull these pieces together and complete Sammy’s work.

What could have been just a page-turning mystery is given poignancy by the stakes Conrad and his friend RJ have in discovering the elixir: each is out to save a family member from dying. The personal stories of Conrad and RJ encourage the reader to consider the ethical side of medicine we struggle with today. Who deserves to live? How much should we sacrifice of our own lives to advance medicine for the benefit of others? How long do we want to live?

Wolff consistently grounds the book in the science of the boys’ quest. He even presents us with case histories of real people, starting with Ge Hong, fourth-century scholar and first practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Especially in its second half, the novel is immersed in the experimental details of the potion. For those whose interest in science is limited to the broad strokes of political discourse, these descriptions may seem to bog the story down somewhat, but they’re essential to give credibility to Wolff’s fantastical plot.

Emphasizing science allows Wolff to wrestle with some weighty questions about how we live our lives: Do we follow the hard data of science? Our hearts? We ignore either at our peril, Wolff seems to tell us. Conrad reveals that his mother died when he was ten years old in a house fire caused by a burning cigarette. The fire inspector told the family that she “did everything wrong: she went up when you’re supposed to go down, she traveled toward the heat and not away from it.” The message is that she might have been spared if she had only obeyed the laws of science. And in a witty Author’s Note, Wolff reminds us not to play with science: “Every recipe in this book, if ingested, will kill you. Every single one.” He ends with the cliché, “Do not try this at home.”

In one of Sammy’s journals, we discover that he believes science might well serve the needs of our emotional well-being:

There is some way to treat everything at once…what the Greeks called panakeia, the all healing. My goal is not to live forever but to live happily—to figure out what happiness means.

Luckily most of the time the book manages to address the lofty issues it deals with without losing its ability to entertain.

Review via Lambda Literary