Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performing artist, and social worker based in Toronto and Montreal, unceded Indigenous territories. Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press), is a Lambda Literary Award Nominee for 2017. Her debut poetry collection, a place called No Homeland (Arsenal Pulp Press), is a also a 2017 finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBTQ Writers.
Ahead of her July 12 visit to Brockton Writers Series, Kai dropped by the
blog with the guest post below!
Letter to A Young Trans Woman Writer: An Unsolicited Survival Guide
Dearest you, essential you, incredible you,
Try not to be a writer. Try your very best. Keep the stories deep inside. It’s safer that way. (So said every jealous has-been queen to an ambitious, talented young waif.) People will tell you that you have the potential to be exceptional, amazing, an inspiration to millions, and I do not doubt that this is true. I am telling you that you also have the potential to be ordinary, contented, to inspire no one and belong only to yourself. You are more than what they see in you. You are more than what they can take from you. Remember this always.
Try not to be a writer. Keep the stories deep inside, until they ache and swell inside you like a starving, distended belly. Run to the woods and earn your living selling herbal medications to rich white women. Run to the mountains and earn your living as a maker of artisanal dyes. Run to the cities and become an investment banker, buy yourself an antique hotel to live in, and spend your weekends rolling around on a king-size bed of cash.
Keep the stories inside your body, till your bones grind and your muscles wheeze beneath their weight. Till your fingers quake and your heart skips time and your skin cracks and oozes blood from the effort of holding them in.
Then, if you still have to – if there is no choice – write.
The stories you give birth to will draw eyes, many eyes, hungry for the light of your voice. A forest of eyes and ears and hands, always reaching for whatever part of you they can see and hear and touch. Some will belong to trans girls like you. Many will belong to women and men who know nothing about your life except that it moves or entertains or titillates them.
They will want to use you for Great Purposes of their own design. They will ask you to speak on behalf of the entire universe of trans girls, and they will cast the blame your way when you get it wrong. (And yes, my darling, wise beyond your years though you are, you will get it wrong.)
They will use your body as weapon and shield in wars that have nothing to do with you. They will cast you as exotic spice in their documentaries, and hold you in their palms as a token of their open-mindedness. They will dress you up like a doll and play with you a like a favorite pet and they will throw you aside like a broken toy when they are done. Usually, you will not be paid.
Some will want to love you. Some will want to eat you. Most will not know the difference, and probably, neither will you.
Do you understand now, darling? In the words of a great witch past, you were never meant to survive. Your stories were the thread with which you wove your line to life, and now they are the rope you will hang by. Your stories are a galaxy of life-giving stars, and the brighter you shine, the easier it is for the hunters to find you. In the words of another witch, they will raise you up to tear you down.
When your first book is born, you will feel like dying. Giving birth always feels this way. You will lie awake and wonder: Was this what I dreamed about?
And yet you must write. And you must survive. These are things I understand. So then, survive:
Read books written by your sisters and elders – trans women past and present – like your life depends on it. It does. Make an altar out of cardboard boxes covered with cloth at the foot of your bed. On it, keep dried flowers and a picture of your family (even if they tried to kill you) and plastic statues of the gods whose names you’ve long forgotten. Keep a sachet of amethyst and rosemary beneath your pillow. Pray for money, for good fortune, for long life. Yes, you deserve them.
On full moons, burn a candle for the dead. On new moons, burn a candle for the living.
Learn to keep some secrets for yourself. The forest of eyes and ears and hands will tell you that you owe every inch of your life to others to scrutinize and criticize and pore over. You don’t. Learn to say no to requests that sound like flattery but feel like consumption. Learn to say no to offers that sound like love but feel like being swallowed.
Practice spending time during which you do nothing useful to others: Write nothing. Say nothing. Do nothing. Those who still love you during these times are the ones who will love you forever. Keep them close to your heart and treat them kindly. Leave the rest.
And remember: You are more than what they can take from you. You were never meant to survive. They will raise you up to tear you down. You are a galaxy of life-giving stars, but you are also more than that. You are the great darkness of the universe. You are the silence between the songs. You are enough. You were enough before being published, you were enough before you dreamed of writing, you were enough before you began.
A Young Trans Woman Writer
Kai Cheng Thom visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 (Queer Night!) in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Terence A. Go, jes sachse, Ron Schafrick and a special guest talk, “Five Things You Should Know Before You Do Anything About Your Children’s Book Idea”, by S. Bear Bergman!