Transition on Trains: On Being a Nonbinary Author
by Jenn Polish
And here I am again. On the Long Island Railroad, riding backwards with a notebook in my hand.
Then, I was in tight dresses and tighter smiles.
Now, my head is breezy because my hair is buzzed into a fade, the grabbable bit left on top spiked the way the other boys used to do it.
Then, I was scribbling and scratching away at my first novel.
Now, I’m grinning down at blurbs and character descriptions that my editor needs from me. (One day, I’ll be able to say “my editor” without pausing for dramatic effect, brushing my shoulders off, the dorkiest of all dorky grins plastered all over my face. Today is not that day.)
The novel I cramped my hand with on this train? Is getting published with NineStar Press in March 2018.
My hand has been broken by agony and a mirror, which my own fist shattered for release, for freedom, since… since before. And so have I.
A surgeon rebuilt my grip; I, along with the unwavering love of a woman and of friends who are better described as family, rebuilt me.
But my hand still aches where I broke it as I write. Maybe it is still being rebuilt.
I certainly am.
I don’t know much about being a soon-to-be published author (dramatic pause. shoulder brush. dorkiest of all dorky grins.). I promise I’m not being an arrogant jerk: Shonda Rhimes keeps reminding me — in my head, alas, not in person — that celebrating your accomplishments as a woman, owning it, is good.
But I do know this: I’m not a woman. Not exactly. But I can — I should — still celebrate.
“She” works. Sort of. But it’s not complete. “He” might work, if you’re imagining me as what my fiancée calls me: the long lost sixth member of ‘Nsync. But “they”? Yeah. “They” fits like my favorite notebook underneath my favorite pen, like my oldest usable baseball mitt as I jog onto the field.
I know now, as this train gently shrieks and softly rumbles under and around me, what I didn’t know — what I wasn’t allowed to know — years ago when I commuted inside this sleek hunk of metal every day.
I know now that I can be Atreyu from The Neverending Story. I know now that I can also be Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. I can be nonbinary. I can be both, all, beyond. Because I am both, all, beyond.
Regrets aren’t my thing, but sometimes — because we’re supposed to be introspective as writers, aren’t we? — I wonder what my life would be like if I’d known the possibilities earlier. What I’d be like if I’d known the possibilities earlier.
That when, after college, with my rainbow suspenders and rainbow belt (my fashion sense has [somewhat] improved, I swear), I told people I was “guy-identifying”, even though I simultaneously never felt like a man? That when I wrote a boyish protagonist and a high femme powerhouse love interest, one of my best friends saw my boyish main character in me even though at the time I acted and dressed more like my high femme? That these things are real. These contradictions are at once beyond containment but can, must, also always be held in my body, my fire, my soul?
I wonder how I’d be different if cisnormativity hadn’t tried to beat the possibilities out of me. Out of us all.
And this is why I write.
Right now, on this train, and on the trains back then, I write because we need to recognize ourselves in our literature. We deserve to recognize ourselves in our literature. I need to recognize myself in our literature. I deserve to recognize myself in our literature.
So a world with casually genderqueer rabbits; where faeries use nonbinary pronouns for children until they decide whether to keep them or use binary pronouns; where of course my main character has two moms and falls in love with a girl; where of course her best friend is asexual; where of course lesbians of color have happy endings and get to kiss each other, floating amongst fireflies, starlight, and dragon songs?
This is a world I want. A world I need.
I wonder if my main character — Sadie — would have been a nonbinary lesbian if I’d started writing her character with what I know now.
But here’s the thing: the more we write ourselves into being, the more we give others like us the permission we don’t actually need — but think we do — to crack open binaries, to trans-cend them. To be who we are.
Who we’re meant to be.
Trans writers need to write queer love stories, trans space adventures, nonbinary heists. We need to be published and we need to be, in the deepest sense of the word, truly heard.
Because we have written ourselves into being with the blood of childhoods being taught that we don’t exist, our adulthoods being told we’re not real, we’re wrong, we’re something to mourn; we deserve to spread the languages — on trains and in the books that pass between them — that we’ve forged for ourselves, because in our languages, we create communities.
In our languages, we create ourselves.
They don’t have dragons where half-faerie Sadie was born – not living ones, anyway – but in the Grove, everyone knows that dragon eggs grow on trees like leaves and need Dreams to hatch. Without faerie Dreams, the dragons won’t survive. And neither will anyone else.
Brash, boyish sixteen-year-old Sadie thinks she can stop the worst from happening, but as a half-human, she looks far too much like the enemy. So she’s been using her looks to spy on the human monarchy. But spying is a risky business: it, like Dreaming, is punishable by death. Slow death. Still, Sadie thought she was a pro. Until they sent a new human magistrate to the Grove. Evelyn.
Evelyn might be the most beautiful girl Sadie’s ever seen, and Sadie might be betraying her family by falling in love with the ruthless leader who locks them up. But that’s not even the biggest obstacle between the two: Evelyn is leading the charge against Dreaming, and there’s something she doesn’t know. Sadie can still Dream.
Jenn Polish is a YA fantasy author and instructor of English and Theatre at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Their debut novel, LUNAV — a lesbian fairy tale set in a world where dragons hatch from trees — is set for release with NineStar Press in March 2018. When they’re not teaching, writing, or working toward their PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center, they’re probably fanbying over a wide array of comic books or hitting the gym.
Find Jenn here:Website