Writing from the margins

Over the last nine months, the project of releasing Margins and Murmurations into the world has brought me closer to public recognition than any of the decades of political work that came before it.

I gave my first public book reading—on a theatre stage in Marseilles to a hundred and fifty sex workers and friends—and twenty more readings after that. In a squatted trailer park in Berlin I had my first musical collaboration with the non-binary duo, Body of Work. I gave my first radio interviews, in Germany and Australia. People I don’t know come to talk to me at parties to get a copy signed. People I don’t know have my book poking out of their sparkly handbags.

And it’s odd because writing a book probably isn’t the most important thing I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I poured everything into Margins and I think it might even be important. But I’ve come to realize that a novel comes with a certain recognition that background, feminized, supportive labour never does. People whisper the word author with an awe that community organiser, cleaner, trauma supporter, squatter-gardener, therapist, or teacher just don’t attract. Perhaps it’s because novels are art and art is considered something very important by certain people with power. Virtually all successful authors are middle class for a reason.

1aPhoto courtesy of Azja Kulpińska

 

In these nine months, Margins has connected me with literally thousands of people and for a person who lived her life in the shadows, working invisibly, it feels something like fame. It isn’t, in any real sense, and it probably won’t ever be. For one thing, I’m too precarious.

I scraped this whole project together with two years of seven-day weeks. I couldn’t afford a proof-reader, so the first edition was full of embarrassing typos that I only caught when I worked myself to collapse recording an audiobook version. I had to crowdfund the editor’s fees. I literally sat in a room on a mountain for a week
teaching myself to typeset because that shit is expensive. I was supposed to be on holiday. I carry copies in my luggage and distribute them one by one to sex shops and squats and community centres and activist meetings.

Trans women like me don’t have publishers and poor people don’t have the right contacts and, you know? I’m kind of amazed that this worked out at all. It wasn’t supposed to. I don’t belong to the class of people who are supposed to write novels. The class that has media friends and the right literary—or business—education and can afford to advertise themselves while taking a few years off work to write some nice stories.

But it has worked. Not in the sense of bringing me fame or riches, but that was never my goal. In fact, the one thought that has got me through the disappointments and obstacles is that this has never actually been about me.
Margins is about the starlings. Letting people know how fucking beautiful and heart-breakingly threatened they are in Europe.

It’s about bringing nuance to conversations around sex work.
It’s about having characters with oppressed intersections at the front of a story, just for once in this world.
It’s about getting someone through their difficult week and keeping someone else up all night with excitement and bringing a third person back to activism after a period of burn-out.
It’s been about connecting people through a crowdfunding project that printed and sent nearly a hundred copies to trans women incarcerated in US prisons.

My little book has crossed time zones and oceans with barely any resources except my stubbornness, a cheap laptop and the incredible support of the communities that came together around it.

A second edition printed by Active has funded a winter’s writing and brought five hundred more copies into the world. The people supporting my Patreon have made a second book possible, and Action for Trans Health have given me two beautiful book tours. This is serious solidarity—which is rare in this world—and words can never adequately express how grateful I am.

The process through which Margins has travelled to some twenty countries on five continents has embodied the kind of grassroots community and networking, autonomy and solidarity that its story is all about.

That’s how it happened.
It looks like people passing dog-eared copies to each other while discussing politics over coffee. It looks like learning all these new skills—social media, typesetting, publishing, printing, public reading, public speaking, recording, sound editing, interviewing—from scratch.

It looks like pushing through my fear, standing up in front of other people, and being seen.

Because of my own precarity, because I couldn’t just click a button and instantly reach a million people, this project has literally brought new networks and new projects and new friendships into life. My baby has achieved so much—so much more than anyone expected from her. And I couldn’t be prouder.

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