Across the country, bigoted legislators are trying to take away trans health care access, strip trans children from their loving parents, designate us second-class citizens. They are trying to erase the reality of our existence in schools, and ban books by and about LGBTQ Americans. Meanwhile, some of the largest media outlets in the country spread lies about trans people and the queer community, contributing to a wave of hate crimes. And we’re not the only targets; Black, brown, Indigenous, and Asian American individuals are being targeted, along with Muslim Americans, disabled people, and more.
That is why I’m writing this, but it is not what I’m going to write about.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about mirrors.
Early on in the wonderful Spanish drama “Veneno,” trans protagonist Valeria stares at her body in the mirror, taking in her flat chest and blocky torso with confusion. Two episodes later, loved and accepted, and post-transition, she looks into the mirror again, this time with a quiet satisfaction.
The scene is so private, so personal, not a spectacle, not something to be stared at — just a young woman letting go of her past and breathing freely. Finally, she can see herself.
I recently watched “Veneno” with a large group of other trans women, and every single episode, we wept. It was cathartic, restorative — not just for the grand fantasy, nor the brutal trauma, nor the hard-won triumphs, but also for the little moments: a family of trans women cooking paella, flipping through old photo albums, laughing at private jokes.
It’s a revelation: a story that shows us as we are instead of distorting us, a mirror that tells a truth we’ve long been denied.
I grew up without that mirror. I never saw myself in stories; there were sometimes strange, twisted parodies of me who appeared like horrible doppelgängers, but each one left me more isolated.
Growing up without stories is like being drowned slowly in utter solitude. You think you are the only one, a lone monster with no hope of survival, targeted for elimination and impossible to love, because what you are is not even seen as fully human.
So many of you cannot imagine the incredible poverty of never once seeing yourself in a story. You have no idea how fortunate you are, or how much I was denied. If you want to understand, imagine that your favorite story does not exist — or your second-favorite, or your 50th — or anything. As I struggled, young and alone and afraid, I would have paid any price to read about people who struggled as I had, who lived as I needed to live.
Years ago, my late friend Shannon Andrews gave me what I lacked. At the time, she was suing the state of Wisconsin with her friend Alina Boyden for egregious medical discrimination (a jury later awarded them almost a million dollars in damages). Alina, Shannon informed me, was a writer like me.
“Read her story,” Shannon said. “You just have to.”
“Princess” was an unpublished YA novel about a trans girl on the run, longing to return home but terrified of reuniting with the family who had scorned her and hurt her for daring to be a daughter instead of a son. It shattered me. I had never seen myself in such a mirror, and I was not used to the terror and the hope and the vulnerability that comes with being seen. It changed my life. I started writing again, so I could hold up that mirror to our lives and reveal us to ourselves.
I see our worlds in the mirror, and each one restores me in some magical way, regenerating lost pieces of my soul.
There are vanishingly few books by trans women even now. It’s hard to break in as a trans woman. There are almost no mentors to guide your path, so you toil and hone your craft, never quite knowing what it means to be good enough or how to navigate the publishing industry as a trans woman, and when you do see your peers succeed, they are mocked, abused, stalked, scorned, mobbed. It’s a terrifying prospect, which is part of why I’m one of only two or three trans women with Big Five debut novels coming out this year.
But our stories are precious treasures. When I read them, I look into a restored mirror and see us as we truly are, without the lies and distortion of our enemies.
We are weird and dreamy and sad and joyful, as in Jeanne Thornton’s magical music history novel “Summer Fun”; we are tragic and catty and fucked up in Torrey Peters’ arch satire “Detransition, Baby”; we are brutal, vulnerable, scared, throbbing with life in Gretchen Felker-Martin’s post-apocalyptic “Manhunt”; we are sad and tender and confused in Casey Plett’s family drama “Little Fish”; we are hilarious and lyrical and bizarre in Ryka Aoki’s musical space opera “Light From Uncommon Stars”; we are scared and hurt and determined in April Daniels’ “Dreadnought” and Charlie Jane Anders’ “Victories Greater Than Death”; we are blustery and heroic and resourceful in Alina Boyden’s “Stealing Thunder”; and, yes, we are epic and dark and magnificent in my own “Wrath Goddess Sing.”
We’re taking our chance and we’re doing something magical. They told us that we were broken and didn’t matter, the people whose stories were hidden away — but we do matter, and we will not be hidden again, least of all from ourselves.
If you want to see and know us and welcome us and love us, read our stories. You just have to.
Maya is the author of William Morrow’s forthcoming “Wrath Goddess Sing,” set to be released June 7.