Trans Partners and Creative Non-Fiction/Elspeth Brown

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            I have been continuing my interviews with partners of trans men—folks who have been with their partners before and during some aspect of the transition. At this point I’ve interviewed 48 people in the US and Canada about a range of topics, including gender and sexual identity; visibility; coming out; affective labour; parenting; sex, and other topics. It’s been about 5 years since I put out an actual call. More frequently, people learn about the project and get in touch with me, wanting to talk to me about their story.

            During the weekend of April 15th, I presented some new writing on this project at a symposium organized by Lisa Cartwright and Elizabeth Wolfson at the University of California, San Diego. The event was organized around a collection of essays I had co-edited with my colleague Thy Phu (Western) entitled Feeling Photography (Duke University Press, 2014). Other speakers included scholars Shawn Michelle Smith, David Serlin, Lisa Bloom, Kamala Viswenswaran, and Kelli Moore, as well as artists Ken Gonzalez-Day, Connie Samaras, and Anna Joy Springer. I presented a 3000 word creative non-fiction piece on the theme of visibility, featuring the stories of “Kevin,” a disabled trans man and “Muriel,” an artist; both have children who have been, for various reasons, subject to custody disputes. It’s been an important goal of mine to take this material and use it to re-present stories to the queer and trans community in language that’s accessible and interesting to read, and doesn’t hide behind academic language that is difficult for non-academics to understand or care about. I have promised the people I’ve interviewed to return this material to those who have shared it to begin with, in order to reduce the sense of isolation and invisibility that many partners experience. Yet I can’t say that I’ve been trained to write in this way, and it has not been an easy shift to make. As a result, I was nervous about presenting the work, as it was the first time I’d ever presented non-academic writing for a scholarly audience. But it seemed to go well, and I received excellent feedback—particularly from Anna Joy Springer, a creative non-fiction writer who teaches in the MFA program at UCSD (see http://literature.ucsd.edu/people/faculty/aspringer.html). Thanks, Anna Joy–and thanks to Lisa and Liz for organizing. I will be continuing this move into creative non-fiction during the week of May 9-13th, when my colleague Eva-Lynn Jagoe and I have organized an intensive workshop for academics on learning how to write for a broader audience. But more on that in another post!