“During my transition, I was googling anything to do with trans women. I clutched onto any stories and absorbed everything I could find on Wikipedia and YouTube, because there was nothing else,” says Charlie Craggs, activist and founder of Nail Transphobia, of her new book To My Trans Sisters. An incredible anthology of letters written by game-changing trans women, the book bursts with counsel on everything from keeping yourself safe and tackling transphobia to beauty tips and relationship advice. In short, it’s the book that wasn’t available to Charlie during her own transition – “an encyclopaedia of trans excellence,” as she puts it.
The women in this book have helped shape the world as we now know it. “I really wanted it to be a source of inspiration as well as just a source of information and advice," explains Charlie. "Positive representation is so important, and you can look at these women and you can be these people.” Collating letters from such noteworthy individuals – from Martine Rothblatt, the highest-paid female CEO in America and the founder of a drug company that makes lifesaving medicine, to Monica Helms, the creator of the transgender pride flag, via Caroline Paige, the first transgender officer to have served openly in the UK military – was no mean feat but, for Charlie, it was hugely important.
“We’re told we’re not good enough from the minute we transition. We're told we're not good enough from the minute we transition, but this book, and the women inside, are testament to the fact that we are good enough.” To My Trans Sisters is aimed at the next generation of girls who may be familiar with Laverne Cox and Janet Mock but lack a broader knowledge of the women who came before them. “I want to pass on their legacy: these are the women that paved the way – know them. We wouldn’t be living in our enlightened trans glory if it wasn’t for these women.”
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to know your history. Understanding how history was made – and by whom – can help us tackle the violence facing LGBTQI+ people and people of colour in 2017. “In England we’re living in luxury; we have our rights, but we need to remind ourselves that things can change real quick – Trump’s in power now, baby.” According to a 2017 report by Stonewall, 80% of trans young people in the UK have self-harmed, and over 40% have tried to take their own life. We’ve already seen more trans people die at the hands of violence this year than in all of 2016. “It's so important for marginalised communities to know, pass on their history, and to preserve that legacy,” Charlie says.
The essays in the book are as diverse as they are excellent, and no two read the same. Some are as short as one sentence – like that from model, dancer, and model agent Pêche Di – while others are pages-long accounts of past experiences, like the hilarious romantic encounter at the US Army Draft Board penned by John Waters’ muse Elizabeth Coffey-Williams. There are political calls to arms, letters to younger selves, and advice on choosing foundation shades. Kate Stone, founder of groundbreaking technology company Novalia, was horribly mistreated by the British press; now she sits on the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee and uses her experience to educate the journalists that wronged her on how to portray trans people in the media. Her approach to tackling transphobia is to focus on the way you handle it: "Shine brightly, sister, spread smiles and the warmth of kindness!" Two essays later, actress, writer and producer Jen Richards’ opening sentence reads: "I want to cut through all the bullshit, the hand-holding, affirmations, and promises that it will get better."
The last letter in the book is from Charlie, taking her rightful place on the long list of trans women who have shaped the way we talk about, portray and help the trans community. Through Nail Transphobia, she travels the country giving free manicures to people who have never met a trans person before, with the aim of educating them and, well, just having a chat. She donates the money she makes at events to run free self-defence classes for trans and non-binary femmes. Publications such as The Guardian, the Independent and The Observer have named her as one of the most influential trans people today and this book is certain to cement that position as it brings about change for the next generation of trans women and allies alike. "I thought practical transition tips would be most useful to you – styling advice, makeup tips, how to cover a 5 o’clock shadow...but I then realised, as useful as they might be, this is what we get caught up in so often, and what our entire lives often become centred around." Reading the essays of other women, Charlie “realised that that’s not what it’s all about. What transition should be about is loving yourself and accepting yourself, because it’s the most radical act of self-love.”
To My Trans Sisters is vital reading for those who are beginning their transition and are in need of positive representation. It’s vital for allies who want to understand how to better support their trans sisters. It’s vital for those who don’t know any trans people at all. It’s important for all of us to know the trans women who changed the world as we know it. The accounts, the essays, the anecdotes: they’re all there. It’s our responsibility to read, then fight for, protect and stand by the trans women who deserve to be heard.
To My Trans Sisters, edited by Charlie Craggs, is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and is available here now.