This Trans Couple Wrote The Book They Wish They'd Had Growing Up

Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
Welcome to It’s Lit – a series of discussions about books. Join us every month to find out who’s reading what.
The non-binary couple behind the wildly successful YouTube channel Fox and Owl and My Genderation trans film series have written the book they wish they’d had growing up. Trans Teen Survival Guide is "packed with information and affirmations about identity and expression," says Fox. Brimming with practical and friendly advice, the indispensable guide provides teens with everything they need to know – from dating to gender dysphoria, it’s all in there. "We really hope that this book can help and support trans teens that might be feeling bad about their own lives or future," explains Owl. "There is a future out there, and it’s bright."
Ahead of the book’s release, we met up with the couple at their Brighton home to find out what they were reading as teenagers and the titles they recommend trans teens seek out now.
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
What are you reading right now?
Fox: I’ve just finished an advance copy of Jill Soloway’s autobiography She Wants It, which was a total inspiration. Jill also defines as non-binary and has written episodes for all my favourite series including Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and Transparent. I would love to have them as a mentor for a new film series I’m writing called The Long Road To Inverness. It’s a true story, about a bunch of trans people who took a road trip in 1975 to meet a sympathetic doctor, who was head of an asylum, during a time when trans people were treated horribly.
Owl: I am reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, which is a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I am a massive sci-fi and fantasy geek, so most of the books I read belong to those genres. I also play a lot of video games in that genre as well. So I guess my book taste and the book we’ve written are quite far apart!
I’ve read very few books in those genres. What titles would you recommend to a sci-fi/fantasy novice?
Owl: I would actually say that the series by Becky Chambers is quite a smooth and easy introduction to the world of sci-fi. Other good ones to start with would include popular titles like The Hunger Games or similarly, Divergent and Firefly. Sci-fi is really such a vast category that encompasses anything from a slightly different world to ours to epic space battles and galaxy adventures. A lot of the sci-fi books I read usually have video games or TV show equivalents such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Mass Effect. In terms of fantasy, you have books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. I tend to go for less popular titles that usually star a female lead and are heavy on female characters, such as The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, All the Birds in the Sky and The Legend of the Ice People.
Where and when do you like to read?
Fox: Reading is a total luxury. I enjoy devouring books while travelling, on trains and planes. I don’t get much of a chance otherwise, as I’m usually editing film or screen printing.
Owl: Reading for me is a luxury most of the time too so when I’m at home I like to read just before bed. Alternatively I do travel a lot, and I do the majority of my reading then. I’m one of those weirdos that manages to walk through the airport with their face glued to a book without colliding with anyone.
Where do you buy your books? Do you have a favourite Brighton bookshop?
Owl: I am ashamed to say that I mostly buy them online and get them shipped to me these days! My schedule is so incredibly busy that going into a bookshop and really getting into it is a luxury for me. I do love going into libraries as opposed to bookshops though, and I think that more people should definitely take advantage of the perks that libraries have to offer.
Fox: Recently, many of the books I’ve read have been sent to me by publishers who are keen for me to review or endorse them. These books are nearly always trans-related.
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
How do you choose what to read next?
Fox: Recommendations from friends is always the way to go. My mother reads nothing but autobiographies so she’ll often lend me a book which has particularly affected her. As a filmmaker who started my career in documentary, I know the value of a true story.
Owl: I usually post something on social media and ask for recommendations. I still have a long list from when I did that last time so I’m good for a while!
Do you belong to a book club?
Fox: This year I was thrilled to be part of Brighton’s fantastic City Reads project for the book Sacred Country by Rose Tremain. At the opening night I read a poem by an older, stealth trans man and I also took part in a panel chat about the book. It was the biggest I had been part of, about 12 people, so there was loads to discuss. Additionally, I’ve been involved with Penguin’s WriteNow project. I was on a panel discussing my first book for children, Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl? – the dreaded question many trans people have been asked throughout their life, which I co-wrote with Sarah Savage. We created this book because nothing like it existed. The main character is called Tiny and you never find out what gender they are, despite being asked throughout the book. It’s always such a treat reading this book at libraries to a batch of small people, to very gently explain trans/gender issues, and to support trans kids.
Owl: I used to be in one, actually. A feminist book club, and we covered a range of books about all sorts of things feminist: from trans issues to disability issues, black feminism, reproductive rights, and so on. But I suppose that was more of an academic or activist kind of circle. I’m a bit of a hermit with my books so I’m not sure I’d do well in a traditional book club. It all feels very personal to me.
Which book would you give as a gift?
Fox: My book! I gifted this book to Piers Morgan when we were live on Good Morning Britain trying to explain non-binary issues. It was probably the most intense interview we’ve ever had to do. At the end, I gave him the book and said: "It’s 3 years and up, so it should be good for you Piers."
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
Owl: If I were to give a book as a gift, aside from Fox and Sarah’s book, I’d give people A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein. It is such a wonderful book that tells the story of one of my dear friends who is a non-binary trans person. It’s such an important book that would really get people to connect and understand what it’s like to be a non-binary person in society.
Which magazines are you faithful to?
Fox: As a non-binary trans person, there’s a lack of magazines which really resonate with me. Owl and I both write for DIVA, the national lesbian magazine, and regularly for Gay Times. We also make content for Cosmopolitan. Magazines like Original Plumbing helped me to see myself represented, which was very powerful, and I’ve enjoyed being featured in this too.
Owl: I’ve never really been much of a magazine person, and coming from Iceland I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t know any of the ones I used to read. There’s a new magazine that’s starting called Fruitcake Magazine and I definitely recommend that everyone checks it out!
Any Icelandic authors we should be more aware of?
Owl: There are definitely some great Icelandic authors out there but I feel that it's often very male-dominated. There is a great crime author called Lilja Sigurðardóttir – she writes fantastic novels such as the book Snare she released in 2017.
Which books have you identified with most?
Fox: I adore a whole range of books, from autobiography to science fiction. I’ve never once encountered a non-binary character in fiction and it would be great to see more representation of trans people in general, who aren’t the victims of murder or twisted criminals.
Owl: I think for me the type of books I identify with the most are either books that focus on fantasy or sci-fi worlds. The reason I guess is because that used to be my escapism, along with video games. It just took me to another world, where there were different cultures, different norms and you could be anyone, really. The world we live in can often be so overwhelming and hostile towards people like me, that just reading something completely different and really getting out of this world is a must.
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
How do you organise your bookshelves?
Fox: Our bookshelf is organised by both size and subject matter, but very loosely. We have a creative section for books on screen printing and illustrating. We also have a growing section on books we have contributed to, including Juno Roche’s Queer Sex and Christine Burns’ Trans Britain.
Owl: I’m also a bit of a meticulous organiser, so I try to put similar-size books together. Usually books of the same genres are around the same size, so it actually works quite well!
What do you use as a bookmark?
Fox: I’m a page-folder. Sorry!
Owl: I don’t, I’ve never gotten into the habit. I just usually remember the book page I was on! I always try to end my reading at the end of a chapter anyway, which makes it easier. I wish I could say I had some really unique and cool item, but I don’t.
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
How did Trans Teen Survival Guide come into being?
Fox: Trans Teen Survival Guide was originally a Tumblr site started by our friend Christina L. Bentley – Chrissi – and a friend of hers. It is a support site for trans teens online, and remains an amazing resource for trans people. It gives them advice for all sorts of things and has given them invaluable support when they needed it the most.
Owl: We wanted trans teens to be able to have a resource that we didn’t have growing up. We packed it with all sorts of practical information that we would’ve loved to have had, along with affirmations that there is no right or wrong way to be trans. Trans people come in all different shapes and sizes and gender is an expansive continuum of identity and expression. The book is dedicated to Chrissi, who unfortunately took her own life earlier this year. She was such an amazing person who did so much for other people through the Trans Teen Survival Guide Tumblr site; she saved so many lives in her short time on this planet.
Fox: Her death has weighed really heavily on us – it’s been incredibly difficult to come to terms with it. She was such a vibrant person and we are so sad that she wasn’t able to support herself or seek support when she needed it the most.
Are there any other books you’d recommend to trans teens looking for advice, fact or fiction?
Fox: To My Trans Sisters by Charlie Craggs, Trans Like Me by C.N. Lester, Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie, The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, and all the books we mentioned before. We’re probably missing out some really great books as well – we definitely suggest people check out our publishers, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, for some really great trans content.
What did you read as teenagers?
Fox: As a child and teenager I lived in books. As a trans person this makes perfect sense to me now. I used to love getting lost in other worlds, other lives. I was an avid reader and from age 10 onwards I read a lot of horror books, including everything by Stephen King and James Herbert. Bizarrely, I don’t read or watch any horror at all these days. There’s enough fearmongering in the world.
Owl: I pretty much read all the same genres as I do now, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. That genre has really captivated me – I am a complete geek in many aspects…don’t tell anyone though!
Which three books would you recommend to a stranger?
Fox: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and staying in contact with. Also, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series. The books had a profound effect on me when I was younger, and I recently played Jake, a trans man, in the adaptation for Radio 4. It was such an amazing experience; Armistead messaged me saying how pleased he was that Jake was being played by a trans person. Finally, something like Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson because it’s a classic and you never discover the gender of the main character.
Owl: As a trans person that just wants people to learn more about trans people, I’d recommend Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, Queer Sex by Juno Roche and Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. These books are such powerful testaments and stories from trans people that I think everybody should read – especially people who aren’t trans!
Photographed by Lauren Maccabee.
Fox and Owl’s Reading List
She Wants It by Jill Soloway
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Mass Effect: The Complete Novels by Drew Karpyshyn
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Legend of the Ice People by Margit Sandemo
Sacred Country by Rose Tremain
Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl? by Sarah Savage and Fox Fisher
A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein
Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir
Trans Britain by Christine Burns
To My Trans Sisters by Charlie Craggs
Trans Like Me by C.N. Lester
Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie
The Gender Games by Juno Dawson
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein
Queer Sex by Juno Roche
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

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