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    GLAAD Spotlights LGBTQ Authors and Stories

    GLAAD is spotlighting LGBTQ-inclusive books and authors who are expanding understanding and accelerating acceptance of LGBTQ people.

    Books about and by LGBTQ people, as well as books about race and racism, are the most challenged and banned in the U.S. GLAAD celebrates these stories and writers. Here you can read some of their work.

    Keith F. Miller, Jr., Photo Credit: Alexey Kim
    Keith F. Miller, Jr., Photo Credit: Alexey Kim


    The sensuality of Frank Ocean meets the rhythm of Toni Morrison in Pritty, a debut novel by Keith F. Miller Jr. that follows two boys who get caught in the crossfire of a sinister plot that not only threatens everything they love but may cost them their chance at love. 

    Keith F. Miller, Jr. is an award-winning educator, artist, and researcher who studies healing literacies and their role in supporting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities in healing, growing, and thriving through trauma. He has an M.F.A in creative writing at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. Pritty is his debut novel.


    Pritty by Keith F. Miller, Jr.

    It’s Leroy, and I think he’s going to kill me. So I do the only thing I can: swing first. Well, not exactly. I’ve never fought anyone, except my older brother, Jacob, and even those  couldn’t be called fights. They are more like physical arguments that turn into one-sided  tantrums I lose before a single punch is thrown. But Jacob did teach me one thing after I failed  miserably at learning to throw a football straight (never happened), to hit a baseball (not even off  a tee), or to dribble a basketball (does carrying the ball with two hands count?): how to tackle  and run. 

    Honestly, I don’t know how I could have done anything to Leroy; I’ve always kept my  distance, steered clear of him and the crowd vying for his attention, whenever he would drive by. When I heard a couple of guys say he’d been asking around about me, I thought it was a joke.  I’ve only ever heard rumors about him, since we don’t even go to the same school. I couldn’t  think of any reason why he—the younger brother of Taj, one of the leaders of the Black  Diamonds who reign over K-Town—would want anything to do with me, so I said, “Whatever,”  and walked off. 

    How was I supposed to know he was really looking for me? 

    I think about making a run for it since we’re next to a makeshift field in the back of a church,  a shortcut I always take home on the way from school. If I run left, he could push me into the  canal. If I run right, there’s only woods, and I’m far from anybody’s Mowgli. If I run in the  opposite direction, he’s close enough to grab me, which means the only way out of this is  forward, through him, by any means necessary.

    I remember Jacob’s words: lower your stance, shoulders down but back, and then—as fast as  you can—explode forward while pushing up. I charge toward him with everything I have,  fearless and fear-full at the same time. 

    When I crash into Leroy, I smell peppermint gum and Cool Water cologne, but he doesn’t  fall. Instead, he crouches low and holds fast. Pushing and pulling, we grasp for legs and ankles to  take each other down. He smirks, as if me fearing for my life is amusing. Then, I take my  chance. 

    With all my weight, I pull him close in a tight embrace and then barrel forward, throwing us  both off-balance. We topple over Spanish-moss-covered tree roots that punch our bodies like iron  fists in satin du-rags until we land in a bed of pissed-off twigs. 

    On top of him, I flail could-be punches with great effort and little form. Beneath me, his arms  are right angles that dodge and slap away every blow. He chuckles, but I am serious. Every closed- and open-handed hit that makes contact whispers a fervent prayer to whatever  god will lay away me a miracle, because I need it. I’m not stupid; I know damn well Leroy is  bigger, tougher, and faster. If the rumors are true, he’s also dangerous, like his older brother. I  just need to escape so I can run home and never look back. 

    “Aye . . . yo . . . aye . . . ,” he repeats between swats, grabbing at my hands and wrists. Suddenly he smiles, and then lifts me up with his hips. I lose my balance and fall to the side.  He climbs on top of me, but he’s let his guard down. 

    Slap! The sweat on his face licks fire into my palm—I hit him hard. 

    Leroy glares, and in one quick motion, he slams me into the ground. “Chill,” he says. I thrash about as hard as I can and barely graze his face.

    “I said chill,” he yells. Leroy catches one of my wrists and dodges a punch from the other. I  clutch at his throat but miss. I claw at his face and miss again. 

    Leroy finally grabs both of my wrists and pins me down. “Are you deaf? I said chill out!” He  growls the words into my neck. 

    Sweat drips from his face and arms, which glisten even in the shadows of the trees. A silver  chain dangles in the space between us, against the backdrop of a tattoo peeking from the top of  his white beater. Something stirs in my chest, a different kind of fear. My body freezes. I hold my  breath without knowing. 

    “You gon stop tryna hit me?” he asks. 

    F— you, I whisper over and over in my head. 

    No matter how this ends, I won’t give him the satisfaction of hearing me utter another word. His eyes soften. “Aight, I’m bout to let you go, but you hit me again, you aint gon like what I  do.” 

    I believe him. 

    He loosens his grip, but our bodies are too close for comfort; my shorts are hiked up in the  scuffle, waist and thighs exposed. Somewhere between us, the friction lights a spark. And in the  stillness, our bodies are a cocked gun, our labored breaths are fingers stroking the trigger. I try to  pull away, but the more I move, the bigger it grows. 

    He looks down, jumps up, and turns away, tugging at the front of his basketball shorts. Before he can say anything else, I scramble to my feet and run down the field toward the  church. I hear him behind me yelling, “Jay . . . Jay . . . I didn’t mean . . . I just . . . ,” but I keep  running past the parking lot until I’m out of sight.

    I don’t run home; I double back and hide between the pink azalea bushes at the front of the  church and watch him. For a while, he stands there looking in my direction, his disappointed  silhouette ablaze in the blushing sun. 

    Even after Leroy walks away, I stay, drowning in questions while standing up. Every muscle  throbs, wound tight like a fist, waiting for him to jump out the nearest bush of pink azaleas for  round two. In my mind, we clash into each other again and again, unafraid, until our bodies are a  breath on the cusp of a moan. 

    I dust off my school uniform as best I can. Get all the leaf bits and twigs until only the faint  scent of fight and dirt and close calls and shame cling to the tattered seams of my khaki shorts. I  walk until it all makes sense, which means until my calves ache, my mouth goes dry, and the  bottom of my feet burn. Until the only sense to be made is that I’m f—ing tired and I have no  f—ing idea what the f— happened or what it means. I want to know why I still feel the heat of  his palms, the weight of his body pressing down just hard enough that I know it’s there. 

    When I see the chain-link fences and hear basketballs licking palms and headbutting hot  concrete, I know I’ve walked too far. I’m on the other side of Reeds Gate, somewhere near the  lip of Peach Street. Any farther and I’ll cross the train tracks into K-Town, where I’m not  allowed to go unless Jacob walks with me. Across the street, the “City Kitty” bus hisses and then  curses as it kneels near an orange bus pole with letters scraped off, so it reads, “Bop.” When the  bus huffs away, all that’s left: an old man on the corner clutching a brown paper bag, sipping and  singing to the cars. 

    I turn around and walk back until I stare at home. Jacob and Momma haven’t made it in  yet—and won’t since both work until late in the evening. Relieved, I file away the story I  concocted in my head. I don’t want Jacob or Momma to know what happened between me and 

    Leroy because it will only lead to more questions. I want to keep it to myself because I don’t  know enough of the truth to trust it, to risk whatever meaning might be waiting for me on the  other side. 

    I walk through the front door and plop onto the couch but eventually get up and reheat the  lasagna Momma must have cooked before she left for work. I scarf it down, outrunning the  thoughts replaying me and Leroy wrestling. Afterward, I fall asleep waiting for something,  anything that can answer the questions I’m too afraid to ask.

    Pritty has been shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award in YA Fiction. The winner will be announced in June. The sequel, Togetha, will hit shelves in January 2025.

    Camryn Garrett, Credit Louisa Wells
    Camryn Garrett, Credit Louisa Wells

    Friday I’m in Love

    Friday I’m in Love is a love letter to romantic comedies, sweet sixteen blowouts, Black joy, and queer pride.

    Mahalia Harris wants a big Sweet Sixteen like her best friend, Naomi. She wants the super-cute new girl Siobhan to like her back. She wants a break from worrying—about money, snide remarks from white classmates, pitying looks from church ladies . . . all of it.

    Then inspiration strikes: It’s too late for a Sweet Sixteen, but what if she had a coming-out party? A singing, dancing, rainbow-cake-eating celebration of queerness on her own terms.

    Author Camryn Garrett grew up in New York and began her writing career at thirteen, when she was selected as a TIME for Kids reporter, interviewing celebrities like Warren Buffett and Kristen Bell. Since then, her writing has appeared on MTV and in HuffPost and Rookie magazine, and she was recently selected as one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21: Girls Who Are Changing the World.” Camryn is a proud advocate for diverse stories and storytellers in any medium. Friday I’m in Love is her third novel and first rom-com.


    Friday I'm in Love by Camryn Garrett

    Thank God the big, ornate columns of the restaurant are coming up on the left—an all-white building right on the water. Gigantic windows look out over the beach. It’s the type of venue only Naomi’s parents could afford. The type of venue I wish I could’ve had for my nonexistent party.

    But it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s too late for me to have a Sweet Sixteen and there’s no such thing as a Sweet Seventeen. The next-best big party to look forward to is, like, a wedding or funeral.

    Mom stops in front of the restaurant and I’m pretty sure I’m gaping. There are people dressed up in uniforms, taking coats and parking cars. It’s crazy.

    “Be good,” Mom says, pinching my cheek. “I don’t want to hear that you were being

    disrespectful to Mr. and Mrs. Sanders. Understand?”

    I stick my tongue out at her. She’s mostly kidding—I’m at Naomi’s house all the time and I’m pretty sure I see her parents more than I see my own mother, but I don’t say that. It’s not her fault that the nursing home gives her these insane hours. She’s wearing her scrubs now, and for a second, my brain flashes forward, seeing the way she slowly shuffles into our apartment after a twelve-hour shift like she hasn’t had the chance to sit all day.


    People dressed in high heels and suit jackets are already heading inside. I barely

    recognize any of the faces, but I’m pretty sure they don’t shop at Forever 21. My spine stiffens.

    This isn’t going to be like hanging out at Naomi’s house after school. Mom nudges me forward. “Be good,” she says again as I open the door. “I love you.”

    “Bye, Mom.” I force myself to swallow. “Love you, too.”

    I step out of her beat-up car and don’t look back.

    When Naomi and her parents first started planning her party, I was so excited, it could’ve been my own. I wanted to go with her to try on dresses and pick out invitations and talk about what music she’d play. Along the way, I guess I forgot that I wouldn’t be the only guest here.

    Naomi is my best friend, but she’s a lot better at the social part of friendship. I know a lot of people because we go to school together, but they’re not exactly friends—more like people I’d be lab partners with.

    This room is full of potential lab partners. Naomi has friends of different races and

    genders and ages. There are round tables draped in white cloths where people nibble on appetizers. Then there’s the big wooden dance floor, where a few brave souls are trying to get things going.

    I plant myself at a table and stay there, even as more people migrate to the dance floor. I’m sitting with strangers: an older woman with hair like a bees’ nest, a married couple, and a girl I recognize from school. Maybe every ten minutes, there’s a Naomi spotting, and I can’t keep my eyes off her dress.

    I was there when she bought it with her mom—I still remember the saleswoman gushing, using terms like plunging V-neck bodice and natural waist that didn’t really make sense to me.

    One thing was—still is—easy to understand: Naomi looks beautiful. The dress is long and lavender. If I ignore the spaghetti straps and the lace-up back, I could totally see Naomi hitching up her skirts and running through the countryside after some forbidden lover in a Jane Austen movie.

    I try to wave to her, but she only notices me once. She’s like a queen with hundreds of subjects swarming around her at once, appearing genuinely excited to talk to aunts and uncles and cousins.



    I jump at the booming voice. Behind me, Mr. Sanders is looking down with a grin. His forehead is sweaty and there’s a dark spot on his blue dress shirt. I can’t help but smile back at him.

    “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he says. “Why aren’t you dancing?”

    “Oh,” I say, glancing at the dance floor. There are little kids chasing each other and

    squealing. “I was. I just, uh, needed a break.”

    He doesn’t even call me out on the obvious lie. Instead, he practically yanks me out of my seat and in for a hug. I rest against his shoulder before realizing it’s sweaty, too. It’s hot in here, like the AC can’t keep up with all the people dancing and singing on the dance floor.

    Naomi hasn’t done any of the traditional Sweet Sixteen stuff—no court, no fancy shoes, no speeches. The only thing that’s happened is a lot of good food and a shit ton of dancing.

    Mr. Sanders rocks us back and forth. “Are you sure the musical selection is up to your standards?” I frown before I can help it.

    “I don’t know what the DJ is doing,” I say. “He should just play, like, classic hits. Half of the people here don’t know any Doja Cat songs.”

    And rightfully so, honestly.

    Rasheed Newson, Author of My Government Means to Kill Me
    Rasheed Newson

    My Government Means to Kill Me

    Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me is an exhilarating queer coming-of-age story of historic fiction. Set in the mid-1980s as the HIV/AIDS crisis was unfolding, a young gay Black man meets real life characters of the era including Bayard Rustin, Larry Kramer and civil rights leader Dorothy Cotton, and joins the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in his journey of personal and political awakening.

    Rasheed Newson is a writer and producer of Bel-Air, The Chi, and Narcos. He lives in Pasadena, California with his husband and two children. My Government Means to Kill Me is his debut novel.


    My Government Means to Kill Me, by Rasheed Newson

    The floor in Larry’s bedroom was covered in several layers of plastic, which prevented the sloshing puddles of water from soaking into the carpet. The curtains were drawn, and light came from one dim lamp in a corner. Dorothy sat on the edge of the bed, and Larry leaned against the bathroom door. To my surprise, there were two white men, both built like nightclub bouncers, standing with military posture in front of the far wall. The stocky duo must have been stationed in the bedroom before any of us prospective advocates arrived.

    In the middle of the room, five tall stools were lined in a row. I perched myself on the one farthest to the left. Eduardo sat next to me; an older white woman took a seat next to him; next to her was a young woman who had dyed her hair pink; and on the end was a young, gawky white guy wearing too much cologne.

    Dorothy got up and circled me and my four battle buddies as she talked. “My daddy, bless his broken soul, had a hair-trigger temper. He would beat me and my three sisters for stepping on a squeaky floorboard. Many were the days that he whipped me with a switch until his arm got tired.” She stopped in front of the pink-haired woman and locked eyes with her. “You need to have hurt like that in your past. You need to have long ago been hit by the devil.”

    She moved on to get in Eduardo’s face. “The reason so many Black folks of my era could march against fire hoses and biting dogs, the reason we could sit-in while white men and women spat on us, pulled at our hair, and clawed at our skin is because we’d dealt with worse in our daily lives.”

    I sat up straight when Dorothy walked to my left and spoke directly into my ear. “Who among us didn’t know of a colored woman who had been raped by white men? Who among us didn’t know of a colored man who was lynched to entertain white families? Who among us hadn’t already lived through pain greater than what old Bull Connor could throw at us?”

    She paced in front of us. “Good intentions will not sustain you and prayers will not save you when cops kick you with steel-toed boots. You will need wounds you can draw on. You will need the confidence that comes from having endured loss and suffering more excruciating than a police-sanctioned ass whoopin’.”

    Dorothy waved over the two stocky white men. “You will also have to keep your emotions from leading you to fight back. This is the hardest part. It will feel counterintuitive. It will upset your pride. But it is necessary. If you fight, it will legitimize the unchecked savagery of your enemies. You must remember that your victory comes from unmasking the senseless brutality that the government chooses to sanction against you, a collection of nonviolent demonstrators. The point is to let your bruised and bloodied bodies serve as evidence that the government means to kill you, if you so much as protest its bigoted policies.”

    A childhood spent attending church services, and the first time I ever felt the Word touch me was during a sermon from Dorothy Cotton delivered in Larry Kramer’s bedroom. It was like I’d finally reached a long-sought destination and tasted the purest water. The answer to a gnawing, central question was made manifest. Why had I always felt persecuted by authority figures? Why did the promises of America the beautiful, America the land of liberty, and America the shining city upon a hill ring false to me? Why didn’t I trust cops? Why did I have no faith in the justice system? It was obvious now.  Until Dorothy removed the scales from my eyes, I’d had one hundred ways  of asking one thing: Why did I feel hunted in my homeland? Because my government means to kill me. Amen! Amen and glory hallelujah! At last, I could explain the force shaping my existence.

    Jamie Bruesehoff
    Jamie Bruesehoff

    Raising Kids beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children

    Parenting is simultaneously glorious and messy. Parents want their children to be safe, but also to flourish, and sometimes those desires don’t align. Jamie Bruesehoff takes you through the hard decisions, the mistakes, and the moments of unexpected strength and clarity, all in service of providing guidance to the parents and other adults with transgender children in their lives. In this politicized environment, where transgender children and youth are under constant attack, Bruesehoff gives the reader a roadmap for listening, protecting, and clearing a path to be the person God made them to be. 
    –Ross Murray, Vice President of the GLAAD Media Institute, author of Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-inclusive Youth Ministry
    Jamie Bruesehoff is an award-winning LGBTQ+ advocate, nationally known speaker, and mother of three, including a transgender child. With a master’s degree from The Lutheran Theological Seminary-Gettysburg and twenty years of experience working with youth and adults in and outside of the church, she strives to create a world where LGBTQ+ young people thrive. She lives in New Jersey with her spouse and children.


    Raising Kids beyond the Binary: Celebrating God's Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children Cover

    “A Simple Take on Complex Exegetical Conversation around Gender Diversity in the Bible”

    At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we work with a world-class team of medical professionals for all of Rebekah’s gender-related health care. When we first met with Dr. Hawkins, a psychologist and codirector at the clinic, Rebekah was eight years old. First, Dr. Hawkins spoke with me and my husband, and then she left to talk with Rebekah. When Dr. Hawkins returned to the office where we were waiting, she had tears in her eyes. While getting to know Rebekah, she asked Rebekah how she would respond to someone who didn’t understand what it means to be transgender. Rebekah’s honest answer was simple and clear: “Being transgender means being who God created me to be.”

    This is at the root of how we approach raising transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming children in faith. This is who God created them to be. You do not have to choose between your child and your faith. The truth is, you may have to choose between your child and your church, but we’ll get to that later. First, I need you to know deep in your soul that gender-diverse people of all ages are whole and holy. They are made in God’s own image, and they are exactly who God created them to be. After all, God does not make mistakes.


    Christians believe that humans are created in God’s image. This belief is first established in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,’” and is referred to as imago Dei, the image of God. A deep connection between God and humanity separates us from the rest of God’s creations. In a world dominated by Greek philosophy, the imago Dei was seen most deeply in humans’ ability to engage in moral, spiritual, or intellectual thought. Some examples would be rational thinking, creative freedom, a possibility for self-actualization, and the ability for self-transcendence. Later scholars would suggest that imago Dei was related to our concrete physicality, a bodily connection between us and the divine, while others believed it related to our place in the world and how we related to God’s creation.

    Whether it is our ability for rational or creative thought, or the beautiful diversity of the physical bodies we inhabit, or in the way we build relationships and communities that extend beyond ourselves, the idea of imago Dei, the image of God being recognized in both the divine and in humankind, links us to each other. It is the common denominator that connects all of humanity. Since we are all made in God’s image, then the image of God is something that we should be able to see in one another. Sometimes that idea is diluted down to a Sunday school lesson of how we are to treat one another. While I do believe the sentiment that we’re all made in God’s image is a powerful indicator for how we are called to be in community together, imago Dei points to something beyond a “do unto others” message. All humans, including gender-expansive, transgender, and nonbinary humans, were created in God’s own image. That means that God must be all those things too. If we know transgender and gender-diverse humans exist (and we know they do throughout history and around the world) and that they were made in God’s own image, then we know that God’s image is gender-diverse. That means something really cool for our own understanding of God and our faith. If God is gender-diverse, there are parts of God we are missing out on if there are not gender-diverse people in our midst.

    Transgender and gender expansive people teach us more about the God who created all of us and give us a fuller understanding of our faith. They are a gift to the church and the world. It also means we’re not called to care for our transgender and gender-expansive siblings as some sort of service to those less fortunate. This is not charity. Instead, we know that transgender and gender-expansive people allow us to see and know parts of God we wouldn’t otherwise see or know.


    If we go one verse further to Genesis 1:27, we read, “So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Of course, it’s probably more accurate to remove the masculine language the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) uses for God. God isn’t actually male; God is so much more. Instead, the text could read something like this: “So God created humans in [God’s] image, in the image of God, [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.” First, let me say that gendered language in the Bible is a struggle for translators, whether the text is referring to God or groups of people. They must make educated guesses about what the original text intended based on the context, the culture of the day, and the presumed audience. Their own conscious or unconscious biases play a part too. Centuries of patriarchal Christian societies assumed God’s default gender was male based on their worldview while reinforcing that same worldview by continually describing the Divine with male vocabulary. Resources like The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation can help us when gendered language limits access to the meaning of a particular text. In The Inclusive Bible translation, Genesis 1:27 reads, “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.” Regardless of translation, this is a verse that is frequently used to argue that the gender binary is biblically intentional. We were created to check the box that God checked for us, and that is that. But this feels like a limiting way to see the world, especially when we consider the rest of what God created. Theologians like Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Austen Hartke, and Rev. M. Jade Keiser have helped me better understand the biblical language used here and connect what I know to be true about God’s beautiful creation to the beauty of diversity in bodies and gender.

    Austen Hartke describes in his book Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians how the work of making order from chaos, organizing, and categorizing would have been understood and important to Hebrew people in the ancient world. Clear rules like “eat this, not that” kept them safe and helped them understand the world around them. In a conversation with Hartke, Rev. M. Jade Keiser points out that just because we have dichotomies of day and night, land and water, it doesn’t mean we don’t have dusk or marshes. These binaries aren’t meant to say we have this, that, and absolutely nothing else. As someone who has always most deeply connected to God and my faith in nature, this not only resonated but gave me language to better articulate my experience as a parent of a transgender child. My child is not lacking because she doesn’t fit into what others perceive as the limits (or limitations) of “male and female”; she is no more “less than” or “broken” than we’d consider a sunset or a sunrise when we talk about day and night. Who hasn’t looked at the sky at dawn and wondered at God’s incredible creation? For me, the in-between places at the edge of the water and land are particularly special. They are sacred to me. Ocean waves crashing onto the beach, tiptoeing through a mountain stream, or tromping after my younger children on adventures through the marshland behind our home all involve places where I have felt especially close to God. These are holy places, in between and apart from, simultaneously both and neither. That’s my experience of raising a transgender child and of knowing the most wonderful gender-diverse humans. Rev. Asher O’Callaghan expressed this so beautifully: In the beginning God created day and night. But have you ever seen a sunset!?!? Well trans and non-binary people are kind of like that. Gorgeous. Full of a hundred shades of color you can’t see in plain daylight or during the night.

    Raquel Willis, photo credit Texas Isaiah
    Raquel Willis, photo credit Texas Isaiah

    The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation

    Raquel Willis is an award-winning author, activist, and media strategist dedicated to Black transgender liberation. Her debut memoir, The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation, will be released in November 2023 via St. Martin’s Press.


    January 21, 2017

    Risk it Takes to Bloom CoverNothing could settle my nerves as I stood at the national Women’s March podium just after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. This moment, at the dawn of a new era slated to be considerably more oppressive than the previous one, injected a mix of frustration and stage fright into my veins. It didn’t help that the legendary Angela Davis had just addressed the audience to thunderous applause. How would I follow the brilliance this social justice titan had just shared? And did I even belong here? A twenty-something Black transgender activist from the South who had only recently expanded her local community-organizing lens to a more national one. And what do I make of this crowd? A sea of woolen pink “pussy” hats and varying protest signs nodded to the overarching femaleness of the audience. Most attendees believed that what drew them together was a laundry list of experiences I hadn’t had. I was little more than a mythical creature to them: a woman who, upon emerging from her mother’s womb, hadn’t been assigned a vagina by nature nor designated female by a doctor.

    Despite having traveled a different path to my womanhood, I trusted that we mostly shared similar values and concerns about the direction the United States was heading. Indeed, millions around the world were joining us in protesting the ascent of a most threatening bigot. But I yearned for clarification that people knew Trump and his ilk weren’t animated just by misogyny. No, they drew sustenance from numerous systems of oppression: white supremacy, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, and so much more. This Women’s March couldn’t rebuke just a sliver of his dehumanizing worldview; it needed to address all of it and demonstrate what’s possible when folks across the margins assemble. And the voices of women who had historically been sidelined and undervalued had to serve that purpose. My voice had to serve that purpose.

    I wasn’t alone, though. My mother’s grounding presence helped dissipate the fog of uncertainty that surrounded me. She was a reminder of the radical power of transformation herself— a Southern Black woman born during the Civil Rights Era who had just witnessed a major recall on progress. Bundled up against the frigidity of this new era, her smile had been a source of warmth throughout the morning. That her child would address scores of people had enlivened her. Her love was a given after witnessing every iteration of myself that had ever existed: the observant gender-nonconforming child, the gay teenager who came out despite years of constant bullying, the genderqueer college student first exposed to the complexity of identity, the hopeful trans woman embarking on a journalism career, and now the activist in action. Momma would witness me tell the world what I’d told her many times throughout my life: “I have something to say.”

    I’d racked my brain over every syllable to include in this monumental address, attempting to present a pristine politick. I believed in an intersectional feminism that was anti-colonial, anti-carceral, anti-cisheteropatriarchal, anti–white supremacist, and anti-everything that the United States had recently showed that it still was. My feminism was some unique concoction that could only come from a generation half a century removed from the Stonewall riots, the Black Power era, and the schisms of the second feminist wave. If Alice Walker once said, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” the ideology that sprang forth from my generation of Black trans folks was some deeper undefined tone. Those beliefs fueled me to amplify many who couldn’t tell their stories: Black folks murdered by the State, trans women of color often killed by lovers before the State had their turn, trans youth who couldn’t be their selves at home or at school, and elders who lived in a time when people like us would have been heckled out of such a rally—not invited to address it. But this was a new moment.

    “Give it up for Raquel Willis.” The announcer’s booming voice tore through my reverie, and I relinquished my worries into the harsh January air. With determination, I rooted my feet, cleared my throat, and grabbed on to the podium for dear life.

    “Alright, everyone … I won’t take up too much of your time. I know you are amped and ready.” I served up as quick an introduction as I could per guidance from the event organizers. I explained how my father’s death was the jolt I needed to embrace my gender identity, I nodded to my Southern roots, my mother’s presence, and the trancestors—trans ancestors—who made it possible for me to live authentically. Gratifying bursts of applause merged with my resounding voice, emboldening me.

    I want to stress the importance of us being intentional about inclusion. I think about, historically, trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who lit the fire on the LGBTQIA rights movement, and they were quickly kicked out and erased. They share a common thread with Sojourner Truth, another revolutionary woman, and just like her, Black women, women of color, queer women, trans women, disabled women, Muslim women, and so many others are still asking many of y’all, “Ain’t I a woman?” So as we commit to build this movement of resistance and liberation, no one can be an afterthought anymore. We must hold each other in love and accountability …

    Then, just before I hit the core of my speech, my voice stopped reverberating. Half of the audience’s attention was diverted elsewhere. What’s going on? I whipped my head toward the other side of the stage where an event organizer had been standing. I caught the tail end of her flashing “go ahead” gestures to another staffer. I quickly realized that my microphone had been cut! Panic, rage, uncertainty—I felt it all as I retreated from the podium and the stage.

    As Momma and others tried to soothe me afterward, my mind raced for a solution. My immediate thought, as I absorbed social media posts inquiring about the abrupt end to my speech, was to call out the organizers in real time. But I didn’t per the supportive and wise suggestion of author and activist Janet Mock. Because she was a Black trans woman in the media that I’d admired for years, I knew she was familiar with the resolve it took to control your own narrative. Her words reminded me that I didn’t want to be in the position of being defined by or reduced to this humiliation. So I gleaned whatever lessons I could from the experience: that I needed to look more critically at the movements of which I was a part, that I needed to ensure that I wasn’t relying too heavily on anyone else to platform my voice. Mostly, though, I never forgot the ordeal, I tucked it in my pocket. Whenever I was asked about the event for the next few years, I’d trap the disappointment behind a smile. Nodded whenever anyone mentioned how impressive it was that I’d been asked to speak. As with countless moments throughout my life, I resisted showing the cracks and beingas filmmaker and activist Tourmaline has said—disrespectable, that is intentionally centering my own desires over fitting others’ expectations.

    * * *

    WHEN I STARTED writing The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation, I set out to craft an irrefutable tome about my journey as a Black trans activist navigating progressive social justice movements. Imperceptibly, my fear of being disrespectable crept back up, placing a barrier between me and the page. However, family and friends reminded me that I’d need all the sides and fixin’s for this story to resonate. That guidance sparked a grueling and therapeutic writing experience that required extending much more grace to myself and others. This process gave me permission to be angry, messy, solemn, unresolved, unrighteous, and unsure. It encouraged me to speak and write even when I didn’t have the most flawless take. In fact, throughout this memoir, there are times when all I can do is ask questions with the hope that answers will find me at some other time.

    A well-known short poem influenced the title The Risk It Takes to Bloom. I first heard it as a college freshman when Alicia Keys adapted and recited it for the opening of her fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom. I felt seen by the words. They transported me to my childhood, reminding me of the branches of a neighbor’s Southern magnolia tree that sprawled over our wire fence. When I was out of sight, I’d pull off the velvety flowers and deeply inhale their scent. Sometimes I’d look at the still-closed buds that were more viridescent than porcelain. Like them, I longed for the ability to bloom, opening beautifully and delicately beyond the social expectations that already stifled me.

    While researching this poem, I learned it is often misattributed to writer Anaïs Nin. However, Sky Blue Press, a key publisher of Nin’s works, agrees that Elizabeth Appell maintained a credible claim to the poem in 2013. She’d produced evidence of crafting the piece for a widely published John F. Kennedy University class bulletin while serving as its director of public relations in 1979. Later, the poem appeared on a widely distributed poster in San Francisco through the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and journeyed further from the source for decades.

    Beyond the title, Part I: Rooting is set in Augusta and Athens, Georgia, and delves into my attempts to honor my inner voice regarding gender, race, and sexual orientation. Like many in the LGBTQ+ community, isolation was a key feature of my earliest years. Affirming and authentic narratives about gender-nonconforming, queer, and transgender people eluded me. So I hid my truth, trying to shred up any map that could lead me back to it. In college, I instinctually gravitated toward others whose unapologetically queer natures served as gateways to crucial epiphanies. Experiences of grief, ignorance, and uncertainty seeped into the soil of my life, serving as fertilizer for growth. This is when I most bloomed within.

    Part II: Budding, Part III: Pruning, and Part IV: Blooming couch the personal within the political, traversing my migrations to Monroe and Atlanta, Georgia; Oakland, California; and New York City. Upon graduating from the University of Georgia, I gained my professional footing with a rural newspaper reporter job. There I worked stealth, that is, closeted as a queer trans woman. It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta and found others in Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ+ community that I became an organizer. Those formative organizing experiences fueled my thirst for embracing authentic storytelling as a critical aspect of collective liberation. There is where I most bloomed beyond.

    Each journey in my life has required an openness to the possibility of transformation. Death and tragedy, in particular, have most activated me, defining the hardest and inspiring the most hopeful moments. Throughout the book, I write “letters” to people whose earthly departures have most impacted my life and work. Unfortunately, I could not capture an exhaustive list of those losses. Still, the death of my father, Chester Willis Sr.; the killings of other Black people like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade; the suicides of trans teens like Leelah Alcorn and Blake Brockington; and the deaths of Black trans women like Islan Nettles, Chyna Gibson, Layleen Polanco, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, and countless others forever changed me.

    In this book, I share many of the moments that required taking the thrilling risk of listening to, trusting my convictions. It’s often been daunting and seemingly impossible, but belief in myself and in better conditions has often given me opportunities to bloom. I hope my thoughts and words will encourage you to do the same.

    Chapter 1  

    Four Blue Walls

    I was five years old the last time I felt precious and pure, unencumbered by the restrictions of the world or my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. It was before the world began shouting at me to straighten up, walk differently, speak differently, be different. Then, I was just a child with light-brown, wannabe hazel eyes drawing attention with quiet wonder. On this April evening, the Windsor Spring Elementary School talent show coaxed this seedling from the earth. Onstage in front of a darkened crowd in a lunchroom that doubled as an auditorium, the spotlights shone as I confidently recited a monologue about what I could be when I grew up.

    “And the crowd goes wiiiiiiiiiiiild!” I screamed. In this hypothetical future, I might be a renowned basketball player who’d just made a game-winning shot. Space Jam had recently further cemented Michael Jordan as the main possibility model for little Black boys, so it felt apt. But I was nobody’s athlete in real life. Fright was my natural reaction to objects hurled in my direction. Still, I attempted my best fake layup. Just before the ball whacked the floor, my sister, Jessica, caught it just out of sight backstage. She smiled, encouraging me to keep going. And I turned, realizing that the crowd was waiting for the next line. How could all these people be listening to me? As the soft-spoken youngest of three, I spent most of my time observing older folks’ lives. I loved making sense of them, questioning the motives behind everything they did. I never fought to be heard at home because someone would inevitably address my needs before I ever had to say anything. The most I needed to do was nod.

    My mother, Marilyn, panicked a bit when I brought home the event flyer from school. I can only imagine what she was thinking. After all, I wasn’t some musical prodigy, nor did I fancy performing like the musicians I saw at any moment on MTV in the nineties. The most impressive thing I could do was ride a bike with no training wheels. Of course, that wasn’t a stage-worthy talent. So, Jessica intervened, lending her Virgo insights to craft a concise script. She also cast herself as my mother in the opening and closing sequences. It wasn’t the most outrageous idea. At twelve years my senior, Jessica was frequently mistaken as my mother when we ran errands, probably because she had a way of speaking that left little room for rebuttal. It didn’t bother me because I revered her. She was the one who often shielded me from the teasing of my brother, Chet. Ever the goofball of the family, he showed his love in small, tender moments like when he cracked open Gobstoppers with his molars before I had my own. I loved them both, but I bonded more with Jessica. The connection was easier. I didn’t feel like I was being tested, as if I had to prove something. Whatever she liked, I liked, and it was OK. Spending time with her practicing the monologue and nailing down the blocking was thrilling. Even though my wild mind kept me from meeting my sister’s standards of perfection, I knew I could just look in the wings for support if I got stuck.

    From The Risk It Takes To Bloom, by Raquel Willis.  Copyright © 2023 by the author, and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press.

    Cecilia Gentili, author of Surviving Transphobia
    Cecilia Gentili, Author of Surviving Transphobia

    Surviving Transphobia

    Surviving Transphobia is an anthology by transgender and gender nonbinary celebrities and experts on endurance during times of severe hostility, moments when we were vulnerable, were bullied, had needs dismissed, or were discriminated against, revealing our determination and how we have (sometimes) managed to survive.

    Cecilia Gentili (she/her) is a trans Latina and a fierce activist, a dedicated advocate, a striking actress on the hit TV program Pose, and a sex worker. She has done direct service through The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center and the APICHA (originally the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS) Community Health Center in New York, and later was managing director of policy for the world-renowned GMHC (originally the Gay Men’s Health Crisis). Several years ago she founded Trans Equity Consulting and has collaborated with many major organizations on transgender and gender nonbinary rights. Cecilia is also a founding member of Decrim NY, a coalition working toward decriminalization, decarceration, and destigmatization of people in the sex trade. Cecilia’s memoir, Faltas, was published in late 2022 by Little Puss Press, Inc.

    Excerpt: Surviving Transphobia

    Surviving Transphobia by Cecilia Gentili

    As a child living under state oppression, my family in South America was in constant fear for their lives. Nobody really cared about queer or trans liberation because there wasn’t time and there certainly weren’t resources. I grew up watching American movies showing many types

    of people thriving, living with big backyards, and I truly did not understand what they meant when they showed lives where people could be themselves and be safe.

    Adults who lived through the dictatorship adapted to that life, the opposite of people being themselves. I still have uncles who say, “I wish I still had the dictatorship,” if only for the comfort of understanding what was going on and who was in charge. Now people like me, who were born during the regime, want continued change toward freedom and democracy and to move away from the terrors we saw as children. And now we’ve got kids born post-dictatorship; young people who have no idea about the tyranny and what it meant. Now we have all these different kinds of people living at the same time, and together creating the reality of Argentina today.

    The dictatorship ended in 1983, when I was only twelve years old. Before then, all the “rainbow” identities were hidden. I was shocked with what felt like new discoveries, like “Oh, there’s gay people out there!” or “Wow! You can write about oppression?! I never knew!!” I am the product of that shift from full dictatorship to freedom. I am grateful to know the difference between both extremes when I am reading the paper or working for trans and trans sex worker justice. It shaped me to say, “I don’t want this shit! Never again! I don’t want to live in war! I don’t want my family members to disappear! I don’t want to experience any more loss!” This is easy to scream and shout now, it’s obvious, but back then, I needed to hide.

    My mother, before she died, told me how sorry she was for being so harsh toward me and my fluidity when I was a child. She said, “I want you to know that I was trying to protect you. I knew that if I had just let you be, you would get taken away.” That’s a hard reality to live with because I had so much resentment toward her during my transition and as I became who I am today. At the same time, I have to be grateful to her for not letting me be. She only wanted us to live under the radar and to be safe. I was flamboyant and hard to keep closeted, and the challenge for her only grew a±er I was exposed to new information and ways of being as a teen.

    The experiences with my mother and my mother country have shaped my voice as an activist. In the U.S. LGBTQIA+ world, people say, “Be yourself. Be authentic. Come out and experience freedom,” right? There’s a lot of pressure on me and on our leaders to always be positive and empowering in such a specific way. Well, I respect that narrative, but mine is a little bit different. Reader, whoever you are, maybe because I was born where and when I was, I believe that being yourself is very important. But I prefer you to be alive and in the closet than to be out and dead. This way, you can still fight and enjoy some of life. I say this to trans people, trans women of color, and to trans women of color who are undocumented or sex workers or both, people like me: Do what you can to achieve whatever level of empowerment you can get, but also be safe.

    Negotiating has been one of my primary ways of seeking safety.

    I have spent most of my life as a negotiator, perhaps because of the scarcity of my growing up; lack of safety makes you either a militant or a mediator. I know some people feel differently, but for me, as a trans woman with so many intersections, I’d take a piece of something rather than nothing. I always strive to meet people in the middle, even when they want to set fire to the entire establishment. As I always say, “Let’s not try to burn it down and maybe instead we can make it more adaptable for everybody, okay?” We must do what we can to survive, whatever that means for you. For example: I worked in social services and cared for more than six hundred people. I had clients on hormones who were still going to work as the sex they were assigned at birth because to be their true gender wasn’t safe for them. My role was to say, “Let’s see what we can do. We can help you be yourself in many ways. Maybe you can be on hormones or have surgeries, but not come out at work if you’re going to lose your job.” I helped them make those types of decisions.

    A person shouldn’t have to starve or die to be themselves, and this transphobic society is to blame, not the person trying to find a way to eat. We must remember that not everybody has the privilege to medically and/or socially transition. Sometimes compromises are just necessary.

    So, what makes you feel empowered? What makes you feel safe? How can we get you there?


    I actually have this conversation a lot with my friends. All my idols are more extreme, like Miss Major. My sisters were the ones throwing bricks, disrupting government meetings, and in politicians’ faces. When I’m with my chosen family, they tell me, “Oh, Cecilia, you’re so fucking radical like them!” But I always answer, “No, no! That’s not me! I’m a diplomat!” It’s not sexy, but it’s my truth. I know that maybe I am scared of being seen as radical and that is why I don’t think of myself that way. My uncle in Argentina disappeared; he was really fortunate and came back when not a lot of people did. He confronted the oppressive state and had an aggressive mind. I’ll probably never call myself radical, especially in two countries with such high rates of trans femicide and histories of coups. I’m okay with it. I never want to judge my work by how “radical” I am. But I do judge it on what I’m doing for my people and for myself.

    Schuyler Bailar-credit by Violetta Markelou
    Schuyler Bailar, photo credit Violetta Markelou

    He/She/They: How We Talk about Gender, and Why it Matters

    Schuyler Bailar(he/him) is an educator, author, and advocate. He is also the first transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team. Schuyler also hosts the hit podcast “Dear Schuyler” on gender and culture, and holds a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology from Harvard.

    Chapter 18: Toxic Masculinity from the Lens of a Transgender Man

    He/She/They: How We Talk About Gender and Why It Matters by Schuyler Bailar

    Toxic masculinity embodies multiple guises, mostly selling itself as the ticket to fitting in. And, in my experience, I’ve observed something surprising: engaging in toxic masculinity is not about impressing or courting women but rather is about impressing and fitting in with other men.

    I have often commented that my life has felt like a gender studies class. Never quite fitting in anywhere gave me the privilege of watching from the outside in. When I was a kid, the boys who’d previously been my friends suddenly ditched me, as well as other girls, when they realized that their friendships with us were harmful to their social status among the other boys. I listened as they said degrading things and laughed at horrible jokes around other boys but had been previously very kind and protective of me and others.

    Sadly, I saw these behaviors continue throughout my college years. I observed as guys would wait and watch for each other’s reactions to their jokes, their oversteps, their comments about women—the insecurity and yearning for approval from other men was painfully obvious to me. My suspicions were affirmed twofold: First, I started to find that I felt pressured to engage in what I knew were toxic behaviors, and I witnessed firsthand how doing so could have earned my entry into the mix. Second, as I grew closer with other men in college, I learned that my experience was not unique. Many of my friends who are also men have reported sharing similar feelings.

    It is no coincidence that men are far less likely than women to access any kind of mental health resources, including therapy and medication;4 that men account for 90 percent of domestic violence;5 and that the demographic most likely to die of suicide are middle-aged white men. While suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death for the U.S. population as a whole, it is the seventh leading cause for men. In 2020, men were nearly four times more likely to die by suicide than women.6,7

    Toxic masculinity begins with a deep and inherently human yearning to belong and can end up stripping us of our humanity. As I see it, the most insidious, prevalent, and thereby dangerous toxic masculinity is not solely the violence, murder, or rape, but also the shame and isolation smaller behaviors inspire.

    “Man up,” “Grow a pair,” “Be a man,” “Boys don’t cry,” “Grow up,” “Stop acting like a girl,” “Don’t be a pussy.” These are the seeds for violence and destruction, beginning first with young boys and infecting everyone else.

    So am I arguing that cis white straight men are an oppressed group in society? No, not exactly.

    Free-speech radicalists, as they call themselves, like aforementioned Canadian psychologist and media personality Jordan Peterson, have argued that society is stupid and “alienating young men,” as he told the BBC. “We’re telling them that they’re patriarchal oppressors and denizens of rape culture. It’s awful. It’s so destructive. It’s so unnecessary. And it’s so sad.”8 Although I am sure extremists exist who claim cis white straight men are the sole problem, in reality, Peterson’s assertions are incomprehensive.

    Demanding accountability from men is not awful or destructive; it is absolutely necessary. But, the problem is not cis men; it’s patriarchy, misogyny, and transphobia. The problem is not straight men; it’s homophobia. The problem is not white men; it’s white supremacy. Understanding these distinctions is crucial to dismantling the systems.


    As a transgender man, I have been both a victim of misogyny and toxic masculinity, as well as someone who is now expected to—and sometimes demanded to—be an active participant in perpetuating these systems of oppression. As a result, I, along with other trans masculine folks, have a unique perspective from which we can inspire others to challenge patriarchy and toxic masculinity. We are positioned in a way that lends us power. Although I fought hard to be heard when I was presenting as a woman, I often failed to garner respect from other men. This is not uncommon; men are far more likely to listen to other men—which returns us to my earlier assertion that the performance of toxic masculinity is for other men, in seeking approval, admiration, acceptance, and even love from other men.

    I have decided to step into that and use the privilege I have of being read as male—and my voice therefore deemed valuable—to gather other men on this journey toward gentle masculinity and more wholesome humanity. And I encourage other men to do the same.

    I regularly receive comments from other men that read, “You can’t just say you’re a man,” or, “You’re not a real man,” or, “You can’t just get surgery, that will never change who you are!” And while other facts of ignorance influence these statements, what I recognize most is insecurity.

    The roots of these statements run far deeper than simply not believing in my manhood—if that was the only reason, I struggle to understand why they would be so angered. If the only problem is that I am not man enough for them, so what? This does not pose a true problem or threat to another person unless they have attachments to a specific type of manhood. Which they do. In truth, I expect that my manhood is disturbing not because other men don’t approve of it but rather because it begs of them the necessity to define manhood altogether. And most cis individuals have not been asked to explain the validity of their gender beyond the appearance of their genitals at birth, while trans individuals, by definition, must. Though not formal, the truth of transness can be an invitation to question one’s gender, and thereby question facets of the reality a person has accepted as fact.

    This invitation is unfortunately often rejected. It is frightening—and far easier to denigrate the trans person than it is to step into the questions. Doing so first requires the faith that a person is more than their gendered experience of the world. It then demands undoing all the harmful behavior that we have learned to survive, and we can begin doing so through rejecting toxic masculinity.

    Excerpted from He/She/They: How We Talk About Gender and Why It Matters by Schuyler Bailar. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

    stay tuned!