By Jeff Walsh
"Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers" tells two stories, the story of young minority trans girls coming to terms with themselves in Los Angeles, and author Cris Beam's journey from being someone who ran away from her own mother at a young age who becomes the foster mother of Christina, the main subject of the book. Cris and I recently chatted about how she started writing this book, what it taught her, and what she hoped people could learn from it.
The thing that was interesting to me in the book was... as much as I work with youth, it's all online, so there's a built-in distance. And reading your book, there was no way I would have been able to deal with everything. It was way too much drama for me.
Yeah, there was a lot of drama.
Was that something you had to learn to deal with, or do you just have a better tolerance than me?
There was a lot of drama, for sure. When Christina came to live with us, I was certainly overwhelmed a lot of the time, and made a lot of mistakes. So, it was definitely tough. I got used to it gradually, I think, because I was teaching at the school. So, I acclimated in a way.
By Jeff Walsh
When I went to the San Francisco stop on the book tour for Cris Beam's "Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers," I got a chance to chat with Christina, the trans girl Beam primarily wrote about in her book. While Beam was busy signing books, we went outside on Castro Street for a quick chat for Oasis. Having read about the shy, withdrawn Eduardo in the book, it was certainly a much different story being with the boisterous Christina, who had such a great energy about her:
So, you first met Cris when you were how old?
I was around... 15? 14? It was briefly that I met her at the school, the first time. As she explained, I was always running off. I never wanted to be in class. I was just not a school for learning. Everybody was doing their own thing, having their CD players, going to the computer room. The teacher was never, like, around so...
What kept you showing up at all?
Exactly, huh? When I could have hung out anywhere else? I think the fortunate thing was my parents were always implementing education on me? And even though they weren't demonstrating how, because my parents never graduated, or completed junior high.. so it just gave me a reason to keep on going. I wanted to prove how good I can be.
This is my first draft of my GLM piece, about self discovery and how it applies to my parents. All feedback is welcome! And Pat, when I'm done fiddling about with it, I'll send it in. :D
By Jeff Walsh
In Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (read excerpt), Cris Beam delivers a compelling glance into the transgender underbelly of Los Angeles, where primarily black and Latina trans girls (biological boys who identify as female) struggle with their identity, their families, their lack of money, and ultimately themselves as they pursue what to them feels natural.
When I started reading the book, my impression was it was going to be a non-fiction book in the tradition sense, where Beam becomes a fly on the wall, like a nature documentarian observing her subjects from a close enough distance to know their essence but not affect their natural patterns. This isn't that book. Beam herself refers to it as a memoir, to dispel any notions otherwise. From the very beginning, Beam plants herself in the book, first as a volunteer teacher at a run-down school for gay youth in Los Angeles, and through the book as a gatherer of their stories, their mentor, friend, and ultimately, one of the girls' foster mother.
Is anyone else on here transgender/transsexual?
The following is an excerpt from the book "Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers" by Cris Beam, Published by Harcourt, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
Here’s what you see when you drive down Los Angeles’s Santa Monica Boulevard just east of La Brea: a 7-Eleven, a Shakey’s Pizza, a low concrete building with fish painted on the side, and a taco stand. There’s a Chinese takeout place and a triple-X video rental shop, a filling station, and four lanes of traffic, two in each direction. Old people waiting for the bus. Young mothers dragging children in flip-flops. A discount dollar store, a Laundromat, and a bunch of teenagers standing around and smoking. If you stare for more than a minute, you may note that most of these teenagers are girls, and that they’re more ethnically varied than other cliques in this segregated town. But that’s it. Santa Monica Boulevard’s got the sun-bleached, chain-store feeling of most of L.A.
If you’re a transgender girl (meaning you were born male but live as a female), you might notice something extra along this stretch of Santa Monica. It’s here that you’ll find girls trading secrets about how to shoot up the black-market hormones purchased from the swap meets in East L.A. If the hormones don’t work fast enough to manifest your inner vision of wider hips and C cups, you can find out about “pumping parties” out in the Valley, where a former veterinarian or a “surgeon’s wife” from Florida will shoot free-floating industrial-grade silicone into hips, butts, breasts, knees -- even cheeks and foreheads. Of course, this is dangerous when the oils shift and form hard lumps in the armpits and thighs, but you’ll look good for a while.
This is awkard since I've never brought up the subject to anyone before. I've always kept it to myself, but it bothers me a lot. Sometimes I wonder if I do want to be a man. But, the penis absolutely disgusts me. And, I'd rather have sex with a woman as a woman. It's just that, even though I know I won't have a sex change, I wonder if there is a part of me that does want it.
I'm a 16 year old female who feels trapped in my own body. I feel like there was a mistake with me being born female, I'm supposed to be a man. I am a man, just not physically. And I'm struggling. I've recently come out to my therapist, to my mom and to some of my friends. There is no question in my mind how I am supposed to have been, I have felt this way all my life, for as long as I can remember. In the privacy of my room I would be a boy, and around others I was a girl because they would never believe I was a boy. It got worse once I hit puberty. I would look in the mirror and wonder why I was made this way, that it was all a big mistake.