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The Formation and Aims of the Trans Writers Union
In the summer of 2020, it seemed as though every weekend culture magazine was giving certain writers a platform to bait and needle trans people, or were offering support to those who actively called for our heads. I was writing grant applications and submitting work everywhere at the time, to both Irish and UK journals and arts councils, as well as trying to keep some money coming into the household, and the pressure of all this made me feel as though I was going nuts. The writer James Hudson reached out to me towards the end of summer 2020. He was also fed up and upset and asked if we could do something, like make a union, because there’s no way we’re the only ones feeling like this.
We had a video call and chatted about our experiences and difficulties. James and I already knew each other through the Dublin branch of the Small Trans Library, as well as being two of the handful of trans writers with any kind of mainstream publication record in the Republic of Ireland (others include Anna Loughran and Padraig Regan, two poets from Northern Ireland). We had both completed an MA in Creative Writing in UCD, mine in 2014, his in 2019, and it surprised me that in such a short time, he had read trans fiction and had trans classmates, while I didn’t even know I was trans when
I attended. It was very clear that things were changing quickly, and that we as trans writers needed to know each other. We were exasperated by whisper networks and the fact that we also had nobody to ask about basic things, nobody to confidently message and ask whether a specific journal is run by a transphobe or not, how to write a grant application, how to get published off the back of our work and not our life stories.
We are both at the emerging stage of our careers, and to speak out as an individual was risky, and indeed did not seem to yield any results for me when I tried to do so. And so, we formed the Trans Writers Union. Our principal aims for the union at its inception were:
- to directly ask presses and publishers if they support and are committed to publishing trans people and treating them fairly, and actively working with the union to help foster this.
- to create networks of trans creatives, wherein they can meet and support one another in a hostile industry.
To begin with, we emailed publishers and presses in Ireland and the UK, asking if they would commit to working with the union by providing mentorship, free or reduced fees, and opportunities, and told them we were creating a list of trans writers who are available for festival commissions, to write for newspapers and magazines, and for submission calls.
Some replied positively, and have indeed worked with us in a proactive, heartening manner. Others were non-committal, responding with a simple assurance that they do have a diverse publishing ethos. Others did not respond at all.
We also contacted specific writers and university programs and encountered the same kind of responses. All of these conversations have been made public on our website.
We have forty-two members at present, and this membership is growing. We want the union to be a space for any member to work on something creatively, or to address an issue they feel important, and so we are doing the slow work of getting to know one another and feeling out what our common obstacles and goals are.
We are working across Glasgow and Dublin, with members in the US and all over the UK, and so it is unlikely we will have one physical address. At some point we hope to be able to meet one another in our different branches, but for now we use Zoom, email, and Discord.
I, like many others, have jumped from space to space, trying to find somewhere I can meet people and do things. I want the union to be a space that I can settle into, a place that is slowly growing and will allow people to trust each other and try things out, because as well as our legal and healthcare issues, trans people need to have spaces to sit around and chat, and we need to not rely on friends, dates, or the internet to access basic company and community.
I want to pay attention to and support other trans people in their endeavours, and I want us to write and write to our heart’s content.
(c) Anna Walsh
Note: I do not represent the Trans Writers Union. Rather, the Trans Writers Union represents me, and as such my personal thoughts recorded here do not necessarily speak for other members of the TWU.