The Will to Change: Book Club Wave

By eli berry st. john

Not many people are blessed to live a life of ever-expanding gender presentation and performance, a life where you have experienced being treated as man, woman, and sometimes neither, but an anomaly of gender. As a trans masculine person who liberated myself from the confines of gender conformity under white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist expectations at the age of 27, I found joy and fear in the opportunity to develop the boi, the boy, and the sometimes man I would be navigating through the world as. I would often reflect on the memories I have of men in my life and those I have encountered, in hopes of finding possible models for the kind of man of transgender experience I desired to be. On that journey I discovered Black feminism and womanism. While reading literature by authors Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks, to name a few, I began facilitating healthier masculinities workshops and a political education group for men of trans experience (as well as gender non-conforming people) to explore [toxic] masculinity and strategize practices for developing and sustaining healthier masculinities. It was around this time that a dream formed of creating a book club for guys like us. Specifically, a space for us to engage in multiple forms of media and continue to build on the blueprint of possibilities of anti-patriarchal masculinity in practice. 

A group of thirty Black trans men signed up for the book club, and between eight and sixteen would show up to our bi-weekly meetings. I developed a note taking system that included questions for us to think about going into the meeting, as well as media specifically by Black trans men that helped bring the chapter to life and make it relatable. During our meetings we would spend time drawing connections from our experience to hooks’ examination on the role patriarchy played in the stages of mens’ lives from babyhood, to boyhood, to manhood. We discovered as a group that we are unique because we are of few whose lives encompass multiplicity of the gender experience from youth. Beyond being misgendered, there is a material reality of how people assess gender and act accordingly. 

When hooks wrote this book, we are sure she was not talking about her experience with men of trans experience. This book club allowed us to share our stories with one another while engaging in Black feminist literature to guide and facilitate our desire to build networks of men sharpening anti-patriarchal practices of manhood, while also building a critical and political analysis around gender and power. We took thorough notes, recorded some meetings, and talked about long-term and short-term possibilities for how we don’t only have these conversations amongst ourselves but make our findings accessible to others. We discussed developing an anthology, as well as possibly developing anti-patriarchal focused media as a group. The book club isn’t just about theorizing, but taking steps to make tangible changes in our community. This activity has provided an opportunity for connection. There have been participants of the book club that did not know one another prior and now spend time together doing activities like camping, roller skating, fishing, and more. This is the will to change.

About the author: Eli is an adventurous social butterfly working with Black trans-led initiatives building community through love and learning, focusing on creating tools for community survival and sustainability. He values connecting with Black trans people globally in a united fight for liberation.

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