Gender Exorcists

by Marty Kezon

The title came easily. It took only a few minutes of brainstorming before one of the quieter participants spoke up to offer a potential name for our poetry book: “What if we call it ‘Gender Exorcists’?” The group’s excitement was immediate, and the consensus unanimous.

This moment came during a recent book group at TransWorks, a Chicago House program that advances employment and work opportunities for trans and nonbinary individuals. Since the fall of 2016, Literature for All of Us has partnered with TransWorks to weave the book group model into their six-month long mentorship cohorts. During monthly meetings, LFAOU’s book group becomes a way for each cohort to build community, connect around urgent issues, and engage with the work of trans and nonbinary writers.

In our groups, we’ve read poems from Make Love to Rage by Morgan Robyn Collado and discussed the transformative possibilities of anger and writing. We’ve read from Janet Mock’s memoir Surpassing Certainty, a rich and vibrant testament to one woman’s changing relationship with intimacy. Reading from Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon’s collaborative project Gender Failure, we’ve considered our own experiences of gender failure—which are, in truth, moments to celebrate. As one of our participant’s poems tells us: “there is no gender failure / because gender is the one that failed me.”

At LFAOU, we value both the ritual of writing and the power of seeing one’s words typed, printed, and bound in a physical book. For each of our groups, we assemble a poetry book full of participant writing with that impact in mind. One of our favorite moments from the most recent TransWorks cohort was passing out copies of Gender Exorcists to members of the group during our final meeting. We spent time poring over the book and then offered space for participants to read aloud from work they’d written over the course of the program. A few days later, some even chose to read their writing in front of an audience at a TransWorks poetry event hosted by the Center on Halsted.

We all have learning to do around gender identity. Since every person’s relationship to their gender is distinct, listening is a tool we must use again and again to acknowledge each other’s dignity. To that end, we encourage you to engage with and support the lives, voices, and stories of trans and nonbinary folks however you can. One easy way is it to purchase some of the texts mentioned above. Read them. Study them. Keep them on the bookshelves in your living room, or pass them on to loved ones. Support trans and nonbinary artists and organizations like TransWorks and LFAOU that are working to center the experiences of these communities. We have much work still to do—and room for many more to become Gender Exorcists.

(If some of the language around gender identity used above is new to you—or if you’d just like to learn more—we invite you to explore these topics further. Here is one resource to get you started, with many links for continued reading: