I once had the opportunity to listen to a student speak to a major university on the topic of issues faced by transgender students at the university. I don’t remember everything they said, but there was one moment that really stuck out to me.

After a wonderful, beautiful, impassioned appeal by the student, the university replied that all students were afforded fantastic opportunities: the professorial staff was highly valued, there were research opportunities, and chances to learn and do things that might not happen at other institutions. The student looked at the speaker for the university and told them that yes, those opportunities were indeed amazing, but it was very difficult to focus on just settling down and doing research in a lab when that student wasn’t even certain where they could safely use the bathroom.

There was silence after the statement as everyone absorbed what had been said.

The ability to pee in peace is something that a cis person takes for granted. We assume that we can walk into a bathroom that is labeled for the gender we were born with, and we will do our business and move on.

With one simple example, this student had pointed out that the basic needs of their life (from bathrooms and living space to the ability to work with other students without harassment) were distracting and difficult, and potentially unsafe, because of the lack of support. They made their point very clearly and cleanly, and it struck home. Things started to change at the university, and while it may not yet be perfect, it is better.

When I started working on Jordan’s story, and I interviewed friends and did research so that I could understand what he would face in his day to day life, I was almost overwhelmed. There are the issues that everyone sees: bullying, misgendering, disbelief, a lack of understanding. There are the issues of healthcare, where the patient may be treated as their assigned sex, not the person that they are. There are additional issues where they may not be believed, and may be forced into situations which are not only emotionally damaging but potentially unsafe.


Safety was, of course, one issue that stood out in bright relief against everything else, sharp and noticeable. During the novel, Jordan mentions the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which occurs annually on November 20th to memorialize those who have been killed as a result of transphobia. In my backstory notes, Jordan and Maria attended the Day of Remembrance ceremony, and it is obvious within the book that the impact stuck with Jordan. He is aware of what could happen if the boys at his school became aware that he was assigned the female sex at birth. He is aware of what could happen if Maria gets involved with a boy who discovers that she was assigned male at birth.

The scariest part is that safety isn’t just in the presence of strangers. Families can be a danger. And transgender people can be a danger to themselves. I’ve hunted up just a couple of infographics: Stand Up for Trans Youth and Snapshot of Transgender Life. The statistics are scary. They aren’t the same on every report or infographic out there, but there is one truth that comes through: transgender kids are more likely to attempt suicide. Every person has a different reason, but it happens. And it is terrifying to see.

snapshots-of-transgenderSafety, basic human needs… these are all thoughts that Jordan has to have at the forefront of his mind every day. Because the sex he was assigned at birth doesn’t match what he knows to be true, he can’t do what he wants most: simply live his life comfortably like everyone else. Jordan is constantly being judged, even if only in his own mind and fears. He is constantly wondering if he passes, and then trying to figure out what to do in order to ensure that he does pass. He can’t simply use the bathroom: he has to somehow use the men’s room when his body isn’t equipped to pee like the rest of the boys, and deal with the ridicule that he gets for constantly using a stall. He can’t just change in the middle of the locker room and shower with the other boys for gym; he uses a changing room and accepts the rumors that he has embarrassing scars rather than risk his schoolmates discovering the truth. His parents don’t want him to date, because physical intimacy is a risk.

And of course, Jordan is just one person, and fictional at that. Not every transgender person faces the same issues, and also not every person is of a binary gender, which adds another layer of complication over the issues. The world is still trying to understand the idea that gender and sex do not have to match.

The good news is that the world is changing. It’s slow. Achingly slow. But in the example above, the university didrespond to the issues once they were aware of them. They can’t be fixed immediately, but steps can be taken and over time, the situation will improve.

For another example… when I was a child, I had no concept of anything other than being the gender I was born with. Boys in skirts were a complete unknown (or an oddity, I’m embarrassed to say now, when I first met someone who didn’t subscribe to the simple gender binary). Boys were boys, and girls were girls, and I had never heard the word transgender.

The other day I was working on blog posts about If We Shadows while sitting in the locker room at my dojang. One of the younger students (S) came in while she was waiting for her younger sister, and she sat down next to me to ask what I was doing. I replied that I was working on things for my book, and of course, being curious, she asked what it’s about.

body-chartI don’t talk down to kids. I’ve never talked down to mine, and I don’t believe in talking down to any kids unless I need to leave something out because it’s not age appropriate. So I gave her the rundown on the book, starting with it’s about Jordan, a transgender boy. She absorbed that, then quietly said that means he was born a girl but he’s really a boy, right? I confirmed that, and the questions she asked were good ones. She was worried about how kids can be cruel, how boys who wear dresses would be bullied. She admitted that she didn’t understand it, but that she didn’t want to see bullying happen either.

The important thing was, S was aware of what it means in ways I never even had a clue about as a child. My own children are aware. It’s not a big sample, I know, but it does show that as a society, even if not all the attitudes are perfect yet, education is happening. S had a friend with her that night, and she took care to make sure her friend (who had never heard the term transgender) took the time to understand the concept.

As Puck says: Fear lies within that which thou knowst know, but that which is known cannot be feared.

The world turns slowly, but education is happening. I hope that some day my friends, and those that come after, can grow into a world where they don’t have to think about the specifics of meeting the basic needs of life, and they don’t have to worry that their gender not matching their assigned sex will result in them being the victim of a hate crime. Some day, everyone will be able to just be. And until then, I hope that we can all support those who need it, and remember that we are who we are, no more and no less.

Born female, all Jordan wants is to slip under the radar and live the last year of high school as a boy. His parents and siblings support him, but he’d rather be recognized for his acting and musical talents than his gender issues.

When Shakespeare’s Puck gives him three magical potions—true sight, true seeming, and true love—Jordan discovers being true to himself isn’t as simple as he thought.

IfWeShadowsFSIf We Shadows
Harmony Ink Press

Born female, all Jordan wants is to slip under the radar and live the last year of high school as a boy. His parents and siblings support him, but he’d rather be recognized for his acting and musical talents than his gender issues.

When Shakespeare’s Puck gives him three magical potions—true sight, true seeming, and true love—Jordan discovers being true to himself isn’t as simple as he thought.

Jordan must navigate the confusion of first love, a controversial role in the fall musical, and his transgender identity, while fairy magic creates a net of complications over everything he does. In order to unweave the spells laid over his friends—his supportive older brother, James, his playwright friend, Pepper, and Maria, another transgender student—Jordan needs to understand exactly how far he’ll go to reach his goals of finding true love, true sight, and true seeming.

About the Author:

When D.E. Atwood was in second grade, she finally grew tall enough to see the shelf above the mysteries in the bookmobile. She discovered a rich landscape of alternate worlds, magic, and space and has never looked back from the genres of fantasy and science fiction.

When she was twelve, she declared that she was going to be a writer and share the stories that she saw happening all around her. She wanted to create characters that others would care about and that would touch their lives, like the books that she read had touched her own life.

Today she has combined her interests, creating genre stories about the people who live next door, bringing magic into the world around us.

When not writing, D.E. Atwood is a mother (to two children, a cat, and a dog), a wife, a reader, a knitter, a systems administrator, almost a black belt in tae kwon do, and a music aficionado. Sleep, she claims, is optional.