Transmasculine Alliance Chicago Book Group celebrates its one-year anniversary


Illustration by Hank Yang

Hosted by Evanston Public Library, Transmasculine Alliance Chicago Book Group meets every month to discuss selected works by trans authors.

Sarah Aie, Reporter

When Chicago resident Aron Marie came out as queer several years ago, reading books centering queer stories helped him understand who he was. 

But up until a year ago, Marie had never read a book featuring a transgender character. He had watched movies and television shows telling trans stories, but said those portrayals felt “very narrow and very limited.” 

Last November, Marie, a self-proclaimed book nerd, decided to seek out more meaningful representation by starting a virtual monthly book club highlighting books by and for trans communities. 

“I really just want to have a chance to see what books written by trans folks about trans folks look like,” Marie said. 

Transmasculine Alliance Chicago is a peer-led community group for people assigned female at birth who identify as a trans man, transmasculine, non-binary or are questioning their gender. Through the organization, Marie connected with Pim Halka, the exhibits and creative programs library assistant at the Evanston Public Library. Together, they created T-MAC Book Group, a book club geared toward transmasculine individuals and open to assigned female at birth trans, gender nonconforming, non-binary and questioning adults.

Now, T-MAC Book Group is gearing up to celebrate its one-year anniversary later this month. Halka said ze has enjoyed the culture that has built up between group members as they bond around books.

To zir, it’s proven meaningful to experience a casual gathering space where transmasculine and non-binary readers can bond outside of formal spaces organized for pride events.  

“It’s really heartening to just come together regularly to celebrate our own art and culture, and not exclusively around something like Pride or Trans Day of Remembrance or Trans Day of Visibility,” Halka said. “To just come and get to know each other better and by getting to know each other better, build culture.”  

T-MAC Book Group meetings are held every fourth Friday of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Meetings are promoted on Transmasculine Alliance Chicago social media channels, including Facebook and Discord, and usually attract between four and 10 attendees.

The group meets over Zoom, which Marie and Halka said was a deliberate choice to make meetings as accessible as possible. Meeting in a virtual space eliminates barriers like transportation, although lack of consistent internet connection can present a problem. 

Each meeting begins with introductions and a check-in activity. Then, attendees participate in an informal popcorn-style discussion of the month’s book, which Marie said often leads to animated conversation about all manner of subjects.

“In general, conversation has never stalled out,” Marie said. “Trans folks reading books by trans authors — there are a lot of things to unpack and a lot of things to discuss so generally, it’s a pretty lively meeting.” 

Attendees vote on future book selections at the end of every meeting. Members can also add to a running document of past book titles and future suggestions. So far, the club has read a variety of genres, including nonfiction, poetry and a graphic novel. 

In January, the book club read Julian Jarboe’s “Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel,” a collection of 16 stories ranging from body-horror fairy tales to mid-apocalyptic Catholic cyberpunk. 

Through the library’s connections, Halka invited Jarboe to attend the meeting. Jarboe, whose book tour was canceled due to the pandemic, said they were already looking for alternative virtual events, so when this opportunity came they were excited to speak to a trans audience. 

“I don’t need to talk about things like trans voices as this abstract force,” Jarboe said. “We can just talk about the stories. It’s not necessarily that a trans audience understands exactly what I’m doing, either. It’s that their interpretations just are going to be surprising in more complicated ways that I find really exciting to talk about.” 

Jarboe spoke to the group about the book’s allegories and influences before participating in the discussion. While many stories include queer and trans characters, Jarboe said they were also interested in writing about disability, monstrosity and science fabulism — a type of science-fiction that incorporates Italo Calvino-esque fantasy. 

Attendees also examined the way Jarboe integrates themes of religion and spirituality, something Marie said many trans people grapple with throughout their lives. 

“I was just really delighted to be able to visit with the book club,” Jarboe said. “I think of it as probably one of my favorite alternative book tour stops.” 

This month’s book selection is Nick Krieger’s “Nina Here Nor There,” a contemporary memoir about the author’s gender awakening after moving to San Francisco. 

Prior to starting his own list, Marie said he had difficulty finding collections of trans stories by trans authors. He said lists of LGBTQ+ books often led to literature featuring cisgender characters. 

“When you search LGBT books, you’re not necessarily getting trans-specific books,” he said. “Certainly, there’s a lot of overlap in communities, a lot of folks within trans communities also identify as queer. But there are differences in experience.” 

The group’s running document is part of its larger goal of increasing access to trans books through public libraries. The Evanston Public Library obtains digital copies of every T-MAC Book Group selection and often orders physical copies as well, Halka said.

“This program has been helpful to bring to light independently published, but also in-community popular trans voices that otherwise just wouldn’t have been in the collection,” ze said. 

Moving forward, Halka said ze hopes to hold more virtual author talks and build diversity within the club. 

Marie said he is proud to have found the 12 books the club has read so far, and is excited about the growing field of trans literature. 

“You don’t come to know yourself or to know your identity in a vacuum,” Marie said. “We’re always sort of looking for things that we can connect with in broader society. And being able to just see yourself represented in literature is a really powerful thing.”

Book club attendees can register for future meetings here.

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Twitter: @sarahaie_