‘I want them to have an experience of being celebrated’: Booked plans a Transgender Day of Visibility party for youth


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Eli Cooper-Nelson, the general manager of Booked, is planning a party for Transgender Day of Visibility during the queer book club he runs.

Aviva Bechky, Assistant City Editor

Eli Cooper-Nelson will hang up streamers in the blue, pink and white colors of the transgender pride flag and balloons in the yellow, white, purple and black of the nonbinary flag this week.

He’s turning Booked, a children’s and young adult bookstore on Evanston’s Main Street, into a celebration for Transgender Day of Visibility Friday at 4 p.m. 

“I just really want these young people to have the opportunity to, rather than being celebrated or uplifted in the context of trauma, just take the trauma part out of the picture and only be celebrated,” said Cooper-Nelson, the general manager at Booked.

TDOV, which is celebrated annually on March 31, aims to honor trans and nonbinary people and their accomplishments, as well as raise awareness of the work still necessary to achieve justice. The party at Booked will occur during a meeting of QueerLit, a book club Cooper-Nelson runs. QueerLit meets twice a month and features books with LGBTQ+ characters for 6th to 9th graders.

In the past, Cooper-Nelson said he had mixed feelings about TDOV, because he and other trans people often have to do the work of telling cis people to uplift trans voices.

“I’m excited to feel like I have a purpose with this day,” he said. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner. A party is the obvious way to go.”

Funded by donations from the community, including contributions by Evanston Pride, Booked will give out free pronoun pins from niceLena & Friends during the event. Attendees will also be able to pick up a selection of books for free, including the graphic novel “Magical Boy” by Vincent Kao, which features a trans boy named Max.

Kao, a Skokie-based illustrator and graphic novelist who goes by The Kao professionally, will also attend the party, where he’ll teach participants to make zines. 

“I want to show them it’s possible — if you wanted to make a story about yourself transitioning or being in the LGBT community, it’s possible for you to to make a book,” Kao said. “I hope to encourage and influence and inspire new artists to create their own stories.”

Cooper-Nelson said he has been blown away by attendance at QueerLit, which launched at the beginning of the month. He typically opens meetings with a silly question — like “would you rather have Cheetos for fingers or cheese blocks for feet?” — before doing a craft project like making bookmarks with the kids spread out on the floor, talking about the book and their lives.

He also checks in about how participants feel about current events, considering the ongoing attacks against queer and trans kids happening throughout the U.S.

Silas Smith, an eighth grader, said he’s enjoyed having serious discussions about queer rights and microaggressions while also having time for jokes.

“If every single conversation we had was about those really deep, intense topics, I would probably get more emotionally drained,” he said. “I’m glad that we take time to just talk about random funny things that happened in our lives.”

Smith said he was especially excited about the party because it will celebrate the people who fought for him to be where he is today.

At the end of the book club meetings, Cooper-Nelson said the students look around the store for their next read.

“In general, our policy as a children’s bookstore is, come and read the book and put it back on the shelf,” he said. “So after our meeting is officially done, it leaves some nice fun time to basically have these young people take off every queer book on our shelves.”

Cooper-Nelson said Booked always gives away the current QueerLit book for free because he wants kids to be able to own books with queer and trans characters.

“I’m thrilled to get to know these young people,” he said. “And what better way to show them how appreciated and valuable they are than to throw them a party?”

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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