Guest Post by Ching-In Chen

In 2019, Jennifer Chang invited me to give a Secret History talk for the 2nd Asian American Literature Festival in Washington, DC. The idea was to showcase little-known writers and artists. In all the classes I had taken–from K-12, to graduate school, to even community workshops–I had never been asked to read the work of a trans, nonbinary, intersex, or gender-expansive writer, and I wanted to change that.

Addressing an audience full of educators, curators, and others who care about Asian American literature, I used the talk as a provocation. How many Asian trans diasporic writers had they included in their syllabi, or among the artists they’ve curated? Based on their incredible response, I realized that my experience is still the norm today.

That provocation led to an opportunity to create a program for the 2023 Asian American Literature Festival, which sparked the idea for the Trans and Nonbinary Reading Room. I was invited to research and gather a list of books by Asian diasporic trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive writers. The Asian American independent bookstore Loyalty Bookstores planned to purchase copies of the books to showcase and highlight throughout the Festival via a pop-up Trans and Nonbinary Reading Room. In addition, I had planned readings, conversations, and performances to showcase Asian diasporic trans authors on the list. 

The Trans and Nonbinary Reading Room never happened because the Asian American Literature Festival was canceled when the Smithsonian pulled its funding just a few weeks before the event without any community input. Right before the cancellation, the staff was asked to prepare a document about possible controversial programs during the Festival – and the Trans & Nonbinary Reading Room was on the list. 

We were never given a clear answer about the reasons for the cancellation, but we were determined to not let a big institution cancel us without community input.

I sent a message to the authors who were on the Trans and Nonbinary Reading List as well as those trans and nonbinary authors who were scheduled to participate in the Festival, pulling folks together to organize community support in pressuring the Smithsonian and in deciding next moves to amplify Asian diasporic trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive voices.

From the list of authors, we slowly formed an organizing committee, including Chrysanthemum, Yanyi and Noah Arhm Choi, and River 瑩瑩 Dandelion later joined the team.

We created a website, Reorienting Reads, which could serve as a public archive of writers and cultural workers. To support the work, we organized a Unghosted reading with the aim of showcasing some of the writers from the Reading Room list and fundraise for the website and resources.

Our ultimate goal is to develop resources for educators, librarians, and readers. 

Here are the pledges we are asking for:

  1. Educators: to pledge to teach at least one book or chapbook by an Asian diasporic trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive writer
  2. Curators: to pledge to curate and pay at least one Asian diasporic, trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive cultural artist in your programming this year
  3. Readers (community members): to pledge to request that your local library purchase at least one book or chapbook by an Asian diasporic trans, nonbinary, and gender-expansive writer

As we build, we invite you to join us!

Photo Credit: Cassie Mira

Ching-In Chen is author of “The Heart’s Traffic: a novel in poems and recombinant” (2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry) as well as chapbooks to make black paper sing and “Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters” (Leslie Scalapino Finalist). Chen is co-editor of “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist,” a Massage Parlor Outreach Project core member, a Kelsey Street Press collective member and an Airlie Press editor.