We had a time: Memories of The Workshop (essay)

 It’s a hot, late summer afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sitting in the corner of my favorite coffee shop drinking iced turmeric tea, remembering, wishing I wasn’t here. All I can think about is being with them, my new friends — my sisters — back in Brooklyn, New York, all over again. Life there made sense, if only for a moment. If I only had a T.A.R.D.I.S, I would fly back in an instant.

Something amazing happens when suddenly girls like me, girls like us, are the default setting. And for at least 26 of us, for one amazing week, we were.



Two weeks ago, Topside Press hosted the first ever week-long trans women writer’s workshop in New York City, the heart of the publishing world. More than two dozen trans women from all over the country came together to read stories, provide feedback, share their unique experiences, talk about the meaning of our lives, and hold each other’s broken but beautiful hearts.

When I first heard about ‘The Workshop’ in May, I was immediately compelled to apply. Trans women writing together? Hanging out in a small space? In New York City? All expenses paid? SIGN ME UP NOW. As a writer and as a queer, unemployed trans woman in a small town, I had been craving community with other creative women who already shared a frame of reference with me. While I have a supportive family that was always willing to read my work, there was always a nervousness I carried in sharing it. “What will they think of me?” I would wonder anxiously. “Am I sharing too much this time? What will I need to explain, to clarify, for them to understand? To relate to me and my strange story?”

For once in my life, I just wanted to bring the shield down and show up with my whole heart. I wanted to be seen without explanation, without caveat or question. And while the relationships with my various families have always been real and authentic, I had reached a point in my life where it wasn’t enough. I needed to be more than just the auntie, the sister, the cousin, the daughter. I needed to simply be — and that meant surrounding myself with other women who I didn’t need to explain anything to. They would just get it.

And so, the Universe granted my wish.

My first day in Brooklyn was spent with one of the participants in the emergency room. We kept each other company and held each other’s hearts, being likely the only two trans women in the entire facility.

That’s not to say it was easy. It wasn’t at all. Not everybody’s needs could always be met, and that was brutal on my heart as The Workshop’s accessibility coordinator. Racism, white supremacy, ableism, and classism all played out in their own ways, like it always does when you have a group of different people intersecting together. And then there’s the unspoken part — how trans women as a whole are some of the most abused and mistreated members of American society. All of us came with baggage. Sometimes, we hated each other. Sometimes, we were the mean girls. Sometimes, we were left out, or even left behind.

One student in Casey Plett’s class is making notes about her story.

But what happened in that week was nothing short of extraordinary. For me, I witnessed a group of women loving each other for everything that they ever were and ever will be. I experienced compassion, understanding, and hope in a way I’ve never felt before. I heard stories of girls who had been to hell and back, but were still brave enough to put it on the page. Sometimes what they wrote was fiction, sometimes what they wrote was not, but all of it was real. Every single word.

You see, when trans women are finally given a chance to fully shed their armor, a magic more powerful than anything comes to life. Beneath the lives of girls like us, there exist worlds that breach the fantastic and the tragic. More often than not, we carry a heart that has been broken open wider than most people will ever know. But in that brokenness comes great gifts: empathy, vulnerability, and a profound love for ourselves and each other that may be deeper than all of time and space. To be at the epicenter of that kind of magic for seven days…. I still don’t even know how to explain it to anyone who wasn’t there. I’m not sure if I ever will.

One magical night, I held hands and sang childhood songs in the grass with a new friend in the Workshop. It was one of the most memorable moments of my week.

Perhaps for me, this was what the Workshop was truly about. Yes, it was imperfect, but in the end, it succeeded in its mission. There is at least one trans woman who knows somewhere deep down, despite the painful, cissexist world she grew up in, that she belongs, that she is good, and that she is loved. That woman is me — and for once in my life, I know that I am not alone.