20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“To go back and revisit the most difficult things I’ve experienced, and to try to process them in a way that will be compelling but not cheap… that’s challenging for me.” Trystan Reese is an established thought leader, educator, speaker, and the founder of Collaborate Consulting, which provides customized training in diversity, equity, and inclusion for individuals, organizations, and communities interested in social justice. A professionally trained anti-racism facilitator, he has been organizing within the trans community for nearly two decades. He is a 2021 Lambda Literary Fellow and has been featured in The Moth, People, and BuzzFeed. He is married to his partner Biff and they live in Portland, Oregon with their three kids: Lucas, Hailey, and Leo. His memoir, How We Do Family: From Adoption to Trans Pregnancy, What We Learned about Love and LGBTQ Parenthood, is available everywhere now.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Trystan for this week’s 20 Questions, where he told me all about his memoir, his creative process, what he’s been reading lately, why being honest without being petty is a challenge, and so much more.
Growing up, did you always want to be a writer?
Weirdly, I always remember having an internal voice telling and retelling the events of my life, as if I was an author who was writing a memoir. But that never translated into me saying I wanted to be a writer or even knowing consciously that one day I might be one. It happened kind of accidentally!
If you could pick one author that’s inspired you the most, who would it be and why?
Jeanette Winterson, for sure. Her ability to write mythology, memoir, short story, young adult, historical fiction, and so many other genres—with such rich poeticism—has always inspired me.
What compelled you the most to commit your story of trans pregnancy and LGBTQ parenthood to paper?
I spend most of my waking hours talking to people—answering questions, responding to social media posts, training others. I thought that perhaps if I wrote a book, I would be able to reach more people than I could on my own! My hope is that people who aren’t able to reach me live could read the story and still get something out of it.
Favorite book of all-time?
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
My friend Andrew Solomon, for sure. He is so incredibly thoughtful with his word choices, and I know I would sound much more accomplished and grandiose if he wrote it!
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald. I’ve read the paper version three times and listened to the audiobook once. I’ve listened to his interview (and re-interview) on the podcast The Nod more times than I can count. He is a truly brilliant thinker, writer, and leader—I feel like I learn something completely earth-shattering and new every time I revisit his work.
What time of day are you most inspired?
It depends on the day! The muse ebbs and flows—there are days when I feel more inspired and days when I feel less inspired. I try to block out my schedule such that I’m able to disappear every once in a while when the need strikes, so I can get my writing done when it feels most natural to me.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
Being honest but not petty. There is a fine line between “these people in my life are trash” and “I take full responsibility for my role in this unhealthy dynamic,” and it’s hard to find that line sometimes! No one wants to hear a writer take cheap shots at others, but no one wants to hear them give people too many passes either. To go back and revisit the most difficult things I’ve experienced, and to try to process them in a way that will be compelling but not cheap… that’s challenging for me.
Favorite social media app?
Instagram, I suppose! I rarely use Facebook at all these days—it’s simply not a safe place for transgender people. I am working to build my own community platform that will hopefully give me the opportunity to share and be in relationship with others, while completely avoiding to toxicity of existing social media structures.
Your memoir, How We Do Family, deals largely with the ever-persisting discrimination against trans people and families—among other things. In what ways do you believe we still have a long way to go in eliminating that stigma as a culture?
The fight against transphobia must continue to persist on all fronts: cultural, legal, systemic, and more.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone.
The last series you binge-watched?
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self?
I don’t believe in this type of question. I cannot give my younger self advice because I’m not younger anymore, and I believe I am where I am today because of the choices I made.
Favorite movie of all-time?
What’s your current read?
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. Saeed is hosting this year’s Lambda Literary Retreat for Non-Fiction, which I am honored to be participating in. I wanted to get to know his work before joining him for this writer’s retreat.
As a writer and artist, what would you say is the best way to rest or decompress?
Being in nature without cell service.
Summer or winter? Do you prefer the heat or the cold?
I love the hot!
The most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Swam with dolphins.
One thing that’s been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Nothing—I have not stayed sane throughout the pandemic.
What can we expect to see next from you?
More storytelling, I hope!
Follow Trystan Reese on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and find his memoir How We Do Family wherever books are sold.