Episode 4: Gender on the Page

Time-Stamped Show Notes

[0:00] – SEGMENT ONE: Turiya Autry, writer, performer, and educator, is vocal about women’s issues.

  • [1:10] – In early 2015, Turiya wrote and produced a one-woman show called Roots, Reality, and Rhyme.

[2:09] – Intro: This is our Gender: Part 2 episode. We tell stories about gender representation in the writing world.

[3:26] From the Margins theme intro.

[4:06] – SEGMENT ONE continued: Turiya lived through multiple traumas as a child. Her one-woman show helped her come to terms with her past. 

  • [6:10] – For a lot of women and nonbinary people, gender means violence.
  • [8:00] – Digging into her personal experiences helped strengthen Turiya’s relationships with both women and men.
  • [9:28] – Turiya describes the difference between talking about abuse abstractly and speaking about her personal experiences with it.
  • [10:40] – There are many factors in the decisions made within a domestic violence relationship.
  • [11:32] – Unconditional love is important in womanism and feminism.
  • [12:02] – Part of what feminism is really about is, “How do we heal?”

[12:35] – SEGMENT TWO: A 2015 survey by Lee & Low Books estimates that the publishing industry overall is made up of 78 percent cis women and 21 percent cis men. However, at the executive level, it breaks down to 59 percent cis women and 40 percent cis men. Only about 10 percent of the staff at Girl Friday are men. We hear from Dave Valencia, the only man at our Seattle office.

  • [14:10] – Being the only man at Girl Friday did not feel like that big of a deal to Dave.
  • [14:47] – Dave reflects on how the environment at Girl Friday feels unique.

[17:14] – SEGMENT THREE: We interview Ryka Aoki, a transgender woman who is an author, poet, and teacher.

  • [18:24] – Ryka believes writing is a gift not only to herself but also to others who need to hear relatable stories.
  • [19:34] – “Perhaps reading this voice might help a reader save her voice.”
  • [19:43] – In a 2014 study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute of the UCLS School of Law, 41 percent of transgender or gender nonconforming respondents said they had attempted suicide. The study showed that transgender people of color are at an even higher risk.
  • [20:28] – Ryka has to save up financially and emotionally because funerals are so common in her community.
  • [21:08] – In the last two years, the number of trans people killed has gone up.
  • [22:00] – Ryka says that sometimes the grief becomes big enough that she chooses not to write. King-Kok Cheung’s “articulate silences” is the idea that one can make a political stance by withholding one’s words. When Ryka is grieving, she sometimes practices articulate silences.
  • [22:52] – Ryka grew up not knowing why she didn’t fit in and not having the language to express who she was. She didn’t have the right vocabulary.
  • [23:35] – “For a writer not to have the words to describe herself, that’s almost Greek.”
  • [24:11] – “If it hadn’t been for my writing . . . I know I wouldn’t have been strong enough to get through.”
  • [25:26] – Ryka doesn’t just write about being trans. She also writes fiction, like her book He Mele A Hilo, about a Hawaiian hula dancer and colonialism.
  • [26:15] – “I wish that there were ways for us to make readers aware that they don’t need to conflate the life of the artist with the story they receive from the work the artist produces.”
  • [26:59] – Ryka wants to see more trans stories so we can see more variance.
  • [28:47] – Ryka recommends writers take care of themselves. But don’t be afraid to give everything to your art.

[30:00] – VISUAL QUILL: Advertisement.

  • [30:21] – Visual Quill’s social media director, Steve Ahlbom, emphasizes the importance of social media.
  • [30:57] – Go to visualquill.com and enter the special offer code.

[31:11] – SEGMENT FOUR: Jen Richards is a transgender woman who is a writer, actress, and activist. She is the cowriter, star, and producer of Her Story, a show about the dating lives of trans women.

  • [31:35] – Jen wanted to explore trans women as people—not sex objects.
  • [33:41] – As an adolescent and young adult, Jen was under-aware of trans people and trans issues.
  • [34:31] – Jen was initially misdiagnosed by a therapist as a “self-loathing homosexual.”
  • [36:28] – Jen felt “right” for the first time upon starting hormone replacement therapy.
  • [38:08] – Jen was inspired to create positive representations of trans people in the media so that other trans people wouldn’t have to go through what she went through.
  • [39:06] – Tyra Hunter, an African American trans woman, was in a car accident in 1995. Instead of helping her, the EMTs mocked her. She died on the scene.
  • [40:27] – We need complicated trans characters. We need more trans writers, actors, and directors.
  • [42:26] – When just a few are shouldering the burden of representation, that creates divisions within the community.
  • [43:08] – Janet Mock has done a lot for trans visibility within the media.

[44:58] – SEGMENT FIVE: Sarah Mesle wrote an essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books about how she was noticing an underrepresentation of strong male characters in young adult literature.

  • [46:51] – At the time, Sarah noticed a lot of debate about the types of female characters girls should look up to.
  • [47:35] – “It was interesting to me that everybody was very concerned about what Bella meant for girls but nobody seemed to be very concerned about what Jacob or Edward meant for boys.”
  • [47:44] – What does strength look like for boys?
  • [48:04] – In the most popular YA novels, there wasn’t a very good model for masculinity.
  • [48:35] – “I wonder what it is for my boys to see all adult men in power as threatening adult men in power.”
  • [48:48] – Sarah thinks there is a good model for masculinity in a previous generation’s novel: Anne of Green Gables.
  • [50:09] – In the last few years, Sarah has seen a change in the way YA novels portray male strengths.

[51:33] – SEGMENT SIX: Are publishers biased against female writers of fiction? Is women’s literature taken as seriously as men’s? We hear from Cynthia Good, former president and publisher of Penguin Books Canada, and current publishing teacher at Humber College.

  • [52:28] – Cynthia believes women are generally having equal success in publishing literary fiction.
  • [53:13] – Publishers are looking for trends—not gender. But there could be a subconscious gender bias.
  • [53:38] – Editors are looking at the strength of the manuscript and the marketability of the writer.
  • [54:10] – Women tend to be better at connecting with readers and participating in social media.
  • [55:23] – Cynthia encourages writers to just keep on submitting their manuscripts. Different editors have different types of books that appeal to them.

[56:56] – CONCLUSION. Find out more about our guests at girlfridayproductions.com.

[57:19] – Closing credits.

Key Points

  • Turiya Autry adds to the conversation about feminism and domestic violence in writing.
  • Dave Valencia, the lone man at the Girl Friday Seattle office, talks about his experience working in a female environment.
  • Ryka Aoki discusses how she hopes her work is judged by the same standards that readers judge any writer who’s human.
  • Jen Richards tells the story of her path of transition that led her to writing and producing Her Story.
  • Sarah Mesle talks about her essay where she asks the question, “What does strength look like for boy characters in YA fiction?”
  • Publisher Cynthia Good talks about gender bias in the world of literary fiction.

Find Out More About the Writers and Guests

Turiya Autry


Sarah Mesle


Dave Valencia


Cynthia Good



Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, with twenty-four-hour crisis hotline

We Happy Trans, a place for sharing positive trans perspectives

Trans Lifeline, twenty-four-hour crisis hotline