I’m thrilled to welcome to the site today advocate, YouTuber, and now author Jackson Bird, whose memoir, Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place, releases today from Tiller Press! Here’s a little more on both the book and the author:
When Jackson Bird was twenty-five, he came out as transgender to his friends, family, and anyone in the world with an internet connection. Assigned female at birth and having been raised a girl, he often wondered if he should have been born a boy. Jackson didn’t share this thought with anyone because he didn’t think he could share it with anyone. Growing up in Texas in the 1990s, he had no transgender role models. He barely remembers meeting anyone who was openly gay, let alone being taught that transgender people existed outside of punchlines.
Today, Jackson is a writer, YouTuber, and LGBTQ+ advocate living openly and happily as a transgender man. So how did he get here? In this remarkable, educational, and uplifting memoir, Jackson chronicles the ups and downs of growing up gender confused. Illuminated by journal entries spanning childhood to adolescence to today, he candidly recalls the challenges he faced while trying to sort out his gender and sexuality, and worrying about how to interact with the world. With warmth and wit, Jackson also recounts how he navigated the many obstacles and quirks of his transition––like figuring out how to have a chest binder delivered to his NYU dorm room and having an emotional breakdown at a Harry Potter fan convention. From his first shot of testosterone to his eventual top surgery, Jackson lets you in on every part of his journey—taking the time to explain trans terminology and little-known facts about gender and identity along the way. Through his captivating prose, Bird not only sheds light on the many facets of a transgender life, but also demonstrates the power and beauty in being yourself, even when you’re not sure who “yourself” is.
Part memoir, part educational guide, Sorted is a frank, humorous narrative of growing up with some unintended baggage.
And here’s the guest post by author Jackson Bird!
If you’re into Harry Potter, you might notice a subtle play on words in the title of my debut book Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place. Referencing the Hogwarts Sorting Hat was a purposeful nod to the series and community that has played such a huge role in my life––and in the lives of so many of us from the Potter Generation. But growing up, I never wanted people to know how big of a Harry Potter fan I really was. In middle school, I didn’t want to hear my classmates’ parroting their youth pastors and saying I would surely go to hell for reading books on witchcraft (which always baffled me because did that mean they actually believed in witchcraft?). In high school, when other students started attending the midnight Harry Potter movie releases as a social affair, I didn’t want them to know that I had been following every production detail of the film for years on fansites because it wasn’t cool to care that much. In college, when I had started volunteering for a Harry Potter-themed nonprofit and attending wizard rock shows on the weekends, everyone else had collectively decided it was time to move on. Harry Potter was for kids.
Sometime in between my fifth year of working professionally for the Harry Potter Alliance and penning a peer-reviewed case study of the organization, I mostly stopped caring what people thought. Harry Potter had played too big a role in my life to deny that huge part of me any longer. After years of insisting on having professional-sounding job titles like Communications Director so people would know that my day job wasn’t merely a fan club, I decided, eff it, and asked during a promotion to be called the Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations. It was 2017. The world was a dumpster fire and I had more important things to care about than people assuming my job wasn’t serious enough. I was ready to own the fact that my career had thus far consisted mostly of attending nerdy conventions and training fans to become leaders in their local communities.
But when I first set out to complete my memoir, I reverted to my adolescent ways and originally downplayed the influence of Harry Potter on my life. I didn’t mention first discovering the series as a nine year old or skipping class in sixth grade to go see the earliest showing in my town of the first movie. Wizard rock shows became punk shows. Harry Potter fan conferences were just conferences and my involvement with the Harry Potter Alliance was given my usual sanitized rebranding as merely a nonprofit focusing on civic engagement.
As the public announcement of my book got closer and closer, however, and I still hadn’t settled on a title that worked for the book, I found myself in a frantic brainstorming session with fellow guests and staff at the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in Philadelphia. GLA is the Harry Potter Alliance’s intergenerational leadership conference where Potter fans and more convene for a weekend of activist training, keynote talks, and lots of fandom-tinged girl power.
I camped out in the staff room where I recruited anyone who walked through the door to join my title brainstorm in between their other (more important) tasks. We threw out lots of titles like Written in Transition, Not Your Father’s Masculinity, Not Another Trans Memoir, and Hatching Him: The Jackson Bird Story (followed by its sequels Hard Boiled: My Life as an Influencer and Over Easy: How I Quit the Big City and Started a Farm).
I wrote down every single one of them, even the jokes, in my Notes app in case they could spark some inspiration later. At one point my friend Katie, possibly inspired by the magical vibes of the conference and the simultaneous conversation happening on the other side of the staff room about primary and secondary Hogwarts houses, recommended Sorted––a nod to both Hogwarts house sorting and being sorted into a gender. I chuckled and immediately vetoed it, not even adding it to the Notes doc. I was not going to make a corny Harry Potter joke the title of my debut book.
The conference ended and I took the bus back home to New York City with 131 possible titles and feeling no closer to making a decision than I had been before. As I sat on my sofa that night, tossing around various combinations of titles and subtitles, the word “sorted” came back to me. Away from the Hermione Granger-inspired environment I’d just been living in for the past three days, it didn’t seem so corny. In fact, as I realized the many different connotations of the word and started picturing cover design concepts, it seemed enticing. With an explanatory subtitle, it could be perfect.
I realized it would require some explanation though and if it were to really work it would need to be baked thematically throughout the book, which meant possibly adding in more stories about Harry Potter. Once again, I found myself confronted by my insecurities around being known as a Harry Potter fan.
There’s no shame in being a fan of Harry Potter, but I think I’d always been embarrassed by just how big a fan I really was. In high school, I listened to fan-made Harry Potter podcasts on the bus ride to school (back in the day when you had to manually download podcasts and burn them onto CDs to listen to portably if you didn’t have an iPod yet). In the evenings, I procrastinated on homework by reading fanfiction. I knew every bit of Harry Potter-related news several days before anyone else was talking about it because I religiously followed the fan sites that got exclusive press releases from Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I wasn’t just a casual fan. I lived and breathed Harry Potter.
A hug that went a beat too long in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie led me to Remus/Sirius fanfiction and the first stirrings of my queer sexuality. When my depression and gender dysphoria overtook my ability to make meaningful friendships in college, the online fan community stepped in to give me a social outlet and friends who didn’t care what I wore or if I sometimes put my foot in my mouth too much. As I entered real post-college adulthood, my older co-workers at the HPA modeled how to be responsible, creative, loving adults. And at twenty-five, when I knew I had to come out as transgender and begin transitioning, the Harry Potter fan community erupted in an outpouring of support––just like I always knew they would.
How could I not include all of that in a memoir about growing up and discovering myself? Harry Potter––the books, the fan-made creations, and the fans themselves––had been there every step of the way.
Maybe some people will still think its childish. Some will tell me to read another book. Surely others will simply continue to be uninterested in the Boy Who Lived and the community that’s been built around him, but similar critiques could be made about any other major aspects of mine or any other person’s life. I may have been loath to admit how inextricably tied I am to the Wizarding World in the past for fear it would make me uncool (as if that and not my deep knowledge of Elizabethan theater or increasing inability to understand pop culture as I age would be the primary thing to make me uncool), but I know now that I can’t deny it. Just as it’s impossible to tell what kind of person I might’ve been had I not been trans, I honestly don’t know who I’d be if a certain bespectacled boy wizard hadn’t entered my life twenty years ago. So, I guess what I’m saying is, your royalty check will be in the mail soon, Mrs. Rowling.
(JK! Books belong to their readers and fan creations are totally Fair Use, but thank you for writing the original series and inspiring us all for generations to come)
Jackson Bird is a YouTube creator and LGBTQ+ advocate dedicated to demystifying the transgender experience. His TED Talk “How to talk (and listen) to transgender people” has been viewed over a million times. Jackson is a recipient of the GLAAD Rising Star Digital Innovator Award and lives in New York City. You can follow him online @JackIsNotABird.