Today on the site I am so excited to be welcoming A.J. Sass, author of the groundbreaking middle grade contemporary Ana on the Edge, which releases today from Little, Brown Young Readers. Here’s a little more about the book:
For fans of George and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, a heartfelt coming of age story about a nonbinary character navigating a binary world.
Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.
Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.
And here’s the post!
A month after I started hormone replacement therapy, my friends threw me a “T-party” in San Francisco’s Dolores Park. I’d recently come out as trans and chosen a name that has stayed with me to this day: Andrew. And pronouns? He, him, and his, because I’m a guy, obviously.
Hold that thought.
I remember that afternoon well. It was unusually warm for a July in San Francisco, and the outing felt festive, reminiscent of a Pride Month weekend just a few weeks earlier. I was surrounded by friends who’d supported me as I navigated both my social and medical transition. My world felt full of potential. Finally, I could focus on living my life rather than on coming out to everyone and the emotional labor that entailed.
Just the same, I found myself shrugging when a friend jokingly asked if, two injections into my transition, I’d noticed any physical changes yet.
“Not yet,” I’d said. Then, a slight hesitation before I admitted, “honestly, I’m not even sure I feel like a man at this point.”
“Give it time,” my friends who’d been on testosterone (T) longer encouraged me. “It’ll happen, especially when strangers stop misgendering you.”
Their advice was well-meaning and, I suspect, a truth for many folks who’ve pursued this particular avenue of transition. So I waited, and I hoped my feelings would change on a similar trajectory with my body.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the word nonbinary. Maybe I read an interview online or it came up in a casual conversation. What I do remember is the immediate connection I felt to its definition:
Nonbinary: not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things.
That’s me. I knew instantly.
So why did it take me another four years to decide to discontinue T and even longer to publicly announce my identity? Simple: I didn’t want to be a burden. I’d just come out as a trans man to my friends and family, then had to approach my workplace’s HR department to change my name and pronouns. There was a nagging concern that I’d be inconveniencing people after I’d already asked them to use one new name and set of pronouns.
And what if I realized that different pronouns worked better for me later on? How many times could I come out to people before they got fed up?
By the time I wrote Ana on the Edge, I was more or less comfortable being seen as a man in my public life, even if it didn’t perfectly describe who I am. But, as writing often does when you’re delving into something personal, Ana’s journey to discovering her nonbinary identity brought to the surface feelings and thoughts about my own.
I created an ending to Ana’s story that left things open, one that sent readers the message that, “hey, this kid now knows she’s nonbinary, but she doesn’t have everything figured out yet, and that’s okay.” But it wasn’t until relatively late in the drafting process—after I’d revised the story enough to begin querying agents—that I realized the same logic could be applied to myself.
It was a revelation that allowed me to critically evaluate how I wanted to be seen as an author who plans to continue exploring queer themes in the kidlit space. In a way, Ana, my fictional ‘enby bean’ ice skater, taught me that not knowing everything about myself all at once is not only acceptable but something to embrace. And the individuals who might not be so enthusiastic about having to learn a new set of pronouns? They’re not people worth being concerned about. My identity—an inherent part of who I am as a living, breathing, feeling human being—is not up for debate no matter how often it happens to evolve, nor is it an inconvenience.
Near the end of Ana’s story, she reflects on the decision not to change her pronouns yet: “Uncertainty feels like less of a burden and more of an opportunity.”
I’ve held that line close to me on the lead-up to publication. Because some people know who they are when they’re young, and that’s entirely valid. But for a long time, the only trans narratives I could find in the media exclusively reflected the experience that you either know you’re trans at a young age or else you’re not really trans.
People aren’t static. Our tastes, interests, and even appearances change as we learn more about ourselves over time. Why not the understanding of our internal sense of self, as well? Instead of the shame I’m tempted to feel for inconveniencing people when I learn something new about myself, Ana helped me acknowledge that my identity is my own, even at times when I’ve been uncertain about some aspect of it.
Maybe you were twelve like Ana when you discovered your identity or well into adulthood like I was. Maybe you’re still trying to figure it out now; that’s also perfectly fine. The wonderful thing about identity is it has no expiration date. Sit back, enjoy the journey, and celebrate every new discovery.
Parties (T, tea, or otherwise) are also highly recommended.
A. J. Sass is a writer, editor, and occasional mentor. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. When he’s not exploring the world as much as possible, A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel.