In his new book Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency, Willy Wilkinson, MPH, speaks the language of memoir with a strong accent of intersectional experience with race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, and parenthood. The context of it all falls within a larger cultural-competency, public-health and policy-advocacy framework.
Wilkinson was born in the San Francisco Bay area in the early '60s and assigned female. He is the youngest of four and was raised by a Chinese mother and a Caucasian father. His parents' interracial marriage was controversial in the '50s and mixed families were uncommon during Wilkinson's childhood. At the age of 9, Wilkinson changed his name to "Willy."
"It was a monumental struggle to get people to recognize that that was my new name and to call me by that name," said Wilkinson. "I was trans, but it wasn't an option to come out as trans when I turned 18 because there was no trans community at that time."
The award-winning transgender writer, public-health consultant and father ( to three young children ) advocates for marginalized populations. Wilkinson was the first Asian and first transgender community health outreach worker providing street-based HIV education and crisis intervention for sex workers and drug users in San Francisco. He has also served as a founding board member for both Transgender Law Center and Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center.
Along with his extensive experience with communities of color, substance users, sex workers, youth, and people with disabilities, Wilkinson's essays have been published in anthologies, periodicals and journals. His book Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency was released in December 2015.
Wilkinson decided he wanted to be an author at 6. He wrote a little book on his own, illustrated it and stapled it all together.
"Musicians play music and this was the kind of music I wanted to play," he said of his passion and the advocating tune of his writing. "It's something that I wanted to express myself poetically about the experience of ambiguity and complexity of not fitting neatly into the rules of membership in many communities. So I wanted to tell my personal story, but at the same time I wanted to do it with purpose. I wanted people to re-think the rules of community membership. I wanted people to think on an individual level as well as on an organizational and institutional level about the ways that they can create systems that are more LGBTQ affirming, particularly trans-affirming. I use my story as a tool to illuminate these larger social political, policy, legislative and public health issues."
When describing Born on the Edge of Race and Gender, Wilkinson said his book is not a straightforward memoir. For starters, it is not in chronological order and, while it tells a personal story, he added that he aims to "go beyond the memoir genre and transform it into a cultural competency tool."
Among the many things readers can expect, Wilkinson's website lists proactive poetic prose; racial ambiguity and complexity; Asian/Pacific Islander queer and trans organizing; interracial butch/femme romance; and queer, trans and non-binary gendered parenthood.
"I'm using a memoir as a tool to illuminate these larger social legislative, policy, public-health issuesspecifically, trans issuesbut larger LGBTQ issues," Wilkinson said. "The message and what I'm describing about intersectional identity, it's very layered. There's provocative poetry, but there's also journalistic explanations of detailed information like the information about phalloplasty, which when I talk about some of the more intimate, personal details of being trans, there's a purpose there that I'm trying to advocate for access to care. So, when I do detailed information about genital surgery, I'm doing that to provide that information, which many people, including many people in the trans community don't have any information about, but also because I'm advocating for comprehensive access to care nation-wide."
The book, Wilkinson explained, is geared toward a wide audience. As people are starting to get more information from the mainstream news, Wilkinson said, things can still be problematic sometimes. With this being another reason for writing the book, he added he wanted to "put a face on trans experience to help broaden that understanding and why we are fighting for our rights and why these issues are important."
"People are trying to understand trans issues in general or they're trying to understand how to navigate the interactions with trans folks, but they're also really trying to understand on an organizational level, on a systemic level, how they can be more affirming to trans folks, whether it's how they make sure that trans folks are able to participate equally in gender specific environments or just understanding what the issues are that people are dealing with," said Wilkinson.
For more information, visit WillyWilkinson.com .