• Ellen van Neerven on Kaya Wilson’s memoir 'As Beautiful As Any Other'. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
“I wanted [the book] to be feminist. It’s complicated with a trans perspective. I didn’t want to silence the female voice," Wilson tells writer Ellen van Neerven.
By
Ellen van Neerven

28 Apr 2021 - 11:58 AM  UPDATED 29 Apr 2021 - 1:48 PM

“This is a trans story. But it’s also my story.“ These are the words plastered on the back cover of Kaya Wilson’s memoir As Beautiful As Any Other.

Wilson began writing the book the day he told his doctor he was questioning his gender and sensed an immediate shift in the room and how he was treated. Writing was a way of coping and documenting his experiences. 

“At the beginning I didn’t expect anyone to read it or it to be published. I was genuinely writing it for myself. It just burnt out of me,” says Wilson. It soon became clear he was writing for a different purpose – to tell his story to a wider audience to improve the ways in which trans people are understood and treated. “I wanted it to be something many people could read. I didn’t want it to be exclusive.”

Wilson grew up surrounded by books in a household that gave a lot of reverence to literature. His father was a classicist and an English teacher. Wilson grew up in England, Aruba, Tanzania, Germany and Indonesia before arriving in Australia for university. 

“When I was younger I dreamt of the world of literary expression but I was hiding a lot of myself so that expression wasn’t possible. I didn’t yet have that voice. I didn’t know who I was."

“When I was younger I dreamt of the world of literary expression but I was hiding a lot of myself so that expression wasn’t possible. I didn’t yet have that voice. I didn’t know who I was,” he says. 

As Beautiful As Any Other is an intimate portrait of transition, the health system, family, travel and grief. A memoir that tells a personal story but also a universal one. Wilson has recently recorded the audio version of the book. The book weaves references to the work of other Australian trans writers such as Quinn Eades and Elizabeth Duck-Chong.  

He counts Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maggie Nelson, Arundhati Roy among his literary influences. As Beautiful As Any Other lends its title from a Ta-Nehisi Coates quote. 

“There’s something about his writing that gave me unapologetic confidence to write in the way I want to write. He writes in a way that does not pander to the ignorant or over-explain himself.”

Wilson’s book has been described as a memoir of the body, and this takes form in many ways: for example, Wilson explaining the aftermath of a near-tragic surfing accident which occurred in between telling his doctor he was transgender and starting his medical transition. He writes about himself naked and anaesthetised on the operating table, pondering how his body might have been treated differently had he been read as trans, objectified and inspected without his consent.

Wilson’s book has been described as a memoir of the body, and this takes form in many ways: for example, Wilson explaining the aftermath of a near-tragic surfing accident which occurred in between telling his doctor he was transgender and starting his medical transition.

He also writes about intimate moments with romantic partners and learning self-love through the daily care of scars. He writes about the fear inherited from his father who left a trail of secrets of his own that are uncovered throughout the book. Wilson lost his father to cancer in 2017, a short time after he told his family about his transition. He writes about coming out as trans to family members who don’t recognise him at his father’s funeral and the evolving relationship with his mother during his transition.  

In depicting these real life events, three things guided Wilson in the way he wrote: honesty, generosity and feminism. “I wanted it to be honest. There’s constraints on what you can talk about that involves other people. But I found ways of being true to myself,” he says. 

Along with this, is a respect for the female narrative. “I wanted [the book] to be feminist. It’s complicated with a trans perspective. I didn’t want to silence the female voice…I didn’t want that voice to be silenced because of how I’m perceived as a man.”

“Ignorance is a very loaded word, so [for] the reader who doesn’t know, I wanted them to feel safe enough to come on the journey with me."

Lastly, it was important to Wilson that the book is written with generosity, which means welcoming readers who might lack knowledge about the trans experience. “Ignorance is a very loaded word, so [for] the reader who doesn’t know, I wanted them to feel safe enough to come on the journey with me. It’s very easy to rage against the ignorant…But I wanted to take the person who is nervous about engaging with my story and give them an intimate and private space.”

And while he is excited about seeing the book out in the world, he is first and foremost happy with what he has already achieved.  “I’m proud of what it is and what I’ve created. Beyond how people react, I’m going to keep it psychologically peripheral but also enjoy being listened to and understood. I’m excited to be part of the conversation…This is just the beginning.’ 

As Beautiful As Any Other by Kaya Wilson is published by Picador.

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning Mununjali writer, educator and literary activist from south east Queensland. Their poetry collection, Throat, was named Book of the Year in the NSW Premier Literary Awards 2021.