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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Chad Griffin

Mara Keisling
Founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality

These books and numerous others have formed my thinking about what work is to me personally and societally:

Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues (1993). Growing up without clear cultural models for how my transgender identity would allow me to fit into the world, I was able to easily relate to the protagonist in Stone Butch Blues. Though Jess and I differ in significant ways related to class, the age we came out as queer and even our gender identity so central to both our stories, we share having grown up feeling and being different than the people working and living around us. I finally had a model who, like me, was trying to fit into cookie cutter workplaces and communities, trying to bring our whole selves to our work, knowing the clear economic and physical dangers to which being ourselves too often led. Feinberg continues today as a transgender and social justice icon.

Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh (1983). I read this book as a young adult shortly after its publication and learned how different people bring different things to their work and their communities. The book is essentially a primer on Taoism using the Winnie the Pooh characters as allegorical devices. Through Hoff's book, I found an accessible way to learn beyond the Western approaches to which I had always been exposed. While not always successful, I have striven since to be the most basic me I can be and to approach my work and life in the ways most natural to me.

Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class (2002). Though it seems that the book has not held up well to either theoretical or practical analysis since its publication, it nonetheless deserves consideration as among the first 21st century statements of support for queer communities. Arguing in part that gay and lesbian people were significant components of a creative class that could be an important economic builder, Florida's work no doubt played some role in the acceptance of LGBT people in large cities around the country. Not only were we coming to big cities to find safe spaces, but someone was positing that our arrival was actually good for our neighbors. Tolerance, diversity and gay people were all positive attributes for a city economy. Though the analysis was not unproblematic, it was unintentionally part of the movement that makes us more accepted today.

Émile Zola, Germinal (1885). This was the book that I believe first made me think about work and what it means beyond a paycheck. That a century-old French novel about a coal mining strike could grab a young adult like me and speak to me about life was revelatory and invigorating. Though I had worked since age twelve, delivering newspapers, caddying at a golf course and lifeguarding, I had never thought that there was nobility, solidarity and even heroism in working until I read Germinal. The novel's protagonist, Étienne Lantier, a migrant worker, was simply trying to live his life, yet found himself in unthinkable circumstances as a worker, as an accidental activist and hero, and as a person.

Mara Keisling is the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

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