Piecing together her past in ‘This Body I Wore’

David Wilson for the Boston Glob

“This Body I Wore” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) opens in the 1980s, years before its author, Diana Goetsch, came out as transgender. Throughout high school, college, and a young adulthood in New York, Goetsch struggled to figure out just who she was, teaching high school students by day and visiting bars known for their cross-dressing scene by night. Goetsch published volumes of poetry and drifted in and out of relationships until coming out as a trans woman to herself in 2014.

“I just told some trusted friends, allies, at first,” Goetsch said. “I didn’t come out publicly for a year.” During that time, in response to letters from friends, she began writing letters, one a month, chronicling her experiences. “I called these the Diana updates. And people loved them.”

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Soon, her editor at The American Scholar, writing to Goetsch about a different piece, heard about the letters and asked to publish them as a regular column. “I tried pecking away at a book for awhile until I discovered the point of entry,” she said. She decided to open not with her childhood but with “this milieu of this cross-dressing subculture in New York City,” she said. “To be closeted for that long, you never know quite who you are. I wanted to find some way of embodying that.”

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Chapters that delve into her childhood were more difficult to conjure. “I wrote one sentence, and I just collapsed weeping,” Goetsch said. “Being an adult, and being able to fully witness myself as a child, that was pretty overwhelming.”

Young trans people today have more opportunities than Goetsch did, she said: “I love the fact that they’re stepping into these spaces so beautifully.” But they also face an enormous amount of danger and even violence. “They’re really getting slammed. They’re the battleground now,” she added. “I just really want to protect them.”

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Literature may be one way to do that by reaching new readers. “Once they’re living in your skin, walking through your shoes, looking through your eyes,” Goetsch said, “I know that’s what changes people — not argument, not persuasion.”

Diana Goetsch will read at 6 p.m. Friday, June 24, in person at Brookline Booksmith.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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