|photo: Oriana Koren
Selected by both the Forbes "30 Under 30" and the "OUT 100," Jacob Tobia is a gender-nonconforming writer, producer and performer based in Los Angeles. Tobia's writing and advocacy have been featured by MSNBC, the New York Times, TIME, the Guardian and Teen Vogue, among others. A Point Foundation Scholar, Truman Scholar and member of the Biden Foundation's Advisory Council for Advancing LGBTQ Equality, Tobia has worn high heels in the White House. Twice. Their memoir, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, was just published by Putnam.
On your nightstand now:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I've been meaning to read this book for years and the other day a small miracle happened: I was on my way to therapy, walking by one of those "Free Library" birdhouses in my neighborhood, when a pristine copy of A Little Life jumped out at me from across the sidewalk. There was something cosmic about it. I've been told that I need to buy an extra-large box of tissues to get through all 800 pages.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. There's a fish. He's rainbow. He has gorgeous glittery scales. He runs around giving his friends makeovers until he has only one glittery scale left. What else could a queer socialist child want?
Your top five authors:
Roxane Gay: I went to an event in L.A. recently where I had the chance to meet Roxane Gay and Hannah Gadsby at the same time and my world has never been the same. After it happened, I thought to myself "this must be what it's like to truly arrive."
David Sedaris: Everyone loves David Sedaris, but I pretend he and I share a special connection given we're both queens who grew up in Raleigh. Because I am also gay and because I know the specific shopping centers in Raleigh that he references in his books, I choose to entertain the delusion that I am more connected to David Sedaris's writing than anyone else.
Tina Fey: Bossypants played a pivotal role in my decision to finally pursue a career in the entertainment industry. That book taught me that a career in TV and film wouldn't be glamorous at all; that it would simply involve hard work, hard work and, if you're successful, even harder work. I'm grateful to Tina for that guidance.
James Baldwin: You can fight me on this, but James Baldwin is arguably the greatest writer of the 20th century.
Truman Capote: Every time I think about Truman Capote, I immediately think about Audrey Hepburn. Which is enough for me to put him on this list. In Cold Blood leaves me breathless every time.
Book you've faked reading:
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: I was assigned this book in a college queer theory course and, mechanically speaking, I read every word of it (as in, my eyeballs visually looked at every word). But if "reading" is to be understood as comprehension, then I'll admit I faked it. Like most college students, I probably understood only about 30% of the book. At a certain point I was just like, "Okay Judith we get it! Fine! You're smarter than everyone! Sheesh!" and that's when I knew I would never make a proper academic.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay: This book is earth-shattering in its vulnerability, its frankness and its candor. Roxane shares her experience as a bisexual woman of size in the most human of ways, but with a boldness that's tough to put your finger on. What I love most about this book is that Roxane gives herself permission to ache on the page without providing remedy or hopeful conclusion. Too often, memoirists are pressured to "wrap things up," to "keep things light," to do the emotional labor of soothing their audience after divulging their pain. It strikes me as radical and profound that in Hunger, Roxane refuses to do those things. I want to write a book like Hunger one day.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder: I'd been told that this book was a great introduction to screenwriting (a craft I am dedicated to mastering), but what sealed the deal for me was that a cat was on the cover. I will buy pretty much any book with a cute cat on the cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
Does trashy Smallville and Harry Potter slash fanfiction count? Because I 1,000% hid that from my parents (and honestly from everyone else in my life, excluding my best friend Paige, up until this moment).
Book that changed your life:
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: I read this book in the summer of 2014 right after I'd graduated college, when I was just coming to terms with the fact that maybe I was part of the transgender community, too. Sharing in Janet's experience, relishing in her words, I felt at home in the trans community for the first time. Redefining Realness was the book that ultimately inspired me to write Sissy; after reading it, I decided I needed to write a book, too.
Favorite line from a book:
"Has there ever been a gay Socrates? Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare? Has there ever been a gay Proust? Does the Pope wear a dress? If these questions startle, it is not least as tautologies." --Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet
Five books you'll never part with:
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Making Gay History by Eric Marcus
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. One of the side effects of memoir-ing your childhood is the melancholic desire to repeat it, but differently. I wish I could go back and create a world for my younger self that was less hostile to my budding femininity--a world where my gender could simply be: ebullient and free. And in that world, I want to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time, connect with the women characters without shame, and acknowledge once and for all, for better or for worse, that the White Witch is my fashion icon.
Guidance you may have for how readers can best enjoy your book, Sissy?
Yes. The best way to enjoy Sissy is to read it for yourself, drink in every word and, when you're finished, leave it in a men's restroom for some unwitting cisgender man to find. Because most men don't know how to talk about their gender-based trauma; they don't know that they need a book like Sissy. We need to trick more men into reading this book, and I believe the most effective way to do so is simply by leaving it in men's bathroom stalls across the country. That way, men of all backgrounds, ages and cultures can casually read about trans liberation while taking a dump. Please help me with this campaign. We can make a game of it if you'd like. You get one point for every copy you leave in a men's bathroom stall and two bonus points for every copy you leave at a sports arena, sporting goods store, auto parts vendor or gas station.